Photo courtesy Ski Bluewood
Badger Mountain Ski Hill, Waterville • 20 skiable acres on 300′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 3300′; Base elevation: 3000′. 3 rope tows. Uphill capacity: 1,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 33-34-33. Longest Run: 1500′. Season: January to early March; weekends and holidays. Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 100″.
The SKInny: Built by a local ski club in the 1930s, operated today by dedicated volunteers working in combination with the town of Waterville. Three slopes; three levels of difficulty. Unusual in that you need to walk quite a distance from the parking lot to the warming hut where tickets are sold. Terrific little ski area well worth a visit if you’re in the area…Badger is one of those old local ski hills that built the sport here in the USA…they deserve our continued support in this day of mega-resorts. The Badger Mountains of this world offer a day of enjoyable, quiet skiing that you won’t find at ski areas with base villages, detachable six-packs and clocktowers.
Signature Trail: “A” Hill.
Alpental see Summit at Snoqualmie, below.
Mt. Baker, Bellingham • 1000 skiable acres on 1500′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5050′; Base elevation: 3500′. 8 Lifts: 4 quads, 2 doubles, 2 rope tows. Uphill capacity: 11,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 24-45-31. Longest Run: 9200′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 600″.
The SKInny: Biggest, and maybe the best, “mid-sized” ski area in the country. It hardly seems mid-sized when you ski it, but at 1500′ vert, that’s all we can say about it. Terrain is incredible…from gentle open bowls to full hucker extreme video type cliff drops. Trees, chutes, you name it. But when all is said and done, Baker is about the snow. Sometimes it is the dreaded Cascade Concrete, but usually better quality than you might expect. As for quantity, fuhgeddaboutit…Baker regularly records the highest snowfalls in the nation, and recorded a world record in 1998. It is seldom crowded, and everyone from easy-going family skiers to flat-out lunatics will enjoy it. Although it is generally ranked after Crystal, many people call this their favorite in Washington State.
Signature Trail: North Face, Chute.
Bluewood, Dayton • 430 skiable acres on 1125′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5670′; Base elevation: 4545′. 3 Lifts: 2 triples, 1 platter pull. Uphill capacity: 3950/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-40-35. Longest Run: 11,000′. Season: usually late November to early April; Wed-Sun plus holidays. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″.
The SKInny: Fun mid-sized ski area with great family atmosphere, good novice area known as the Triple Nickel. Although it doesn’t have a huge amount of uphill capacity, Bluewood moves people along nicely and is seldom crowded. Summit offers routes for all abilities, with plenty of trees and surprisingly varied terrain. It will never be mistaken for Crystal or Sun Valley, but Bluewood is a heck of a great ski area.
Signature Trail: Ego, Prime Time.
Crystal Mountain, Enumclaw • 3000+ skiable acres on 3100′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7012′; Base elevation: 4400′. 11 Lifts: 2 sixpacks, 2 quads, 2 triples, 4 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 20,310/hr. Terrain Mix: 13-57-30. Longest Run: 13,200′. Season: usually late November to early April. Night skiing on weekends. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 380″. Snowmaking: 2%.
The SKInny: Clearly the biggest and best in Washington State, and has to rank with the country’s mega mountains. Although it certainly lacks the notoriety of a Vail or Heavenly, Crystal certainly does not take a backseat in terms of terrain variety and backcountry opportunities. The knock — if any — on Crystal is that it can get crowded on weekends, and costs a bunch more than most Washington ski area. (Obviously it delivers a lot more, so don’t kill the messenger). If you dream of hiking a bit to reach untracked fresh snow so that you can drop through bowls, cruise through trees, and wander unmolested by crowds, Crystal should be at the top of your list. The “North Country” and “South Country” are not “official” areas, wink-wink, but they’re wide open to you, and usually have fabulous (if somewhat damp) snow cover. They even have a shuttle bus at a key North Country dump off point…how can you beat that? As for families and intermediates, Crystal is fantastic. Novice skiers and beginners may be a bit overwhelmed — particularly by the price tag — so we can’t really say it’s the ideal ski area for getting started at. But for everyone else — especially hotshots and wanderers — Crystal is just terrific. And for 2007-2008, Crystal’s new Northway Chairlift provides access to another 1,000 acres of terrain.
Signature Trail: Powder Bowl, Bull Run, Paradise Bowl.
Echo Valley, Chelan • 20 skiable acres on 300′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 3000′; Base elevation: 2700′. 4 Lifts: 3 rope tows, 1 poma. Uphill capacity: 2000/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-50-25. Longest Run: 2000′. Season: usually mid December until Spring; Sat & Sun plus holidays. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 100″.
