DAYTON -- Travis Stephenson's commute from Walla Walla to Dayton grew from 30 minutes to an hour the past couple of days, but as general manager of Ski Bluewood, he couldn't be happier.
"It's snowing, and the schools are canceled. We're liking it," he said with a chuckle. "We're thinking it's going to be a good weekend."
Ski Bluewood, which is about 60 miles east of Pasco, reported a summit depth Thursday of 63 inches of snow, with 55 inches at the base.
"Since Saturday night through Wednesday night, we've had 54 inches of snow over those four days," Stephenson said. "I'd have to look back at the books, but even with all this snow that has fallen, we're still a little bit below our average."
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Despite the lack of fresh snow, crisp and sunny weather made for pleasant conditions on the groomed runs that not many people have taken advantage of, Stephenson said.
"It's always good to have a winter storm in the lower elevations," he said. "It changes people's mindset and gets them in winter mode."
Last year, Ski Bluewood closed its season at 120 inches at the summit, which was a bit above normal.
The seven-day forecast, which Stephenson said he monitors closely, indicates his resort will get fresh snow each day.
"We're getting close to halfway to our season-long average," said Stephenson, a Pasco High School grad. "But by the end of the week, we should be significantly caught up. There are a couple of storms stacked up on the back side of this one."
That means more work for his team.
"We will run our snow removal crew earlier in the morning," he said. "They take care of the parking lot and the eight miles of road below the ski area. Instead of having them start at 7 in the morning, we might have them going at 3 a.m."
On the slopes, the storm pushed his groomers from six-hour shifts to 10-hour shifts. And the amount of snow has given his team the opportunity to re-configure the terrain park.
Soon, if the snow keeps falling, Stephenson said he hopes to begin offering Sno-Cat rides to Vintners Ridge -- a haven for backcountry skiers who now must hike in for the experience.
"We've had more snowfall in the last five days than we had fall before that all combined," he said. "We had only seen 20 inches between when we opened Dec. 3 and last Saturday."
The mother lode arrived Monday and Tuesday, when 39 inches fell during a 48-hour period.
"A week ago seems kind of seems like two years ago compared with what's been going on," Stephenson said.
This marks the second season that Stephenson has operated Ski Bluewood, which was purchased Dec. 3, 2010, from Stan and Nancy Goodell by a group led by Stephenson's father and step-mother.
And those who haven't been up to Ski Bluewood this season may notice the new Sno-Cat and a few other changes, such as a fresh coat of paint inside and out, repairs to the deck and "some renovations inside to liven things up a bit," he said.
Much of the work was done last summer, which marked the Stephenson family's first off-season since purchasing the resort.
"From that standpoint, things were done more smoothly and we were able to get the staff put together sooner," he said.
Programs at Ski Bluewood include lessons for grade-schoolers that keep them in the same group with the same instructor, ski buses from the Tri-Cities on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and a $128 learn-to-ski package that spans three days.
"You can pick up skiing in three days, and then you are jonesing for it," Stephenson said. "Skiing is a great thing for kids to learn, and it builds character."
For more information and current conditions, call 509-382-4725 or go to bluewood.com.