Washington's Town Hills A Glimpse Of Skiing's Past ... And Future

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The state of Washington is dotted with small towns that have ways of entertaining themselves, including skiing and riding at local hills in the eastern Cascades.

Whether called community, town or family hills, these minuscule bumps provide local residents an easy way to get outdoors during the winter. Many a youngster made the first runs down these slopes, and their parents headed up to grab a few runs after work. They are the ground-floor of skiing and riding -- the pride of their communities -- so a trip dedicated to support these local operations deserves our time.

Badger Mountain Ski Area (10 a., 325 vert.) is an easy five miles from Waterville (1,100 pop.) on the very east edge of the Cascades. Opened in 1939 and operated by volunteers from the Waterville Lions Club, Badger has one T-bar, two rope tows and three runs.

Touting the "lowest priced ski ticket in America" ($10), the ski hill runs on weekends and holidays only. Cash only for a simple $8 hamburger, chips and soda lunch. Everyone (except ADA folks) has to hike 500 feet from the parking lot up to the base lodge.

Not far to the north, Echo Valley Ski Area (69 a., 300 vert.) is another volunteer-run town hill, located above summer playground Lake Chelan. Open in 1955, the Lake Chelan Lions Club handles operations that include one poma-platter and three rope tows.

A nine-mile drive from Manson or Chelan, the hill's layout requires rope tow ride to get to the 1,400-foot-long poma. Facilities are surprisingly comprehensive, with a day lodge, full-menu lunch concession, equipment rentals and lessons.

Like most small hills, there's tubing, and the $25 day ticket includes tubing time. Kids five and under free and season "membership" costs $175. Cash-only at this time, Echo Valley operates daily.

Head southwest and into the Cascades for Leavenworth Ski Hill (17 a., 300 vert.), right on the edge of the Bavarian-style town of Leavenworth (2,400 pop.). The history of this decidedly old-school hill begins in 1929 with a jumping hill and a warming lodge. Downhill skiing and rope tows began in 1936 (an outdoor restroom went in 1938), operated by the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club.

Like Echo Valley, it's a hike from parking to lodge. Once there, each of its two slopes are groomed and have a rope tow. Lifts run Wednesday-Sunday -- 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. A true community hill, Leavenworth has an extensive Nordic trail network, tubing hill, snowshoeing, several ski jumps and fat-tire bike trails.

The 2,000-square-foot Ski Hill Lodge is the center of activities. Concession includes food, beer, wine and hot cocoa. Some indoor seating and an expansive deck with fire pit when the weather's right.

Adult day ticket costs $29, kids five and under free. There's a "play all day" ticket for all activities. Leavenworth Ski Hill is on the Register of Historic Places.

 

 

 

 

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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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As Springtime Arrives, A Trio In Washington On Indy Pass Beckons

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If the skiing and riding jones persists this season, heading to Washington's White Pass, 49 Degrees North and Mission Ridge for a couple of days on an Indy Pass may be just what the doctor ordered.

Spring skiing is most often about "playing the mountain," and the different aspects at White Pass fit that perfectly. Slated to stay open daily to April 16 and weekends to April 30, its 1,400 acres and 2,000-foot drop spread evenly on two hills, each offering different sun angles at different times of the day. Expect heavy snow because White Pass is on the Pacific side of the Cascade. But that also means corn snow and soft spring conditions.

Beginners need to sunscreen up because there's not much shade on the Far East green terrain. A pair of chairs deliver to 6,000-foot summit of Pigtail Peak, where a bunch of blues a few greens pitch off to the northwest and northeast. The only blacks diamond trails live up there, clustered tightly under the two chairlifts.

A traverse from the top ends in Paradise Bowl -- the newest area of the resort. Pitch is mostly blues but the trees loosen up for some of the most persistent glade skiing in the Pacific Northwest. Again, the trail system spreads around the mountain, creating varying conditions during the day.

Mission Ridge -- set to stay open daily until April 9 and tentatively weekends to end of month -- sits on the eastern front of the Cascades, meaning storms dry out a bit before falling on its 2,000 acres. Its 6,800-foot summit is high enough to keep snow from mushing up too soon. A large cirque contains the trail system, which tends toward the northwest. Afternoon skiing and riding is often the softest of the day.