The SKInny: Community ski hill, friendly, excellent services. Outstanding place for beginning and developing skiers. Spend a day here sometime; these little ski hills deserve our support because of their mission to put kids on skis….
…and the dedication of the volunteers is evident in this photo of an on-hill tow rope repair. So if you’re in the neighborhood, stop in, buy a ticket, and join the fun!
49° North, Chewelah • 1500 skiable acres on 1851′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5774′; Base elevation: 3923′. 6 Lifts: 1 quad, 4 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 6600/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-40-30. Longest Run: 13,000′. Season: usually late November to early April; closed Weds/Thurs except during Christmas holidays. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″.
The SKInny: One of the Northwest’s best ski areas for families. Unlike a mega-resort, everything funnels down to a common base area…it’s easy to find the other members of your group. 49° North offers a super-short chair for the skiers who started yesterday, a slightly longer chair for developing skiers, and even a couple runs off the summit that virtually any skier could handle. Grandma and the kids can cruise Silver Ridge, while Mom and Dad can venture in and out of the trees without going too far afield. Eastern skiers can think of 49° North as a western version of Vermont’s Bromley. But that really isn’t a big drawback, because this isn’t the type of ski area where you’re hurried to go from peak to peak and ring up the vertical. In fact 49° North is on a major upgrade program, recently adding the Sunrise Quad and 12 trails at Sunrise Basin, as well as six new trails and some gladed runs in the terrain west of Chair 4. The resort is planning to build the Angel Peak trails and glades next. Folks, this is quickly becoming a big time ski area.
Signature Trail: Mahre’s Gold, Cy’s Glades.
Hurricane Ridge, Port Angeles • 200 skiable acres on 600′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5240′; Base elevation: 4700′. 3 Lifts: 2 rope tows, 1 poma. Uphill capacity: 1500/hr. Terrain Mix: 10-30-60. Longest Run: 2000′. Season: usually mid December until Spring; weekends plus some holidays. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 400″.
The SKInny: Skiing like it ought to be: Steep, deep, and cheap. I have to admit I’ve only seen this place during the summer, and wondered if the lift equipment was still in service. It very much is. This is a throwback, skiing circa 1960. No exotic lodging, minimal grooming, no frills, short liftlines, minimal comforts. Bash through some trees, drop into a dizzyingly steep bowl. Most of the runs are not for the faint of heart. This ski area is on Hurricane Ridge, at the end of the National Park roadway. There is a fee to enter the park, and a separate fee for the lifts…but neither is significant. It’s operated by the Hurricane Ridge Public Development Authority (separate from the National Park Service, thank goodness) and offers a comfortable lodge. It’s an “upside down” ski area (lodge at summit) and the scenery can’t be beat; the photo above is from the early 1960s and it hasn’t changed much. If you live in the Seattle area, you owe it to your sport to make a few turns here.
Signature Trail: The Face.
Leavenworth Ski Hill, Leavenworth • 15 skiable acres on 300′ vertical
Specs: Lifts: 2 rope tows. Uphill capacity: 1000/hr. Terrain Mix: 50-50-0. Longest Run: 1000′. Season: usually mid December until March. Night skiing. Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 150″.
The SKInny: Community ski hill run by the non-profit Leavenworth Winter Sports Club. No rentals on premises, but plenty nearby. This is one of those places that, if you can’t have fun while you’re here, you are probably just a miserable bastard. Downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ski tubing, sledding, old-fashioned lodge, happy healthy people, and a top ticket price of about ten bucks…what more can you ask for?
Loup Loup Ski Bowl, Omak • 550 skiable acres on 1240′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5280′; Base elevation: 4040′. 3 Lifts: 1 quad, 1 rope, 1 poma. Uphill capacity: 2000/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-30-50. Longest Run: 10,000′. Season: usually mid-December to early April; Wed, Fri, Sat & Sun plus holidays and Mondays in February. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 150″.
The SKInny: Small-timey atmosphere, but make no mistake: Loup Loup Ski Bowl is an old-line, throwback, legit ski area with a decent mid-sized vertical — one of the true greats. Terrain (and grooming) can be kind of rough for novices, but the intermediate to accomplished skier will enjoy this uncrowded mountain. And when conditions are on, you really don’t need to go anywhere else. The atmosphere is such that after you ski Loup Loup, you wonder why you bother going to mega resorts.
Signature Trail: The Loup.
