With a successful community fund-drive behind them, Olympic National Park officials are ready to kick off the winter season on Hurricane Ridge, one that hopefully will feature access to the snowy ridge seven days a week.
While many associate Olympic with surf-kissed beaches and tangled rain forests, the Hurricane Ridge area is a snow magnet in winter and lures visitors for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. But in past years, the park has only ensured access up the Hurricane Ridge Road from early May through October. During the winter months the park spent $467,000 to hire a three-person crew to plow the road so a small ski area on Hurricane Ridge could operate on weekends.
Park Service officials agreed to a two- or three-year pilot program to see if keeping the road open year-round would improve tourism business -- if the surrounding communities could contribute to the cost.
The total additional amount needed to provide seven-day-a-week winter access is $325,000 annually, with $250,000 provided by the Park Service and $75,000 provided by Clallam County. The $75,000 local contribution was reached back in August.
With the money in hand, park officials are ready to christen the winter season.
“Contributions from communities, organizations and individuals across the North Olympic Peninsula provided the additional funding necessary to hire the eight new staff needed to keep the Hurricane Ridge Road open seven days a week this winter,” said Olympic Superintendent Karen Gustin. “Our new employees will complete their training over the next two weeks, getting ready for daily access to the Ridge beginning on December 17.”
To celebrate the new seven-day-a-week schedule, and the community-park collaboration that is making it possible, the public is being invited to a Grand Winter Opening celebration at Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center at noon on December 17.
“We hope the public will join us and our many partners in celebrating the beginning of winter on the Ridge,” said Superintendent Gustin.
Here's a look at details about the range of winter activities and services provided on Hurricane Ridge:
Hurricane Ridge Road
Weather permitting, the Hurricane Ridge Road will be open daily 9 a.m. to dusk through the winter season, except for December 25, Christmas Day.
All vehicles, including four-wheel drive vehicles, are required to carry tire chains when traveling above the Heart O’the Hills entrance station in winter.
“Having a set of chains in every vehicle provides an extra measure of safety when sudden storms arrive or road conditions worsen during the day,” said Superintendent Gustin. “In fact, this practice gives us more flexibility in keeping the road open when conditions are marginal.”
Winter storms can close the Hurricane Ridge Road; high winds and blizzard conditions are not uncommon.
Road and weather condition updates are posted on the Olympic National Park website (www.nps.gov/olym) or by calling the park’s Road and Weather Hotline at (360) 565-3131. People can also follow “HRWinterAccess” on Twitter to receive road condition updates.
The Hurricane Ridge Road may also close temporarily if the parking lot becomes completely full. To make best use of the available parking spaces, park staff urges Hurricane Ridge visitors to carpool or use the new Hurricane Ridge Shuttle whenever possible and pay extra attention to making the best use of parking spaces.
“Ride-sharing and carpooling will conserve the limited parking spaces at Hurricane Ridge and we ask our visitors to help in this effort,” said Superintendent Gustin.
Entrance fees are collected at the Heart O’the Hills entrance station whenever the road is open. Olympic’s seven-day entrance pass, which allows a private vehicle to enter any of the park’s roadways, costs $15. The Olympic National Park Annual Pass, good for one year after the purchase date, costs $30.
Hurricane Ridge Shuttle Van
All Points Charters and Tours will provide twice-daily van service from downtown Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge Wednesday through Sunday, beginning on Friday, December 17.
Shuttle vans will depart from the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on Railroad Avenue at 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and will pick up passengers at the Vern Burton Center at 9:05 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. before the 45-minute drive to Hurricane Ridge. Vans will depart Hurricane Ridge at approximately 11:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Scheduling details will remain flexible during the start-up period for this new service.
Advance reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling All Points Charters and Tours at 360-565-1139 or 360-460-7131. Round-trip tickets cost $10 per person; rates for special circumstances are under development and will be made available soon. In addition, park entrance fees ($5.00/person for anyone 16 years and older) will be required at the park entrance station. Park and national public lands entrance passes will be honored.
Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center
The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center will be open beginning on December 17. The information desk will be staffed daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., except when rangers are outdoors leading snowshoe walks or assisting visitors.
Snack Bar and Ski Shop
The Hurricane Ridge snack bar and ski shop, with both ski and snowshoe rentals, will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday beginning Saturday, December 11 through March 27; along with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Monday, January 17) and Washington’s Birthday (Monday, February 21) and during the holiday period from Sunday, December 26 through Sunday, January 2.
Ranger-Led Snowshoe Walks
Ranger-led snowshoe walks for individuals and families will be offered at 2:00 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Monday holidays from December 10 through March 27. The walks last 90 minutes and are less than one mile in length. Space on walks is limited, so people should register at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center information desk 30 minutes before the scheduled walk.
A suggested $5 donation from each snowshoe walk participant helps the park provide snowshoe walks and repair and replace snowshoes.
Organized groups such as youth or school groups must make advance reservations for snowshoe walks. Group snowshoe walks are provided Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Monday holidays at 10:30 a.m. for groups holding reservations. Space is limited, so group leaders should call Olympic National Park at (360) 565-3136 for reservations and more information.
Downhill Ski and Snowboard Area
Weather permitting, the downhill ski and snowboard area will operate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from December 11 through March 27 (closed Christmas Day.) The ski tows will also be open Monday, December 27, Friday, December 31, Monday, January 17, (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and Monday, February 21 (Washington’s Birthday). More information about the Hurricane Ridge downhill ski and snowboard area is available at www.hurricaneridge.com.
Cross-country Skiing and Snowshoeing
Opportunities for cross-country skiers and snowshoe walkers range from open, level meadows near the visitor center to extreme terrain in the park’s wilderness backcountry. Anyone skiing or snowshoeing beyond the immediate Hurricane Ridge area should sign-in at the registration box in the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and be prepared for steep terrain and the possibility of avalanches.
“Although it’s close to town, Hurricane Ridge is subject to extreme winter conditions, including sudden storms, white-outs and avalanche – planning and preparation for winter conditions are vitally important,” said the park superintendent.
Information about ski and snowshoe routes and trails is available at park visitor centers, the Olympic National Park website or the park’s visitor newspaper, the Bugler.
Overnight Wilderness Camping
Overnight wilderness camping is permitted in the Hurricane Ridge area with advance registration. Winter camps must be at least one-half mile from the Hurricane Ridge parking area. Overnight parking is not permitted at Hurricane Ridge; parking and shuttle options are explained at the time of registration. More information is available by calling the park’s Wilderness Information Center at 360-565-3100 or the Olympic National Park Visitor Center at 360-565-3130.
Up-to-date information about weather and avalanche risk is available from the Northwest Avalanche Center on the web at www.nwac.us/ or by calling 206-526-6677. Anyone planning to venture beyond the maintained downhill ski area or the immediate Hurricane Ridge area should always check with the Northwest Avalanche Center or a ranger for current conditions.
Hurricane Ridge Webcam and Weather Station
Hurricane Ridge weather conditions are available on the park’s website at www.nps.gov/olym and clicking first on “Photos & Multimedia” and then on “Webcams.” The webcam image is updated every 15 minutes (although severe weather can cause webcam outages); weather station information is provided hourly.
Tubing and Sliding
Tubing and sliding are permitted only for children 8 years of age and younger, at the Small Children’s Snowplay Area just west of the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.
If conditions become too dangerous for sliding, the Small Children’s Snowplay Area will be closed. Visitors should check at a park visitor center for current information.
Olympic National Park Visitor Center
The Olympic National Park Visitor Center, at the base of Hurricane Ridge Road, is open daily throughout the winter from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Visitor Center will be closed on Saturday, December 25 (Christmas Day.)