Western Snow Sports: Washington Ski Areas

Cutting a wide swath in the snow

By Peter Schroeder

Washington’s snow resorts rank among the country’s best, having produced Olympic and World Cup skiers including Phil Mahre, Steve Mahre, Scott Macartney, Torin Koos, Brooke Wales, Colby Grantstrom, Vanessa Berther and many others. Not bad for a state that has no destination ski areas!

Loup Loup, located between the Methow Valley and Okanogan, offers both downhill and Nordic skiing. Sharla Lynn Photo

The state also claims world-class heli-skiing (North Cascade Heli in Mazama), backcountry cat skiing (Cascade Powder Cats near Leavenworth), 200 kilometers of interconnected cross-country trails (Methow Valley), extensive snowmobiling and Nordic skiing terrain (80 Sno-Parks), the westernmost ski area in the continental U.S. (Hurricane Ridge), and the world record-holder for most snowfall (Mt. Baker—also known as the birthplace of snowboarding).

A new snow season is just around the corner and there are several exciting new developments in store for snow enthusiasts this year at Washington’s snow areas.

49 Degrees North has completed major improvements on Angel Peak. Sixty acres were transformed into seven wide-open new runs, and 170 acres were selectively thinned to create more gladed terrain. Construction, however, has been delayed on the proposed Sunrise Basin Village as well as the lift that serves hike-to terrain on Angel Peak.

Cascade Powder Cats offers cat skiing and boarding, avalanche and backcountry courses, and yurt-based ski touring on its 2,600-acre private powder reserve near Leavenworth. Guides and instructors lead small groups of up to 12 guests through untracked bowls, glades, chutes, and gullies in the backcountry. The lower level of the Windy Mountain Yurt is equipped with a lounge and kitchen with a 10-person bunk room on the upper level.


The majestic Mount Rainier from the top of the Mount Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain Resort. Jason Anglin Photo

Crystal Mountain’s new Mount Rainier Gondola, which debuted last season, provides a warm, dry and speedy ride to the summit and makes it easy to link top-to-bottom runs throughout the day. Moreover, the gondola allows a longer ski season since it accesses Green Valley, a north-facing bowl that retains a lot of snow into the spring even when it’s mush at the base. The Sasquatch Jib Park, Crystal’s first terrain park, will be expanded this season. Skiers can access 1,000 acres of backcountry terrain on the Northway double chair.





With the state’s highest base elevation (4,570 feet) and its location on the dry eastern side of the Cascades, Mission Ridge offers dry snow and dependable ski conditions. And when snowfall is sparse, Mission can crank up its snowmaking system, the largest in the state, and assure there will be top-to-bottom coverage. It was recently announced that the Special Olympics will remain at Mission Ridge and in the Wenatchee Valley through 2016.

No snowmaking is needed at Mount Baker. Usually the first ski area to open in the Pacific Northwest, it holds the country’s snowfall record (almost 100 feet in 1998 –99) and continues to lead the nation with a seasonal average of almost 700 inches. Known by locals as “Free Ride Heaven” for its unique terrain features with natural half pipes, steep chutes, hits and expansive gladed areas, Baker has a cult following with boarders from around the world.

As the largest ski area in eastern Washington, Mt. Spokane offers varied terrain across three mountain faces with three mountain lodges, terrain parks, night lighting and extensive kids’ learning and racing programs. The Backside Expansion has been approved, and construction is expected to begin next summer to construct a new lift and add 80 acres of new trails and backcountry skiing.

North Cascade Heli, based out of the Wilson Ranch in Mazama in the far north area of the North Cascades, whisks skiers and boarders to open bowls, steep glades and excellent tree skiing. With the most glaciated peaks in the continental U.S., the North Cascades are often called the “American Alps.” Within their 300,000-acre permit area on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, North Cascade Heli can access runs starting at elevations between 7,000 to 9,000 feet, serving up vertical drops of 1,500 to 4,000 feet.

By requiring all entrants to its terrain parks to watch a short video on safety and etiquette and then pass a test, Stevens Pass has reduced its accident rate by 80 percent. The ski area offers courses in backcountry travel, avalanche awareness, and mountain first aid. New gladed areas have been cut on the backside from the top of the Southern Cross lift down to the base terminal.

The Summit at Snoqualmie, Seattle’s backyard mountain, is just an hour’s drive away. Jeff Caven Photo

Four ski areas can be accessed with one lift ticket at Summit at Snoqualmie, giving a choice of beginner, intermediate, and advanced downhill terrain as well as a variety of groomed classic and cross-country skate trails. Backcountry skiers and riders should head to Alpena where they can receive training for backcountry skiing. They can also rent special backcountry equipment and will receive instruction for exiting the downhill ski area into the adjacent rugged terrain—which is neither patrolled nor controlled for avalanches.

After doubling its skiable terrain to 1,500 acres, installing a new ticketing system, and constructing two new lifts and a mid-mountain lodge last season, White Pass will focus this year on adjusting to its growth and enhancing skier amenities and services. The long-awaited opening of Paradise Basin has added almost 800 acres to the existing terrain. Their 26th annual snow carnival is scheduled for March 3 – 4, 2012.

Washington Resorts

>> Also: See our Washington Winter Lodging directory…

Ski Washington www.skiwashington.com

49 Degrees North – www.ski49n.com

Bluewood www.bluewood.com

Cascade Powder Cats – www.cascadepowdercats.com

Crystal Mountain – www.skicrystal.com

Echo Ridge – www.lakechelannordic.org

Hurricane Ridge – www.hurricaneridge.net

Leavenworth – www.skileavenworth.com

Loup Loup – www.skitheloup.com

Methow Valley – www.mvsta.com/winter

Mission Ridge – www.missionridge.com

Mount Baker – www.mtbaker.us

Mount Spokane – www.mtspokane.com

North Cascade Heli – www.heli-ski.com

Sitzmark – www.skisitzmark.org

Stevens Pass – www.stevenspass.com

Summit at Snoqualmie – www.summitatsnoqualmie.com

White Pass – www.skiwhitepass.com

Check out the winter resorts in these other western states/provinces:

>> Oregon Resorts

>> Idaho Resorts

>> Montana Resorts

>> British Columbia Resorts

>> Alberta Resorts

>> The Rest of the West’s Best

>> Click here to see our Winter Lodging Directory