Outdoors

6 Cascade ski areas form the epicenter of Washington’s ski scene

Skiers drop into Powder Bowl on a warm and sunny spring day at Crystal Mountain Resort.
Skiers drop into Powder Bowl on a warm and sunny spring day at Crystal Mountain Resort. phaley@thenewstribune.com

The heart of Washington’s ski industry is in the Cascades.

Between state Routes 542 and 12, skiers and snowboarders can find the state’s six most popular ski areas, each offering something a little different. There are the learner-focused programs at the Summit at Snoqualmie, the sea of blue (intermediate runs) at White Pass, the challenging double diamonds of Crystal Mountain and Stevens Pass, the deep snow of Mount Baker and the extra-fluffy powder of Mission Ridge.

There are more ski areas worth exploring in Washington but, for most, the Big Six is plenty to stay entertained all winter.

Here’s a closer look:

CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN

Ski season is getting longer at Crystal Mountain Resort. Spokeswoman Tiana Anderson said the season will run through April 24. Not that the end of the season really means the end of skiing these days.

Since the unveiling of the Mount Rainier Gondola in 2011, Crystal has become a four-season resort capable of whisking skiers to the upper mountain where they can shred the last remnants of snow. In the past, the resort has offered skiing as late as July 16.

Choosing between Seahawks playoffs games and skiing will be a little easier this season. A new heated, covered outdoor area will have several TVs so visitors can take breaks to watch games.

The resort added two new webcams (one at the base area and the other atop Chair 6). Also in the works: a Saturday music series. The bands are still to be announced.

Famous for: Steep, challenging backcountry runs such as Silver King attract skiers from all over the place. March 21-24, the Freeride World Qualifier will once again take place at the resort. Last year the finals were staged on Silver King and lured competitors from around North America.

Save the date: April 23. Crystal’s Bikini and Board Shorts Downhill has emerged as one of the ski area’s most popular events. This is a downhill race where the winner in each category scores a season pass. However, all participants must wear a swimsuit and inseams can’t exceed 4 inches.

Après: The Snorting Elk Cellar is a legendary evening experience. Order a pizza, sandwich, schnitzel or ask the barkeep to load up the shot skis.

RESORT STATS

Lift Tickets: $74, $50 youth (11-15) and seniors (70 and older), juniors 10 and younger are free. Prices include tax.

Season Pass: $1,200 ages 16-69, $800 ages 11-15 and seniors (70 and older), $50 children (0-10).

Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Terrain: 2,300 acres serviced by lifts, 1,300 acres of backcountry, 400-foot long half pipe.

Lifts: 12.

Trails: 57 runs (11 percent beginner, 54 percent intermediate, 35 percent advanced).

Summit Elevation: 7,012 feet.

Base Elevation: 4,400 feet.

Vertical Drop: 3,100 feet including backcountry return.

Annual Snowfall: 385 inches.

Cross-Country: None.

Snow Line: 888-754-6199.

Information: crystalmountainresort.com.

SUMMIT AT SNOQUALMIE

Traditionally the state’s most popular ski resort, the Summit has four ski areas and each draws a different crowd. Summit West and Summit Central are base camp for more than 500 ski and snowboard instructors. Central also houses the massive Central Park terrain park. Summit East is open weekends and offers a collection of intermediate and more difficult runs, including the Summit’s longest cruisers.

The most challenging terrain is across Interstate 90 at Alpental. Packed with double-diamond runs, Alpental is also a launching point for backcountry adventures. The Summit has one of the largest night skiing operations in the Northwest and additional lights were recently added to Alpental.

Famous for: The Summit offers some of the state’s best steep skiing at Alpental, and it also is where most Northwest skiers and snowboarders learn their sports. Summit Central and Summit West combine to make the state’s largest learning center.

Save the date: Jan. 6. At 10 a.m., Summit Central will be offering a 1 1/2-hour lesson for skiers and snowboarders 13 and older. The $25 fee includes a lift ticket and rental gear. The event is part of a multi-resort effort to set a record for the world’s largest ski lesson. White Pass, Crystal Mountain and 49 Degrees North are also participating.

Après: Located at the foot of Summit West, The Commonwealth builds 906 Burgers ($13) with Washington ground beef and Oregon cheese. Or try the pan-seared steelhead with aspargus ($19) if you’re looking for something a little healthier. The restaurant is located next door to the Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum.

RESORT STATS

Lift Tickets: $66-74, $45-50 youth (7-12) and seniors (62-69), $15 children (6 and younger) and seniors (70 and older). Prices include tax.