Experts get whole sections to themselves, as a long traverse along Windy Ridge quickly separates them from the less adventurous. Innumerable lines drop off the ridge that tend to be sheltered from the sun. The rest of the trail map welcomes spring conditions with dozens of wide open blues and a sprinkling of short black diamond pitches. Another place to hone playing-the-mountain skills.

And 49 Degrees North, scheduled to keep spinning through April 9, faces north in its midst but fans out to the east and west on its flanks. Good-sized at 2,300 acres, the trail network divides sensibly with greens and blues on lower half, and long-running blacks diamond trails on the upper mountain.

49 Degrees is nearly in Idaho, so the snowfall sheds moisture on the Cascades before getting there. It's a mix of Pacific-heavy and Rocky Mountain-dry, meaning spring skiing and riding will come with a wider variety of conditions than most Northwest mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bachelor and Crystal: An Ikon Pairing Of Royalty In Pacific Northwest

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A duo of truly big mountains in the Northwest have lots in common, including that they stick to the business of what skiers and snowboarders do on the slopes.

Both Oregon's Mt. Bachelor and Washington's Crystal Mountain are the largest ski and snowboard resorts in their respective states. Each has more than 2,000 acres in the area, lots more off-piste, high-speed lift networks, and deep annual snowfall. Base facilities tend to the basics, and there's limited lodging at Crystal, none at Bachelor.

Ikon Pass seven-day partner Mt. Bachelor touts 4,323 skiable acres, but at least half of that is backside backcountry. From the summit, the vertical drop is 3,365 vertical with about 2,000 of that on the lower half. Miles of intermediate runs splay off the volcano's skirt, and as does the the 12-stop Woodward terrain park complex.

Eight of 12 chairs spin at high speed, all on the northern side of the cone volcano. All but one stops at treeline: The Summit Express drops off just below 9,065-foot summit for a 360-degree choice of skiable lines. Back bowls vast and mostly blue, with gnarly drops in between. A "catchline" boundary trail ushers all around to the base areas.

With first-come first-served parking lots at two base areas, Bachelor mostly handles day-trippers from Bend, Eugene or distant Portland. Bachelor's horizon-to-horizon exposure can bring harsh winds. City of Bend (95,000 pop.) boasts top breweries and lodging options.

Farther north in the Cascades, Ikon partner Crystal Mountain runs off a volcanic ridge just east of Mt. Ranier. Basic base facilities are undergoing an overhaul. New and developing skiers and riders get four chairs in a dedicated slow-skiing area, alongside Crystal's three terrain parks.

Most of the skiing and riding take place above -- 3,000 vertical drop off a steep cirque that tops out at 7,000 feet. An 8-person gondola and half-dozen high-speeds do the heavy lifting on an upper mountain evenly divvied up between blues and blacks. Alpine steeps and glades of trees make Northway Peak expert backside bowl popular.

Seattle isn't far away, and full parking lots have been a problem for Crystal in its tight quarters. This season, online pre-registration required for all on Friday-Sunday for $20. Ikon Pass holders need only register pass and license number for free parking.

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SnoCast: Storms in the East; West (Finally) Settles

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The West finally settles down after an extremely active stretch, while the East prepares for three storms this upcoming week. Here's the forecast scoop in this week's SnoCast. 

East

On Thursday, a storm continues to lift northeastward through the Great Lakes, delivering blustery winds and a healthy 6-12" of snow for parts of northern Michigan and Wisconsin. Great news for Midwest ski areas around Granite Peak, WhitecapShanty Creek, and Big Powderhorn

This same system shifts to the Northeast later Thursday-Friday, delivering much-need 5-10"+ of snow for northern New England ski areas, with highest amounts in northern Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Look to Jay Peak, Burke Mountain, Loon, Sunday River and others nearby.

Unfortunately, warmer air sneaks in from the south generating a wintry mix parts of the Catskills, Poconos, and Berkshires with slick travel expected. 

Colder air returns for all through Friday with light upslope snow lingering across the northern Appalachians, which will be followed up by a beautiful weekend for skiing and riding. Get out and love it! 

