Washington's Cascades Draw Snow, Crowds But Plenty Others To Try Out
In the state of Washington, skiing and snowboarding choices divide up neatly east and west, with some of the nation's largest and smallest areas spinning lifts each season.
The Cascade Range hovers over the Tacoma-Seattle-Bellingham corridor, with some of the tallest peaks in the Northwest. They push Pacific storms skyward, whereby dumping lots of the heaviest snow on the slopes, and produce clouds and fog much of the season.
Along its crest, you'll find five of the state's best. As standard-bearers of Northwest resorts, they are also the most popular because they sit within three hours' drive of the greater Seattle-Tacoma metroplex and its four million people.
Northernmost Mt. Baker gets the most snow -- average 600-plus inches a season -- but only 1,000 skiable acres. Crystal Mountain is the biggest at 2,600 acres, and the only one with on-site lodging. New parking lot and local bus service aimed to ease endemic crowding.
Fatboy haven Summit at Snoqualmie (2,000 total acres) is four mountains in one. "Shaggy soul" Stevens Pass (1,125 a.) lays out bowls, chutes and trees, and local-focused White Pass (1,400 a.) gives lower mountain to novices with deep discount tickets. At all, expect weekend crowds, overcast skies, and tons of untracked heavy powder.
Up in Olympic National Park, Hurricane Ridge (220 acres, 800 vertical) is funky-local: Upside-down access, main lift poma snakes up the hill, open Saturdays and Sundays, limit 175 vehicles.
Over on the eastern front of the Cascades -- the Inland Northwest -- snowfall declines because of the "snow shadow" for a cluster of lesser-known mountains, big and small. Mission Ridge -- 2,000 acres, 2,280 vertical drop -- is by far the largest; a new high-speed has spruced up a clunky, limited lift system. Loup Loup Ski Bowl (550 acres), with decent drop at 1,240 feet, opens Wednesdays and weekends. And, Sitzmark Ski Mountain's 80 acres and 650 vertical sits near the Canadian border.
The Rockies poke into Washington's far northeastern border. There you'll find somewhat drier snow and a trio of Spokane-centric mountains. 49 Degrees North looms over all, with an astounding 2,350 skiable acres, 1,851 feet of vertical, a very efficient lift system and family amenities.
An hour from its eponymous city, Mt. Spokane's 1,700 acres crunch up for 1,800 vertical drop. Open Wednesday-Sunday, expect lots of snowboarders. And, in the secluded southeast corner is local-secret Bluewood, with 400 acres underfoot and 1,125 feet of drop to slide down.