Meany Ski Lodge, via Crystal Springs Sno-Park • 100+ skiable acres
Specs: 2 rope tows. Alpine & Nordic skiing. Lessons.
The SKInny: Where to begin…this is a “ski area” unlike any other in the USA. Access to the lodge and rope tows is via snowcat only, and the snowcat is only open to overnight guests of the lodge. The lodge is dormitory style, meal service, deep in the woods, you get the idea. Skiing is whatever and wherever you want it to be; from very easy to very extreme. The main rope is a high-speed thing that requires use of tow mitts. Skiing at Meany is not so much a day of skiing as a day and night “experience.” Experts can request to be towed in by the cat. If you have the opportunity, do it. This is the trip you’ll remember and cherish.
Mini Mountain, Bellevue • 1/100 skiable acre on 10′ vertical
The SKInny: Okay, okay…this isn’t really a ski area, but you can sort of ski here. You ski on plastic or a mat or some such thing…indoors…52 weeks a year. This is an indoor “learn-to-ski” operation at a batting cages/climbing wall type place, which we think is just great. You put on real ski boots, real skis, then learn to skid down a hill. Graduates ride buses to a regular resort (Snoqualmie, I think) for “on-snow sessions.” If you have a child you want to get excited about the sport, or a timid spouse who balks at learning to ski, this is a real fun way to get them started. It seems to work, and we aim to report every opportunity for skiing in the state of Washington…
Mission Ridge, Wenatchee • 2100 skiable acres on 2200′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 6770′; Base elevation: 4570′. 6 Lifts: 4 doubles, 2 rope tows. Uphill capacity: 4300/hr. Terrain Mix: 10-60-30. Longest Run: 26,400′. Season: usually early December to early April. Night skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 170″. Snowmaking: 10%
The SKInny: Mission Ridge is a large ski area with small area equipment. Although the annual snowfall isn’t monstrous, the snow quality is usually rated as excellent; the variety of runs and scenery simply add to the accolades. Unfortunately the lifts clunk along at double and triple the liftride time of modern detachables. The benefit of this is that the crowds are on the lifts rather than on the trails. Mission loads people efficiently, so you don’t wait on line — you just ride the chair. If you can stand it, and get in the frame of mind where impatience doesn’t get the best of you as you ascend very slowly, then you’ll agree that Mission Ridge is fantastic. Excellent for emerging blues and wanderers, even a few hot areas for hotshots, particularly if you’re willing to hike a bit.
Sitzmark Ski Mountain, Tonasket • 80 skiable acres on 650′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 4950′; Base elevation: 4300′. 2 Lifts: 1 double chair, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 1700/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-60-20. Longest Run: 1600′. Season: usually late December to March; Thu, Sat, Sun plus holidays. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 60″.
The SKInny: Small, off-the-beaten track ski area that is pure enjoyment. Steep enough to please anyone, and varied enough to provide enjoyment for all abilities. The name — even the look of the place — suggest a ski area you might find in Wisconsin. But don’t be fooled, this is great northwest skiing. Uncrowded, unpretentious…jaded mega-resort skiers are often grinning from ear to ear after their first dash down Sitzmark.
Signature Trail: Stump Run.
Mt. Spokane, Spokane • 350 skiable acres on 1800′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5889′; Base elevation: 4040′. 5 double chairs. Uphill capacity: 4900/hr. Terrain Mix: 23-32-45. Longest Run: 8,000′. Season: usually late November to early April; Wed-Sun plus holidays. Night skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 100″.
The SKInny: The full name is “Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park.” Usually when a resort sticks the word “snowboard” in its title, it means they are catering to a younger crowd that potentially has more enthusiasm than manners — not the case with these kids. And while the area rates almost half its trails as expert, most of those should be rated as intermediate. When you consider the snowboard emphasis, moderate terrain that novices prefer, and the close-to-town location, you’ve got a recipe for lousy skiing…or so it would seem…in reality, Mt. Spokane is a decent ski hill, and it has plenty of tougher trails where a good skier can lose the crowds. Terrain is varied, lifts are spread out nicely. All in all the atmosphere is terrific. Novices should not be scared away by the trail ratings. About five years ago Spokane added a nice new terrain park/halfpiper “cutter,” so the parks and pipes crowd should have a nice new playground.
Signature Trail: No Alibi, South Meadows.
Stevens Pass, Skykomish • 1100 skiable acres on 1800′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5845′; Base elevation: 4061′. 10 Lifts: 3 quads, 3 triples, 4 doubles. Uphill capacity: 15,800/hr. Terrain Mix: 11-54-35. Longest Run: 8,000′. Season: usually late November to early April. Night skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 450″.