A second system will track up the Appalachians to interior New England Sunday through Monday (1/22-23). This time, the rain/snow line threatens to bisect New England from southwest to northeast, so most likely areas to see snow remain across northern Pennsylvania , New York, Vermont and perhaps northern New Hampshire. Keep monitoring as the rain/snow line will shift based on the exact storm track. 

A brief lull Tuesday, before yet another storm targets the Northeast by mid-next week with another good chance of snow for the north. A bit too far out to talk amounts, but at this point, any snow is good snow.

 

West

After an unbelievably active stretch, the West finally appears to have a break in view. With nearly a dozen separate storms since late December, California and Utah have had huge totals, now topping some 300-400" on the season (in some cases more, including Alta at 426" and Brighton at 412"!). Excellent news for the snowpack and water resupply out West.

On Thursday, a cold front continues to sag across southern California toward the Southwest U.S. with snow drifting over the four-corners states by Friday. Expect a general 2-6" of snow for the Arizona, southern Colorado, and New Mexico mountains to round out the week. 

Most of Saturday looks pleasant to hit the slopes, albeit breezy over the Rockies.

 A system drops in from western Canada and the northern U.S. Rockies by Saturday night-Sunday with potential for 5-10" in the Washington Cascades, and a fresh 2-6" for Oregon and Idaho before slowly drifting down the northern Rockies by Monday.

This will open to the door and allow much colder air to spill in for much of the West next week.

Check in again each Thursday for a new SnoCast. Until then, happy skiing and riding!

- Meteorologist Kerrin Jeromin

 

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SnoCast: A Stormy Finish to 2022

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As we say farewell to 2022, we also say hello to more storms and mountain snow across the West and a warm up in the East. Details on ski conditions ahead in this week's SnoCast. 

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SnoCast: The Storm Parade Continues For the West

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Here we go again with another very active pattern and heavy mountain snow on tap for much of the Western U.S. While no large storms are in view for the East, we're seeking windows of opportunity. Let's dig into this week's SnoCast. 

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New Terrain, Upgraded Chairlifts Highlight Spokane-Area Openings

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A quartet of Inland Northwest ski and snowboard mountains within a couple of hours' drive from Spokane have new offerings as the 2022-2023 season gets underway.

The Lookout Pass trail map got longer this summer with the Eagle Pass expansion on the western edge of the mountain. New is nearly 500 more acres with the new Eagle Pass fixed-grip quad, reachable by a leisurely green run off the resort's main summit. Terrain includes mostly blue runs, plus a long lift-line black and a few other expert pitches.

Straddling the both the Idaho-Montana border and the Mountain and Pacific time zones, the expansion nearly doubles the ski and snowboard area's size to 1,023 acres, and it raises the mountain's vertical-foot drop to 1,650. Also this summer, crews regraded the Success beginner area and tweaked the base lodge, rentals and parking. Its season pass links with eight Western resorts, including Bluewood and Mission Ridge in Washington state.

Staying up north, Schweitzer expansive Outback Bowl got an upgrade with the Stella high-speed adding more chairs to reduce the ride time to acres of glades and blue groomers. The chairlift anchors the skier's right portion of the large basin on Schweitzer's back side.

Down below, the children's center got an upgrade, and a new spa has gone in next to the base Selkirk Lodge. Schweitzer honors the Ikon Pass for seven free days.

At 49 Degrees North (named for its latitude), the big news came last season with the opening of the mountain's first high-speed quad chair. The base-to-summit Northern Spirit takes skiers and riders to the high ground in seven minutes, clearing out base area clogs and improving access to the wide variety of trails off the 5,774-foot Mt. Chewelah summit.

Along with the Sunrise Basin and Angel Peak expansions in the recent years, 49 Degrees North has jumped from 1,500 to more than 2,300 acres. Its season pass reciprocates with Bluewood, Mission Ridge, Loup Loup and White Pass in the state.

Northern Idaho's Silver Mountain has opened more powder-stash terrain this season by pushing the ski boundaries off Chair 2 . Named South of the Border, it adds about 20 acres of glades and powder meadows -- plus a new trail back to the base of the lift.

On the other side of the mountain at the Chair 4 mid-station, Silver has opened up a new Jackass Snack Shack to commemorate the resort's first name, Jackass Ski Bowl. The resort is now a member of the Powder Alliance. And, Silver is the only mountain in the West that connects to town (Kellogg, Idaho) via a gondola.

