Snoqualmie Pass: A Blend Of Convenience And Fun -

Drive I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass in winter, and you'll be traveling through walls of snow piled up some years 20 feet high. The Summit at Snoqualmie sits on the pass crossing the Cascade Mountains in Washington-right on the path where wet Northwest storms bluster in from the Pacific to drop voluminous snows averaging 435 inches per year. In fact, the resort usually receives so much snow that the season often runs from early December through early May.

A scenic view of lifts and ski area at The Summit at Snoqualmie, Washington

The resort is located only 25 miles east of the Seattle metro area, making it convenient for day skiers plus those who want to hit the slopes after work for night skiing. Shuttles and snow buses connect Seattle and outlying towns with the ski area. You can fly into Sea-Tac Airport and ski later that day, since the resort is but 50 miles from the airport.

The Summit at Snoqualmie is actually a combination of four smaller ski areas once known as Hyak, Ski Acres, Snoqualmie, and Alpental. Old timers still use the original names even though the first three are now called Summit East, Summit Central, and Summit West. Alpental still retains its name. The once individual ski hills, operated by Boyne USA, function as a larger resort interconnected by ski trails and free shuttles that run in a continuous loop every 20 minutes between all four base areas.

Together, the three Summit ski hills comprise 1,916 acres of skiing. Alpental adds another 302 area, plus over 500 acres of backcountry skiing. The Summit includes a Nordic center and a tubing hill. Snowshoes are also available for rent to explore the surround national forest.

A scenic view of the mountains at The Summit at Snoqualmie, Washington

Summit East is the smallest ski hill, with two double lifts. Summit Central-the largest of the areas--contains nine lifts. It is also home to the tubing hill and Central Park, where jibbers gravitate for its jumps, rails, fun boxes, half and quarter pipes, snow cross, bump terrain, and in good snow years, a superpipe. Summit West spreads eight lifts across its hill, where you can leap on S-90 to ski seven miles of interconnect trails to Summit East. Alpental maintains a reputation for steep vertical, cliffs, and bumps with its four lifts.

The Summit's Adventure Zones attract skiers and riders for more than just a slope of snow. At Summit West, Monster Alley, for instance, attracts kids for its curves and bumps. At Summit Central, you'll feel like you're in a maze in Chaos Compass Canyon with its myriad tree trails. Serpentine cuts a long, twisting "S" schuss on Summit East, and Little Kahunas lobs a series of surf-inspired rollers and moguls at Summit Central skiers.

Due to the proximity of the surrounding national forest, lodging choices at the Summit are skimpy with only one lodge. The Summit Lodge is an older hotel with newly remodeled rooms, a hot tub, and a steam sauna. Other lodging options include vacation homes and cabins, located near the base of all four of the areas. The resort is also a popular place for overnighting in RVs. Two parking lots with limited spots permit overnighting, but no hookups are available, and a small nightly fee is charged.

A snowboarder rides a rail in the terrain park at The Summit at Snoqualmie, Washington

Other lodging options include motels in Snoqualmie and North Bend, the two nearest towns within a 30-minute drive to the west. Cle Elum on the east side also offers lodging. You can also reach hotels and motels on the east side of Lake Washington in less than an hour.

Each of the four base areas has its own lodge with food service, rentals, and ski patrol. Lessons are only available through the Summit Learning Centers at Central, West, and Alpental.

For sheer convenience from Seattle, the Summit at Snoqualmie is a popular choice for many skiers and riders. Thanks to the lit-up slopes for night skiing, you can pack in 12 hours of skiing and snowboarding or at least until your legs turn to noodles.

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