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.
Look at it this way: A good ski week in Washington State can be as good as anywhere else in the ski world. But, that result will depend on the weather and your size expectations. There’s usually plenty of snow, but sometimes it can be wet and freezes, creating a very hard base. There’s plenty of skiing terrain to keep any skier or rider of any ability level happy, but if you’re expecting one of those Rocky Mountain destinations, head to the Rockies. Here’s an incentive. You can probably get in three days of skiing and riding at a Washington ski area for the cost of a single day at the big Rocky Mountain Resorts.
49 Degrees North (Chewelah). This is a fave of local skiers and snowboarders in northeast Washington State and parts of Idaho. It’s an hour’s drive from Spokane and under two hours from Coeur d’Alene. Chewelah Peak has 54 runs and five lifts. The addition of 12 cut runs and the gladed areas of East Basin have doubled the ski terrain. The vertical is 1,850 feet. The Chair 2 terrain park is one of the longest in the Northwest.
Crystal Mountain (Enumclaw). The Forest Queen Express has good intermediate terrain, while the Rainier Express has some quality groomers. Green Valley is a short lift with a big open bowl at the top. The most notable thing about Crystal is the steeps. The snow is often heavy and sticks to the steep slopes making them skiable as long as the conditions are not icy. The lower elevation can mean rainy days. Still, the ski area is two hours from Seattle on the “sunny side” of Mt. Rainier.
Mt. Baker (Little Glacier). The snow-covered dome of Mt. Baker is almost as tall as Mt. Rainier and the skiing and riding is among the best in the state. There’s plenty of powder and excellent expert terrain in-bounds, and plenty more to be found in the backcountry. The price is right (especially mid-week) and lodging nearby provides good value for money. This is big snow country.
Mission Ridge (Wanatchee). The best news is Mission Ridge has more sunny days and dry conditions than ski aeas on the west side of the state. Yes, that means powder. There are four lifts and 36 runs over 2,000 acres. Experts will like short, off-piste black diamonds, while the rest of the family enjoys some long, smooth groomers. Check out two very good terrain parks.
Steven’s Pass (Leavenworth). There's a combo here of steep and snowy terrain and small mountain charm. This is a good place to bring the family, and also has plenty of extreme terrain for the more adventurous skiers and snowboarders. There’s no lodging so it’s ideal for day-trippers. Look for weekend crowds from Seattle, but no lines during the week.
White Pass (Rimrock). Head into the Cascades, south of Mt. Rainier. You’ll find terrific views of Mt. Rainier and terrain for skiers and riders of every ability. There’s plenty of steeper terrain off the Great White Express while Paradise Basin, provides excellent groomed intermediate terrain.
Summit at Snoqualmie (North Bend). The Summit has four unique areas and the most night skiing in the U.S., all just an hour from Seattle on I-90. The Summit consists of three base areas: Summit West, Summit Central and Summit East. There are 1,100 acres of terrain with vertical ranging anywhere from 765 feet to 1,100 feet. The ski resort is often referred to as Seattle’s “hometown ski area.”
Alpental (North Bend). This is the fourth area in Snoqualmie. It is small, but decidedly steep. The summit is at 5,420 feet and the base is at 3,140 feet, making for a 2,280 foot- vertical-drop. Lots of chutes and trees to play in. Night skiing, too. The summit is high, so the snow is deeper here.
Mission Ridge fills the bill as the largest of Washington's ski areas. There are 2,000 skiable acres here to play on.
Absolutely. It means relatively close-in skiing for easy getaways. Leave at 0’dawn thirty and be on the slopes for those morning runs, even if you stop for some joe along the way. Closest is Summit at Snoqualmie and its four ski mountains, under an hour. But, Crystal Mt., Stevens Pass, Mt. Baker and Mission Ridge are all within a few hours. That’s a treat if you live there.
Washington averages 18 inches of snow per year. December is the snowiest month with 6.4 inches of snow, and 5 months of the year have significant snowfall. At a higher elevation there may be up to 100 inches. Winter storms can range from moderate snow over a few hours to blizzard conditions with wind-driven snow or freezing rain that can last several days.
Winter temperatures run from 31 to 54. December has the coldest nighttime temperatures with an average of 29.4 degrees. Washington has about 80 days annually when the nighttime low temperature falls below freezing. The good news: That’s warmer than most states.
Yes, a few, but nothing like the old mining towns in the Rockies at Breckenridge and Aspen or Park City in Utah. Bellingham is over an hour away from Mt. Baker, but it still works as a good base for exploring Baker’s slopes, thanks to its breadth of lodging and dining venues. Stop by Lettered Streets Coffeehouse for a cup of locally-roasted coffee and a pastry before heading out to the mountain for the day. Hotel Bellwether is a great high-end lodge directly on Bellingham Bay. Leavenworth and it’s Bavarian atmosphere is close to Steven’s Pass and has fun local shopping and dining. Go for the bratwurst at München House or Der Sportsman.
Most skiers and riders in the Pacific Northwest hop in their trust cars to ski in the Cascades, but you have a few choices if you’re winging your way here. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is the largest airport in the Pacific Northwest and the 8th largest in North America. It’s a hub for both Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Spokane International Airport is a medium-sized airport about 7 miles southwest of downtown with domestic flights only. It is served by Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, and United.
Being a resident of Seattle or Spokane and points in between is what makes skiing in Washington so cool. You can be on the slopes from less than an hour to a few more. The weather and snow can be tricky, but when you live there you can make spur of the moment decisions when the sun is shining or the powder has fallen.