 

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Four States In West Gear Up Kids-Ski-Free Programs

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Taking the whole family to ski and ride in the West can be a pricey undertaking, so a number of states have "kids passport programs" that allow schoolchildren from any state to get free passes.

Each program limits the number of free days and has a one-time processing fee. All have blackout periods. They require a pre-application, and some require kids to show proof of age and school, so check websites listed here for specifics.

The digital Colorado Kids Ski Pass is accepted at 20 of the state's mountains, including all four Aspen mountains, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. For $59 fee and completion of online application, school kids in grades 3-6 get four days at each participating resort.

The five Colorado resorts owned by Vail Resorts (plus Park City in Utah) aren't including in this program, but they have their own Epic Schoolkids Pass. However, the deadline for application is Oct. 9.

In Utah, SkiUtah issues its passport for those in grades 4 through 6. For $49, youngsters can ski and ride three days at all 15 mountains in Utah, including Woodward Park City (lift ticket only). The passport must be purchased online, including current photo. Then, show it plus proof of name and date of birth at ticket window to get a lift ticket. (Park City has specific locations for redemption.)

Ski Idaho has gone all in for kids' passports. Seventeen of the state's mountains welcome 5th graders for three free days and 6th graders for two during this season. Online applications at $18 processing fee gets a printed or smart phone passport. With parent or guardian present, kids merely show the passport to get a free lift ticket.

And in Washington, the Fifth Grade Passport costs $20 and gets youngsters onto five of the state's mountains for three days free. Apply online and get an e-mail passport to show at the ticket window of Loup Loup, Mt. Spokane, Lookout Pass, Silver Mountain and 49 Degrees North.

Most mountains in the West give free tickets for the very young -- six years old or younger -- but a few ramp it up. A Power Kids Pass from Southwest regional Power Pass can be picked up at any of eight resorts in the Southwest (and now, Willamette Pass in Oregon) for free skiing all season.

And California's June Mountain also lets kids 12 and under ski and ride for free. Parents need to show up at the ticket window with the child.

 

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West's Resorts Begin To Fire Up Snow Guns For Opening Day

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With opening dates on the horizon, crews at many resorts in the West have been testing snow guns -- and looking longingly to the skies -- in hopes of putting down a base of snow in October.

Most ski and snowboard resorts have announced their anticipated opening days, although persistent warm weather in some regions may have something to say about that. A frequent check of resort websites is recommended.

However, hints of winter whiff the air and the high-country leaves are turning, so it's time to haul skis and snowboards out of storage and get them ready for the season.

The informal race to be the first to open in the nation falls upon the highest-elevation mountains along the spine of the Colorado Rockies. Traditionally, it's been Arapahoe Basin, Keystone and Loveland that vie for the title, but Wolf Creek surreptitiously snuck in last season by firing up its chairlifts on Oct. 16.

This year -- if official dates are to be believed -- Keystone will lead the pack by opening on Oct. 21, followed by Arapahoe Basin on Oct. 22, and Loveland and Wolf Creek on Oct. 29.

In California, 7,700-foot-high Boreal on Donner Pass is optimistic to begin on Oct. 28, while Mammoth Mountain plans to be in second place with an Nov. 11 opening. Tahoe's Heavenly has penciled in Nov. 18 for its first chairs.

Despite having middle-of-the-pack summit elevation, Lookout Pass (5,650 feet) on the border of Idaho and Montana has pushed its first day all the way up to Nov. 6 -- a full two weeks ahead of its previous earliest opening. Schweitzer, Sun Valley and Tamarack all plan to follow later in the month.

A pair of Utah mountains -- Brian Head and Park City Mountain -- hope to be the first in the Beehive State with openings on Nov. 18.

Skiers and riders in Washington will have to wait until December for Stevens Pass (Dec. 2) and 49 Degrees North (Dec. 3), while Oregonians will have to bide their time until Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline (Dec. 11). Mt. Bachelor expects to follow close behind on Dec. 12.

In New Mexico, Sipapu has had a lock on first-to-open in recent seasons. For 2022-2023, the family resort tucked into the Sangre de Cristos has tabbed Nov. 18 to begin spinning its lifts.

