Washington's Cascades Draw Snow, Crowds But Plenty Others To Try Out

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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.

A group of tiny local hills round out the eastern roster: Badger Mountain (50 acres), Echo Valley (20 a.), and Leavenworth Ski Hill (15 a.) --  with a hand-drawn trail map online.

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.

 

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Skiing, Riding In Oregon Means Plenty Of Snow, Lots To Choose From

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Blessed with some of the nation's heaviest snowfall, Oregon's 11 ski and snowboard offerings range from volunteer-run quirky to corporate huge -- and a bunch of duct-tape "ski areas," fixed-grip chairlifts and local rope tow bumps in between.

Less than a 100 miles from the Pacific Coast, the volcano-stuffed Cascades produce an "orographic lift" off the ocean whereby air rises quickly and freezes into predominately heavy snow. U.S. record snowfall for a season, 1,140 feet, was set at Washington's Mt. Baker.

The treeline ranges as low as 7,000 feet, meaning tons of wide-open lines. As for conditions, base depths trend above 100 inches. Deep and heavy snowfall prevails -- bring your fatties for legendary "Cascade concrete" -- although light powder can be found on the highest slopes. Expect high winds and frequent trail closures.

Extinct volcanoes Mt. Hood and Mt. Bachelor rise to the top of Cascade Range skiing and snowboard. Mt. Hood has four resorts on its flanks. Mt. Hood Meadows dwarfs them all with 2,150 acres and 2,777 vertical feet. Mt. Hood SkiBowl (weekends and weekday nights only), Cooper Spur and the recently joined Timberline Lodge and Summit round out the Mt. Hood roster.

About 150 miles to the south, Mt. Bachelor is even bigger: 4,600 acres, 3,365-foot vertical. So big that it wraps around the 9,600-foot-high peak. An angle of repose consistent with volcanic cones produces about 75% similarly pitched blue runs on the mountain. Snow conditions vary widely because of 360-degree aspect.

Across the southern tier of the Oregon Cascades, you can check out four smaller, community mountains that are close enough to be road trip material: mellow Hoodoo Ski Area (800 acres); newly purchased Willamette Pass (555 acres inbounds,1,300 sidecountry); classic Mt. Ashland (240) -- what skibum.net calls the "Mad River Glen of the Pacific Northwest"; and, county-owned Warner Canyon (300), which opened in 1938.

Moving up to the northeast corner of Oregon you will find the westernmost outlier of Rocky Mountains in the glacier-carved Wallowa Mountains, and a pair of outlier ski and snowboard hills nestle among peaks that poke above treeline. 

Surprisingly big, Anthony Lakes has 1,100 acres, 900 vertical feet, one triple chair -- and no black-rated runs. It operates Thursday-Sunday, and has snowcat tours.

You want quirky? Volunteer-run Ferguson Ridge, aka Fergi, operates Friday-Sunday, doesn't take credit cards, and has neither food service nor running water at the hill. A T-bar ticket costs $20, and rope tow is free. Volunteer four days and get $50 season pass. Trail map doesn't rate its runs.

 

 

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SnoCast: March Continues To Provide ❄️❄️❄️

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As of this past Monday, it's officially spring, but winter-vibes are going strong across many U.S. and Canadian ski areas. Prolonging this "winter-to-remember", this week's forecast features more storminess and big snow to keep ski season going, particularly out West but also the East at times. 

A strong spring storm will churn through the Great Lakes, Northeast, and eastern Canada this weekend, while the Western U.S. and Canada peaks capture multiple waves of Pacific moisture right into next week. 

Let's step through the forecast details in SnoCast for March 23-29, 2023.  

 

East

While spring is certainly in the air across the East, there's still plenty of winter hanging on at ski areas. With sunshine and softening, buttery turns, this is a great time to get out and enjoy the remaining days of the season. The image at the top of this article highlights the beauty earlier this week at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, who will host its spring luau beach party on Saturday the 25th. 

In the forecast, Thursday features wet weather, but eyes are already on the weekend when a new storm system is set to move through, delivering all forms of precipitation.

The storm center travels northward through eastern Michigan, delivering 3-6" of  snow to northern Michigan Saturday. "Ahead"/East of the storm center, we'll see a burst of snow across upstate New York and New England, followed by a changeover sleet or wet mix Saturday evening. Northern Maine and norther New Hampshire will stay coldest, longest, with the best shot for more than 4" of snow--good news around Bretton Woods, Sunday River, Saddleback, and Sugarloaf.  Here's a snap shot of what to expect on Saturday night. 

On the backside of the system, colder air filters in once again, which may allow a quick 1-3" of snow to fall on the western "upslope"/windward mountain sides. Watch around the tallest New England points, like Killington, Jay Peak, Whiteface, and Stowe for snow by Sunday.  Here's a look at the snow forecast through early Sunday, March 26.

 

West

A quick perspective and stat check before we delve into the forecast. There are now several ski areas with 700" of snow on the season (shout out Alta, Brighton, and Sugar Bowl). This is 150% to nearly 200% compared to an average season. Not to overshadow, there are also several resorts throughout California and Utah that have blown past their season averages, many over 400-500"+ on the season. 

And it ain't over yet. 

This week, general "troughiness" persists across the Western U.S. with more mountain snow on the way. While lingering snow hangs at the highest peaks of CA, UT, CO, and WY Thursday before a new cold front marches in from the Pacific Thursday night, triggering renewed snow up and down the Cascades and B.C.'s Coast Range. Snow spreads inland Friday through the weekend for the Northwest, northern Sierra, and northern Rockies.

Highest snow amounts will fall in the southern Washington and Oregon Cascades with 1-2+ feet at the higher passes, and 6-12" down lower. Great news for places like Willamette Pass, Mt. Bachelor, northward to Timberline

Elsewhere around the West, a general 3-8" will add up through the weekend, with higher amounts near a foot at the peaks of the high Sierra, Utah, and Western Wyoming

A bit of a lull comes Monday before the next storm plows into the West Coast Tuesday-Wednesday of next week.  

Looking Ahead

The temperature and precipitation outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center showed a continued colder and stormier than average pattern for nearly the entire country, particularly (you guessed it) for the Southwest, including California. 

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SnoCast: March Comes In Like A Lion

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From record cold and heavy snow in the southwest to an incoming whopper in the Northeast, March has come in like a lion—great news for snow lovers and extension of ski season. 

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SnoCast: Region by Region Forecast Through Valentine's Day

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In this week's SnoCountry SnoCast, what's not to love as we see fresh snow for places that have been fairly quiet thus far this winter.

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Ikon Pass Pairing: Steeps And Deeps Near Seattle

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Ikon Pass holders should head to Seattle and cash in two very different ski and snowboard mountains in the Cascades -- each catching tons of snow out of northern Pacific storms.

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SnoCast: Looking Back at a Great Ski Season

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With the final days of ski season closing in, we’re taking a look ahead at weather conditions through the end of April and also looking back on this snow season across North America.

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SnoCast: March Goes Out Like a Lamb

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March came in like a lamb, and so it seems will go out the same way. A few shots of snow, plus mild temperatures will have you looking forward to soft and spring-like turns into April. Here’s what’s on tap in this week’s SnoCast.  

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First High-Speed Chair To Go In At 49 Degrees North

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Regulars at 49 Degrees North have been hearing rumors of a new lift and other upgrades since the eastern Washington resort got new owners a couple of years ago -- and now it appears they are coming true.

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