A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
Heading West to ski and ride? Good idea. Now, aim a bit farther north. The ski resorts in the Pacific Northwest (and we’re not even talking about British Columbia and Alaska) will provide you with enough vertical, powder, steeps and fun that you can pack into any season or winter vacation.
The weather can be a bit tricky, and yes it rains. A lot. But nevertheless the ski mountains in the Pac NW can get prodigious amounts of snow.
No argument that the snow is generally wetter here, than say in fluffy powdery Colorado.
Western Washington, for example lies close to the Pacific coast and the snow is wetter than Eastern Washington blocked by the Cascade Mountain range. Similar things occur in Oregon. There are some days skiers say it’s like “pushing through concrete.” That can be snow speak for “get the right skis.”
No matter. If you live in the region’s big cities like Seattle Wash. and Portland, Ore. you don’t need to go anywhere else unless you’re looking for a change in scenery. Let’s stipulate right here: The scenery in the NW mountains matches anywhere in the world. So, don’t leave for that.
Ski areas in Washington take advantage of the abundance of snowfall provided in the Cascade Range, making it a favorite for skiing and snowboarding.
The Summit at Snoqualmie: There are four areas here including Alpental, Summit West, Summit Central and Summit East. It’s less than an hour’s drive from Seattle.
Crystal Mountain: This is the largest ski resort in Washington offering up 2,600 skiable acres. It’s 76 miles from Seattle.
Stevens Pass: You’ll find a wide variety of steeps, cliffs and chutes that benefit from the Cascade Mountain snowfalls. It’s a favorite in the Cascades. Vail Resorts owns it these days.
Mt. Baker: This snow-covered gem is only a half-hour from Bellingham in Northern Washington and is the second most active crater in the Cascades (after Mt. St. Helens). Baker holds the world record for largest snowfall in one season (1,140” in 1998-99) and the highest average annual snowfall of any resort in the world at 641”.
There are other choices, too: Mission Ridge near Wenatchee gets smaller crowds and has good novice terrain. White Pass, catering primarily to Yakima skiers and riders, has high speed lifts, fun terrain and is where U.S. Ski Team superstars Phil and Steve Mahre grew up. You’ll spot them on the hill these days with their own kids. Hurricane Ridge is a bit of a throwback in Olympic National Park with two rope tows and a poma for transportation. 49 Degrees North is 50 miles from the Canadian border and is open Friday-Tuesday. Most lodging is in Chewelah.
Timberline Lodge/Mt. Hood Ski Bowl: Timberline offers the longest ski season in North America on Oregon’s tallest mountain. The winter season begins early to mid-November and continues through the end of May. The Palmer Express high-speed quad operates in the Spring and Summer seasons only. That means with just a short fall break, you can virtually ski year-round here. The historic Timberline Lodge is publicly owned but privately managed. And, yes, “The Shining” was filmed here.
Mt. Hood Meadows: Live in the Portland area? Lucky you. Averaging 430 inches of snow, Meadows is 90 minutes away from the city in the Mt. Hood National Forest. This is high quality big mountain skiing and riding. There are 2,150 skiable acres for skiers and riders,11 lifts and 85 named runs. Additional hike-to terrain adds an additional 1,700 feet of vertical if you seek it.
Mt. Bachelor: This popular ski resort lies only 22 miles from the Central Oregon city of Bend. A scientist would call it a stratovolcano atop a shield volcano. You can just call it fun to ski and ride. There’s no lodging right at the base, but there are plenty of pillows 20 minutes away in Bend or Sunriver.
Hoodoo Ski Bowl: This family-friendly smaller scale ski area founded in 1938 lies 44 miles west of Bend, and certainly easy to find in Central Oregon. It’s a family-manageable 1,035 vertical covering 800 acres.
Take your pick. Mt. Bachelor is the biggest in Oregon. Crystal Mountain is the largest in Washington.
Oregon and Washington are generally considered the primary Pacific Northwest states. But they aren’t far from Idaho and Montana resorts (considered to be Rocky Mountains) or the terrific skiing and riding in British Columbia, Canada. Think Whistler-Blackcomb.
Well, if you pay ticket window prices (and shame on you if you do), it’s expensive. Mt. Bachelor’s full day adult ticket, for example, will set you back $119 Monday-Thursday, $139 Friday, $159 Saturday and Sunday and $169 holidays. Crystal Mt. midweek tickets are $75 and you can’t even buy them much of the season for weekends. Hoodoo hits you for $70. Look for specials.
Wise skiers in the Pacific Northwest purchase one of the several multi-ski area passes. Perhaps the best bet is the Indy Pass where you can ski two days each at Hoodoo and Mt. Ashland in Oregon and White Pass, 49 Degrees North, Hurricane Ridge and Mission Ridge in Washington.
Alpental, in the Snoqualmie mix, has little to no grooming. It’ll give you a go, especially heading up to the top and skiing the backside. In general, the ridges, chutes and other terrain features render Washington skiing tougher than on Oregon’s volcano slopes.
Be sure you pack some waterproof outerwear and underwear that wicks moisture. It’s going to rain at lower altitudes and chairs will be wet. And, then, yeah, water freezes. Plan for it and get the right skis to plow through what often can be wet, heavy snow. Do it right, as they say here, and it will be a delight.