 

 

 

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Three State Of Washington Mountains That Lure Summer Visitors

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In the state of Washington, a trio of ski and snowboard mountains flip the toggle from winter to summer to entice city dwellers and vacationers to head into the Cascades.

Stevens Pass is a two-hour drive from Seattle, pending summer construction delays. Regular bus service runs during the summer, an inexpensive way to avoid traffic on busy U.S. 2.

Owned by Vail Resorts, a Stevens Pass' summer focuses on the mountain bike park. Winding around and down the lower front portion of the mountain, the downhill trail map features two categories: freeride and technical.

The man-made jumps and ramps and berms in the freeride network take riders down two green runs, one blue and one black diamond. The more difficult natural-terrain technical runs rate one short green, three top-to-bottom blues and one black diamond and one double-black.

All runs can be reached via the Hogback chairlift, which is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays. Other things to do include scenic chairlift rides, disc golf and guided tours.

A two-hour drive from Seattle, summer at Crystal Mountain takes its cues from its location across from Mt. Ranier -- deep in the Cascade Range. There's hardly a spot on the mountain where the 14,417-foot stratovolcano cannot be seen.

Thus, summer activities at Crystal emphasize getting up and on the mountain. The state's only gondola tops out at 7,000 feet in elevation, where visitor can go on self-guided interpretive walks or spin a Frisbee on the summit disc golf course up there. Other ways to enjoy the scenery and cool mountain air can be had with horseback riding and hiking tours.

The gondola runs seven days a week through Labor Day, then Fridays through Sundays until Sept. 25.

The northernmost ski and snowboard mountain in the West, 49 Degrees North is tucked up in the Colville National Forest near both the Idaho and Canadian borders.

This back-country, hardy setting lends itself to summer hiking and no-lift mountain biking. Take one of several service roads up into the three high-mountain basins. Or top out at 5,774-foot-high Chewelah Peak. From there, nearly 2,000 vertical feet await, and it's hiker's and biker's choice as to the ways down. And don't forget to pull over for pick-and-eat huckleberries that grow all over the mountain.

 

 

 

 

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SnoCast: Making the Turn into April

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With the arrival of April comes soft turns, pond skimming, goggle tans, and sometimes some magical April snow. In this week’s SnoCast, we’ll check out conditions across North America so you know where to bring sunscreen, where you’ll still need layers, and where fresh snow is still expected.

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Epic Pass Fine-Tunes Access, Pricing For 2022-2023 Season

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A modest price increase, more choice for multi-day passes, and a monthly no-interest payment plan are among the changes as the Epic Pass for the 2022-2023 winter season comes on the early-season market.

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Late Snow, Early Snowmaking Prompt Slew Of Season Extensions

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Used to be that the first week of April was the traditional time to hang up the skis, store away the boots, and dust off the summer recreation equipment. Not so much nowadays.

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American Meccas Of Cross Country Skiing

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Ask the general public to name an alpine skiing “Mecca” — described as a location where people, who share a common interest, yearn to go — even those who don’t ski can come up with at least Aspen or Vail, if not Killington and Sun Valley.

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Indy Pass Three-Pack In Washington Offer Full Spring Plate

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With two days on this season's Indy Pass or a Spring Pass, skiers and riders can cop some final spring skiing days at the big, the small and the in-between of the Evergreen State.

 

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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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Go Big, Go Deep On Ikon's Mountains In Pacific Northwest

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A trio of ski and snowboard resorts of the Pacific Northwest take the Ikon Pass, and each offers something different for those venturing into the Cascades.

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Bring The Kids And Save Some Bucks This Season

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A burgeoning trend in the ski and snowboard industry is for resorts and states all across the country to expand ski-free programs for youngsters and teens in hopes they stick with the sport -- and also save families a bit on ski vacations.

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Pacific Northwest Ski Resorts Roll Out New Lifts, Terrain, Lodges For 2021-22 Season

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Following the challenging winter of 2020-2021 when ski areas implemented measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic - including limited seating capacity on chairlifts - this season's outdoor operations will look much like they did prior to the pandemic. Ski areas plan to return to full chair lift capacity for 2021-2022.

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