CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN - It s five days before Christmas, and snow conditions are looking more like those of mid-February.

In Wednesday s storm alone, 23 inches of snow fell In 24 hours. And on Thursday, it was still snowing. Some 227 inches of snow has come down so far this season, which is already more than half of the 10-year seasonal average of 435 inches. That s an average that s increasing as the last three snow seasons have also been strong ones.

According to the region s top snow tracker Scott Patee with the National Resources Conservation Service, this winter is piling snow up very close to the record pace of the 1998/1999 season. That was the year that the Mount Baker ski area set a global record for the most snow ever recorded at 1,140 inches. It was so deep the ski area had to dig out underneath the chair lifts.

All that early season snow is bringing earlier than expected avalanche hazards. This week, Emily Anderson found herself trapped under a small avalanche in an area inbounds at Crystal Mountain that has not seen avalanches in the past. The sky patrol and fellow skiers were able to free her in about 15 minutes, but the hazard remains.

Crystal Mountain s ski patrol was out controlling until midday Thursday, and if the weather holds, expects to resort to a helicopter Friday to drop explosives onto dangerous slopes that are currently closed to skiers.

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