The SKInny: Nice mid-sized ski area with tremendous variety; from bowls and chutes to New England style trails and meadows. Although Stevens takes hits from long-time skiers who aren’t pleased with the regime change of a few years ago, it is really becoming a first-class ski area. Lines can get long on weekends, despite an excellent uphill capacity. Has something for everyone, from wanderers to hotshots, and excellent for family ski trips as the base area doesn’t get too far afield.
Signature Trail: Cloud 9, Tye Bowl, Rock’n’Blue.
The Summit at Snoqualmie, Snoqualmie Pass • 1900 skiable acres on 2400′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5400′; Base elevation: 3000′. 30 Lifts: 2 quads, 4 triples, 12 doubles, 8 rope tows. Uphill capacity: 32,800/hr. Terrain Mix: 15-42-43. Longest Run: 8,000′. Season: usually early December to early April. Night skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 400″.
The SKInny: This is sort of a mega-plex resort, actually four ski areas in one. Three are together: Summit East, West and Central; a fourth, Alpental, is a short distance away. The Summit areas are rather smallish, open affairs; Alpental is the big brother and the basis for the impressive stats listed above. West is the option for pure beginners, while Central is the best choice for emerging blues. The Summits are ideal for families, groups of friends with skiers of varying abilities, etc. while Alpental is for hotshots, adventurers, etc. The skiing at Alpental can be as tough as you desire, with backcountry offering plenty of cliffs and couloirs. The knock on the Summit is the short runs at the three namesake areas, as well as some rather dated lift equipment. The snow can be pure Cascade Concrete at times. Considering that it is less than an hour from the city limits, Seattleites aren’t complaining. All-in-all, a rather enjoyable resort.
Signature Trails: Upper International (Alpental); Grayson’s (East).
White Pass, White Pass • 635 skiable acres on 1500′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 6000′; Base elevation: 4500′. 5 Lifts: 1 quad, 1 triple, 2 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 6500/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-60-20. Longest Run: 13,200′. Season: usually late November to late April or early May. Night skiing on Fri, Sat & holidays. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 350″. Snowmaking.
The SKInny: Nice mid-sized ski area in the Cascades. White Pass has two personalities: a gentle, open lower mountain for beginners and developing blues, and an upper mountain for established blues and black diamond skiers. Beginners like it because they can buy a lower-priced ticket for just the lower area. Experts like it because the entire upper mountain is separated by a short but steep headwall; these mini “cliffs” keep the wannabees from cluttering up the trails. But it’s not like White Pass has some exclusive snob skier thing going — quite the contrary — this is as friendly and “real” as a ski area gets.
Signature Trails: Cascade.
• Snow Depth Reports courtesy Sno-Tel, a service of the USDA. Measured snow depths from selected regions around the state.
Mom has a pretty raw deal on the average ski trip…
They’re expected to make sure every child is geared up and ready to go…settle the arguments, feed the family, prepare the snacks, pack the chapstick, and so on…and then ski the black diamonds with dad after the second lesson.
The book, Skiing: A Woman’s Guide by Maggie Loring and Molly Mulhern Gross ought to be mandatory reading for every ski mom. It not only provides the basics for managing the gang, it also gives a step-by-step instructional guide from a woman’s point-of-view. This link is to amazon.com, where you can usually pick up a used copy for about two bucks. Mom, it’s the best two bucks you’ll spend all winter.
Hotshots are skiers who can ski anywhere, anytime, in any conditions, and generally enjoy showing off those skills. Wanderers are skiers who like to go exploring, to essentially get “lost” and move from face to face, seldom skiing the same trail twice. Newbies are the girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband who has never skied before, but gamely insists on going along. Obviously, Blues represents intermediate skiers, while Blacks refers to experts.
A note about ski area statistics: Although it’s hard to believe, some ski areas are (gasp!) less than truthful with their numbers. Like the guy who lies about his, uh, shoe size, some ski areas believe that inflated numbers make their resort sound more appealling. When these numbers are obviously questionable, we put a note: (?!) and will attempt to verify the legitimacy of the claim.
A Signature Trail Is mostly subjective. Whether it’s history, reputation, the view, or degree of difficulty…it’s the run you have to do, even if it isn’t necessarily the best the resort has to offer. If a ski area calls a trail by two names (one at the top, and another at the bottom) in an effort to claim more trails, we go by the upper name. If a trail is called “Upper Whatever” and “Lower Whatever,” we simply list it as “Whatever” in this index.
Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.