Are you planning a ski vacation at Washington State’s famous Snoqualmie Pass? Then you’ll need to plan for the Snoqualmie Pass weather.
The Summit at Snoqualmie -- Snoqualmie Pass’ ski resort -- is one of the “Big 6” ski locations in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Although the region has more ski areas, these form a core of resorts to which ski enthusiasts flock every year.
The weather of the Pacific Northwest stays gray, temperate, and rainy for much of the year. However, once you go into the mountains, everything changes. Before you pack for your trip, make sure you read this comprehensive guide to Snoqualmie Pass weather so that you'll know what to expect.
Where Is Snoqualmie Pass?
Snoqualmie Pass is the pass through the Cascade Mountains that lets Interstate 90 cross over the range, which runs from north to south. The pass lies on the county line between King County, where Seattle is, and Kittitas County.
This pass is one of many mountain passes in Washington State. Of the three going east to west that stay open all year, it has the lowest elevation at 3,022 feet, making it one of the safest ways for travelers to go across the state. Since Interstate 90 is crucial for shipping goods to and from Seattle by land, it’s heavily trafficked, and the pass stays open as much as possible through the year. Still, inclement Snoqualmie Pass weather forces occasional closures during winter.
In addition to skiing, people frequent the area for outdoor recreational activities throughout the year. The famous Pacific Crest Trail traversing land from Canada to Mexico crosses the pass, and there’s plenty of nearby options for hiking, backpacking, and more.
History of Snoqualmie Pass
This pass was in use by Native Americans long before Europeans came to the North American continent. It formed a natural way to cross the mountains without issue for much of the year, in spite of the sometimes-harsh Snoqualmie Pass weather.
Native tribes from both the east and west sides of the mountains used footpaths through the pass to travel back and forth. It was an important part of their travel to forage for plants and hunt game in the mountains. In addition to using plants for food, many tribes used them to make medicines, baskets, and clothing.
Early European arrival
In the early 19th century, trappers from the Hudson’s Bay Company arrived in the area. They were vying with the North West Fur Company for control of the fur trade in the region. Europeans had already been using passes further to the south to cross the mountains, but when they learned of Snoqualmie Pass, that quickly became the most popular way to traverse the Cascades.
A few decades after the trappers started using it, in the 1850s, the government of the U.S. turned its eye to the pass as a possible railroad route. They'd considered other passes but decided that Snoqualmie would work best. A toll road for wagons built over the pass in 1867, was part of an effort to get more settlers to move to Seattle.
In fact, many settlers were already crossing the mountains through more difficult routes. The Snoqualmie Pass weather made it a treacherous path. Thanks to this new road, more people could safely move across the Cascades into Washington and Oregon. The toll paid for maintenance on the road.
Modern transportation methods
The first car drove over the pass in 1905, but this road was really only good for cattle drives and pack trains for some years. A railroad didn’t cut through Snoqualmie Pass until 1909 when the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad was working on its Pacific Extension. This railroad got its start in the 1840s, and soon reached across much of the Midwest. But the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railways dominated travel to and from the West Coast. With this extension, the “Milwaukee Road” was now able to compete.
By 1914, the original railway route got replaced with a tunnel that cut through the mountains themselves. This railway was only kept up until the 1980s, but the tunnel still exists: today, hikers and bikers use it as part of Iron Horse State Park.
In 1915, the Washington State Department of Highways built the two-lane Sunset Highway over Snoqualmie Pass. This was the first permanent transit route linking the east and west sides of the state, which is entirely divided by the mountain range. The highway could stay open all year by 1931 after the Department of Highways learned to contend with the Snoqualmie Pass Weather. It was renamed several times over the next few decades.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that the route was widened into four lanes, and named Interstate 90, to meet the demands of the new American Interstate Highway System. Improvements made in the ‘70s made the highway much safer, and newer, smaller improvements over the following years have kept it safe and helped turn Snoqualmie Pass into a recreational destination.
How Snoqualmie Pass Became a Ski Resort
Skiing had been a method of transportation in the snowy parts of northern Europe for centuries. By the 1920s, it had also become a recreational activity that was catching on worldwide.
Snoqualmie Pass became a recreational ski destination in the 1920s and ‘30s. In those early days, the Snoqualmie Pass skiers had to hike up the hill on foot to enjoy a thrilling ski jump constructed by the Seattle Ski Club. In 1937, the Snoqualmie Summit Ski Area opened to the public.
A rope tow was built in the area that would someday become Summit West, and devoted skiers kept their attendance up even as World War II rationing made the sport more challenging to take part in. Soon, the installation of gas station lights turned the area into the second night-skiing location in the nation.
Gradually, management added new chairs, and the Summit at Snoqualmie Pass expanded into four distinct ski areas. Events and nearby cabins and restaurants sprang up to turn the area into a thriving vacation destination.
Snoqualmie Pass Ski Areas
Today, Snoqualmie Pass is one of the most popular ski destinations in all of Washington State. With its four separate ski areas, there really is something for everyone, at every level of ability. Here’s what each area has to offer.