Season Pass: $519, $339 youth (7-12) and seniors (62-69), $89 children (6 and older) and seniors (70 and older), $419 teens (13-18). Prices do not include tax.

Night Skiing: $45, $40 youth (7-12) and seniors (62-69), $15 children (6 and younger) and seniors (70 and older). 15 lifts open at night.

Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m.

Terrain: 1,981 acres serviced by lifts. Terrain parks. 523 acres of backcountry.

Lifts: 25.

Trails: 65 runs (14 percent beginner, 45 percent intermediate, 41 percent advanced).

Summit Elevation: 5,450 feet at Alpental, 3,765 feet at Summit West.

Base Elevation: 3,140 feet at Alpental, 3,000 feet at Summit West.

Vertical Drop: 2,310 feet at Alpental, 765 feet at Summit West.

Annual Snowfall: 444 inches.

Cross-Country: 50 kilometers accessed via the Summit East’s Keechelus or the Summit Central’s Silver Fir chair.

Snow Line: 206-236-1600.

Information: summitatsnoqualmie.com.

WHITE PASS

There are few places in the Northwest where skiers and snowboarders can rack up as much vertical as they can riding White Pass’ Great White Express. Most might head out to Paradise Basin, but the Great White still gives skiers the most bang for their buck. The lift hauls passengers up 1,500 feet in about 7 minutes. Once on top there are many options for getting back down, including some of the resort’s best tree runs.

White Pass is trying to raise about $1 million to build a new ski patrol aid station. It’s raised about half the money and has more fundraisers planned for this season starting with the Dec. 3 Brews, Brats and Boards. Admission is $20 for the 5-9 p.m. event at the White Pass Lodge and includes a souvenir glass. A pond skim fundraiser is scheduled for April 15.

Famous for: White Pass is probably best known for being the home of twins and Olympic skiing medalist Phil and Steve Mahre, but it also has a strong reputation as a family-friendly resort. That reputation has only grown since its 2010 expansion that added 767 acres of mostly intermediate terrain.

Save the date: March 4-5. For three decades, the Winter Carnival has lured crowds to White Pass. The party includes fireworks, games, races and a snow castle large enough to ski through.

Après: A large Cruiser’s Special at Packwood’s beloved Cruisers Pizza will set you back $30, but this meat-covered behemoth on hand-tossed dough is an ideal way to cap a day on the slopes.

RESORT STATS

Lift Tickets: $63 for first ticket of season/$58 for additional tickets, $43/$38 juniors (7-15); $5/free children (6 and younger) and super seniors (73 and older).

Season Pass: $799 ages 16-72, $499 ages 7-15. Prices do not include tax.

Night Skiing: $28/$23, 4-9 p.m., during holidays and on Saturdays through early March.

Hours: 8:45 a.m.-4 p.m.

Terrain: 1,402 acres serviced by lifts.

Lifts: 8.

Trails: 45 runs (30 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced/expert).

Summit Elevation: 6,500 feet.

Base Elevation: 4,500 feet.

Vertical Drop: 2,000.

Annual Snowfall: 350 inches.

Cross-Country: 18 kilometers of trails.

Snow Line: 509-672-3100.

Information: skiwhitepass.com.

STEVENS PASS

Stevens Pass has a reputation for being a well-rounded mountain and perhaps that’s why it draws some of the biggest crowds in the Northwest. Traditionally the state’s second-busiest ski area (behind the Summit at Snoqualmie), skiers can find plenty of beginner terrain, intermediate runs and expert steeps. In fact, in some places you can string all of those things together into one long run.

The terrain park is one of the best in the Northwest, and so, too, is the backcountry for those who have the skills.

Make sure to visit classic runs like Wild Katz, 7th Heaven and Andromeda Face.

Famous for: Challenging terrain (both in-bounds and out) and the Top Phlight Terrain Park make Stevens a classic destination for skiers and snowboarders.

Save the date: March 18. Flannel Cup challenges riders to take on jumps and other features with style as they compete for $10,000 in prizes.

Après: The Foggy Goggle has a solid sandwich selection and offers live music on some Saturday evenings.

RESORT STATS

Lift Tickets: $74, $50 youth (7-15), $15 seniors (70 and older), free for children (6 and younger). Prices include tax and are reduced on non-Holiday weekdays and non-peak weekends.

Season Pass: $699 ages 16-69, $459 ages 7-15, $139 ages 70 and older and free for children 6 and younger. Prices do not include tax.

Night Skiing: $40, $35 youth (7-12), $15 seniors (70 and older), free for children (6 and younger). Prices include tax. Six lifts run at night.

Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m.

Terrain: 1,125 acres serviced by lifts including a 25-acre terrain park.

Lifts: 10.

Trails: 37 (11 percent beginner, 54 percent intermediate, 35 percent advanced).

Summit Elevation: 5,845 feet.

Base Elevation: 4,061 feet.

Vertical Drop: 1,784 feet.

Annual Snowfall: 450 inches.

Cross-Country: 28 kilometers.

Snow Line: 206-634-1645.

Information: stevenspass.com.

MOUNT BAKER

Warm up on White Salmon, then take a few cruiser runs on Daytona before deciding just how much you want to challenge yourself. Find steep terrain in The Canyon or, if you have the training, gear and a partner, explore the famous backcountry.

If you don’t have that much energy, you can always relax in the lodge and dine on clam chowder and fries.

Mount Baker is the starting point for the annual Ski to Sea Relay (May 28). The seven-event team race opens with cross-country and alpine skiing legs in the ski area before the third participant begins the journey to Bellingham with an 8-mile run. Additional legs include road biking, canoeing, cyclocross and kayaking.

Famous for: Deep, deep snow. No ski area in the Northwest gets more snow thanks to a constant barrage of moisture-packed warm fronts from the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Save the date: Feb. 10-12. The Legendary Banked Slalom lives up to its name. The celebration of snowboarding draws competitors ranging from local athletes to Olympic Gold Medalists. Maelle Ricker, an Olympic gold medalist for Canada in 2010, won the women’s LBS 2007-2013. Two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott won the 2013 race but finished third in 2014.

Après: Seafood with pasta is a popular order at Milano’s Restaurant and Bar, located about 19 miles down state Route 542 from the ski area.

RESORT STATS

Lift Tickets: $59, $40 youth (11-15), $30 child (7-10), $51 seniors (60-69), $38 super seniors (70 and older), children 6 and younger are free. Fifth-graders can also register online to ski free. Prices include sales tax. Prices are reduced on weekdays.

Season Pass: $790, $690 full-time college student, $535 ages 16-17, $325 ages 13-15, $230 ages 7-12; $470 ages 60-69, $160 ages 70 and older. Prices include tax.

Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Terrain: 1,000 acres serviced by lifts including a half pipe and a terrain park.

Lifts: 8.

Trails: 50 runs (24 percent beginner, 45 percent intermediate, 31 percent advanced).

Summit Elevation: 5,050 feet.

Base Elevation: 4,300 feet main base; 3,590 feet lower base.

Vertical Drop: 1,460 feet.

Annual Snowfall: 647 inches.

Cross-Country: 4 kilometers and backcountry trails

Snow Line: 360-671-0211.

Information: mtbaker.us.

MISSION RIDGE

Mission Ridge is the Cascades’ Neverland.

You’ll eventually have to grow up, but you won’t have to pay adult prices until you turn 25. The ski area has offered the special extended-teen pricing for several years in an effort to keep young people on the slopes during a time when they’re likely burning through their budgets while establishing their careers and lives.

Mission Ridge, celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, also claims to get more sunny days than Western Washington resorts. While its location on the eastern slope of the mountains means it also gets less slow, when it does have powder days the snow is usually much fluffier than what West Siders are used to skiing and riding.

Famous for: A wing from a B-24 bomber that crashed in the area in 1944 is displayed above Bomber Bowl at Mission Ridge. Local lore states that rubbing the wing will ensure a good snow year.

Save the date: March 18. During the Dummy Downhill, participants design ski and snowboard contraptions that can carry a nonhuman dummy down a short slope and over a jump. Most crash to the delight of the crowd. The longest jump scores a season pass.

Après: Western Washington’s influence on Wenatchee is obvious if you visit Pybus Market on the river. Its “Public Market” sign bears an uncanny resemblance to the sign at that iconic Seattle site. Grab a burger and a scoop of gelato.

RESORT STATS

Lift Tickets: $59, $49 young adult (10-24), $15 super senior (70 and older), $5 children (6 and younger).

Season Pass: $599. $499 youth and young adult (10-24), $59 children (9 and younger), $119 masters (70 and older).

Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Thursdays-Mondays.

Terrain: 2,000 acres including a 3.5-acre terrain park, the highest in the state at 6,400 feet.

Lifts: 4.

Trails: 36 runs (10 percent beginner, 60 percent intermediate, 30 percent advanced).

Summit Elevation: 6,820.

Base Elevation: 4,570.

Vertical Drop: 2,250.

Annual Snowfall: 159 inches.

Cross-Country: 10 miles of trails located 4 miles away at Squilchuck State Park.

Snow Line: 509-663-3200.

Information: missionridge.com.

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