The Summit East resort tends to attract smaller crowds and offers the most terrain variety. If you want a taste of excitement as an intermediate skier or snowboarder, try the wide variety of the slopes here. However, if you want night skiing, you’ll want to head to the other three ski areas -- this is the only one that doesn’t offer it.
At Summit Central, you'll find the most intermediate and advanced terrain in Snoqualmie Pass. The region's most exciting terrain park is found here, but there’s also plenty of variety. With nine lifts, skiers at any level will be able to enjoy Summit Central.
The Holiday chairlift offers the easiest runs. You can also find lots of terrain features for skiers at different levels, such as jump lines and rails. Summit Central also hosts many events for the skiing and snowboarding community throughout the year.
For the most laidback experience, spend your day at Summit West. This is a great destination for ski beginners: Eight lifts feature easy runs that anyone can master. Follow the slow progression from easy to hard terrain as your skill level picks up.
This allows new snowboarders and skiers to take on challenges at their own pace in a comfortable environment. Since Summit West is far away from the more challenging ski areas, you won’t have to contend with advanced skiers dominating the slopes. This makes it a perfect learning area.
Finally, Alpental is where the in-the-know, experienced locals spend most of their time. You might have to wait in line for the Edelweiss lift, nicknamed “Chair 2,” since the ski area’s staff often has to do some avalanche control after big storms hit. However, ski enthusiasts agree that the wait is well worth it.
This chair opens up access to a wide range of tree skiing, which offers a great challenge for someone experienced on the slopes. The terrain is steep, and the trails are sometimes narrow, so you’ll need to be careful. Make sure you study your trail map before you head up the slope so that you can avoid the unmarked creeks and cliffs.
You should learn some backcountry safety protocol and carry backcountry safety equipment while skiing at Alpental. However, the area also offers some easier runs for those who are still getting the hang of things.
Snoqualmie Pass Weather: What to Expect
Skiing depends on specific weather conditions, which change depending on the region. What can you expect from Snoqualmie Pass weather?
During spring, summer, and fall, a lot of rain falls in the area. Snoqualmie Pass has a humid continental climate, making it cold and wet, with a drastic difference between summer and winter. The average annual rainfall for Snoqualmie Pass is 97 inches -- compare that to the national average of 39 inches. Luckily for skiers, that precipitation turns to snow in the winter, with an average annual snowfall of 44 inches.
Still, you may very well get a sunny day for your skiing, since Snoqualmie Pass has over 200 days of sun each year. Many people also enjoy the Snoqualmie Pass weather in the summer, when it’s comfortable, mild, and warm enough for hiking and camping. In winter, the lows hover around 20 to 30 degrees, so it’s less cold than other ski areas tend to be.
How to Prepare for Snoqualmie Pass Weather
To stay prepared for the Snoqualmie Pass weather on your ski trip, you’ll need to pack things that will keep you warm and dry, and transition easily from the sun to snow.
You’ll definitely want to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun on the slopes. Even though Snoqualmie Pass weather involves a lot of cloudy days, the bright snow can still be hard on your eyes.
Sunglasses can come off and get lost easily if you have a spill. Instead, invest in some ski goggles with UV protection to keep your eyes from getting sunburned.
Today’s high-end ski gloves allow you to maintain dexterity while keeping your hands warm and dry. Look for gloves designed for warmth without bulk, so you can still operate laces and zippers while you have them on. Check that the cuffs are long and tight enough to keep snow from getting in.
While we strongly recommend helmets for skiers tackling the advanced slopes, a warm hat works for many beginners. Make sure it has a cuff or band to keep it in place, as well as flaps to protect your ears from the cold.
Under your outerwear, you’ll want to layer up with thin, warm shirts and pants to keep your body heat in, while wicking away sweat. Materials like silk and cotton tend to do the trick. Make sure to wear a few layers so you can easily remove one or two if it’s warmer than you expected, or you can add more if it’s colder.
Don’t neglect to make your pants waterproof, as well as your jacket. Even if you rarely fall, the waterproofing will keep you warm against falling snow or flurries kicked up by other skiers. Check for secure pockets where you can stash things that you don’t want to lose, like a credit card for when you’re ready for that post-ski spiked hot chocolate.
Finally, a ski jacket completes the essentials you’ll need to hit the slopes. Again, you’ll want insulation, waterproofing, and pockets. Look for a durable jacket that will stand up to wear and tear -- you’ll probably want to invest in one that you can use just for skiing.s
Ready to Hit the Snoqualmie Pass Slopes?
Now, just add some warm socks and an adventurous spirit, and you’re ready to tackle the Snoqualmie Pass weather.
Snoqualmie Pass has been a beloved ski destination for the better part of a century. The relatively mild, high-precipitation weather means you can ski without feeling like you’re freezing, and the variety of areas makes it easy to pick a slope that works for your level. Whether you book a nearby cabin or head to Seattle to spend the night, we’re sure you’ll love spending time on the slopes at Snoqualmie.
What are your favorite ski destinations, and how does the weather compare? Leave a comment and let us know!