7 Wintertime Activities to Do Now

Ice climbing, dogsledding, showshoeing and more await at these closer-than-you-think locales
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Seattle’s Ski Hill
Get your winter blast fast at The Summit at Snoqualmie
When powder fever hits Seattle, the closest snow is less than an hour’s drive east on I-90. At The Summit at Snoqualmie (summitatsnoqualmie.com), a yearly average of 436 inches of the white stuff blankets nearly 2,000 skiable acres across four ski areas—Summits West, East and Central, and Alpental. At Summit East, there’s also a cross-country, Telemark and snowshoe center, and a brand-new quad chairlift (“Rampart Chair”), hauling ever more shredders heavenward. The nearby Summit Tubing Center (complete with rope tow) is a low-tech scream. The amenities might be a tad basic—and the snow occasionally slushy—but you can’t beat the proximity; there aren’t a lot of major cities with such an easy commute to après-work snowboarding and skiing (until 10 p.m. on some runs).

Now, something swanky slopeside comes: This season marks the opening of the major chunk of an ambitious multi-use development. The brainchild of former pro skier and Seattleite Bryce Phillips, the so-called Pass Life (thepasslife.com) includes a restaurant, microbrewery, museum and dozens of sleek, green loft townhomes.


Inside a Pass Life townhome; Photo by Aaron Leitz

Phillips, the founder of Fremont-based sports retailer Evo, says he wanted to create a place for people to linger after open-air adventures: “This project was always meant to be a catalyst, helping to strengthen the community, creating a place for people to connect.” Hungry skiers can come together over hearty comfort fare at the Commonwealth Café (from the creators of Ballard’s brilliant La Carta de Oaxaca) or a pint at brewery/taproom Dru Bru (by engineer turned brewer Dru Ernst). Between these two hubs, the new Washington State Ski & Snowboard Museum will display artifacts of our state’s long love affair with snow sports—and chill ski swag, such as Phil Mahre’s World Cup trophies and Debbie Armstrong’s Olympic gold medal.

At press time, the cafe and brewery were scheduled to open mid-December; the museum, later in the season. The lofts are selling quickly—usually before they’re finished—at prices beginning in the low $300Ks. No plans yet for a hotel or short-term rentals, but that could follow. All this upscaling may take a bit of getting used to for longtime locals who love our unshowy but surefire backyard playground. KRISTEN RUSSELL

Climb Ice
Have you ever dreamed of strapping on crampons and scaling a frozen waterfall? Stand aside, James Bond. World-class ice climbing is closer to Seattle than you know. In December and January, Mazama is an ice-climbing mecca, and it’s only a five-hour drive from Seattle via Stevens Pass and Wenatchee to Highway 20 in the Methow Valley.


Ice climbing in Mazama, Washington; photo by NCMG

You’ll need to schedule the trip on relatively short notice, since conditions can be fickle, but luckily, there are experts in the area. North Cascades Mountain Guides will help you tackle the frozen waterfall on the 700- to 900-foot Goat’s Beard (a couple miles west of the Mazama Store on Lost River Road). Because the ice forms naturally, routes vary, but there are always a variety of options for beginners and experts alike.

“People don’t think of Mazama as an ice-climbing destination,” says local guide Mark Allen, “but this place actually has a very rich history of attracting some of the world’s strongest climbers. When the stars align, it’s some of the best ice in the state.”
At the end of the day, refuel with local fare and specialty cocktails at Kelly’s Restaurant (Winthrop, 18381 State Route 20; 509.996.9804; kellys-wesolapolana.com), then settle in for a night of glamping in a tiny, modern cabin on wheels at the Rolling Huts (Winthrop, 18381; 509.996.4442; rollinghuts.com) next door. Bask in the backcountry silence and enjoy panoramic views of snow-covered mountains—or check out the GoPro footage from your day on the ice. Prices start at $340/day. North
Cascades Mountain Guides; 509.996.3194; ncmountainguides.com  CHARLOTTE AUSTIN

Snow Dogs
Get your mush on in Mt. Bachelor, Oregon
Dogsledding is a surprising study in contrasts. The outing begins with a cacophony of yelping and barking as eager dogs are secured in their harnesses. But lift the sled brake and cry “mush,” and all is silence—or nearly: There’s just the swish of sled runners gliding over the trail and the panting of happy working dogs. With the brisk wind on your face and the smell of evergreens in the air, it’s an unforgettable experience.


Follow in the tracks of Jack London with a for-real dog sled adventure; photo: Jay Mather

Jerry Scdoris, founder of Oregon Trail of Dreams, has been taking novices out with the pack since 1977. His daughter Rachael got so hooked, she became a four-time Iditarod racer, and she now helps Scdoris run the business. Choose one-hour trips or half-day, 26-mile “marathon” runs (adults only) that include lunch at the rustic Elk Lake Lodge, which offers craft beer on tap and dishes made with local meats and produce. The sleds hold four people or 450 pounds, making the short trips a great option for families looking for a low-risk thrill ride. You’ll even get to feed and care for the dogs, and learn about the Iditarod as you glide along trails deep in the pristine Deschutes National Forest.

Six-hour drive from Seattle to Mt. Bachelor, Oregon. Sled trips start at $85 for adults and $45 for kids. 800.829.2442; Facebook: “Oregon Trail of Dreams.” DANIELLE CENTONI
How to Build an Igloo
The Northwest’s sometimes slushy snow (hello, Cascade concrete!) can bum out the most dedicated ski bum, but it’s got one terrific upside: It makes for some seriously sturdy snowmen—and more. For unbeatable backyard bragging rights, try constructing a simple igloo. In its most basic, just-for-fun form, the igloo is easy to make and cozy to crawl into; the coolest fort ever. KRISTEN RUSSELL

Here’s what you’ll need:
• Waterproof gloves
• Rectangular plastic storage bins (for “brick” molds; 12- by 18-inch bins work well)
• Lots of snow!
Step 1: Select your site in a nice, flat, open area (well away from trees that might suddenly shed snow).
Step 2: Using a boot or gloved hand, lightly trace out your igloo’s footprint in the snow—no more than 10 feet in diameter.
Step 3: Create “bricks” by packing snow firmly into storage bins. Invert the bricks in a ring around the footprint, leaving an opening wide enough to crawl through.
Step 4: Continue to build up rings, staggering brick seams and narrowing the circumference gradually as you go up. Pack snow into any gaps to make the walls stronger. Leave the very top of the igloo open for ventilation.
Step 5: Smooth out the inside walls with gloved hands, and then carve grooves down the walls so melting snow flows downward instead of dripping on your head.
Step 6: (Optional) Add a curved entryway.
 

Breaking into the Backcountry

Tired of the lift lines? Ditch the crowd and head out of bounds instead. With glorious views of Mount Rainier, Crystal Mountain offers some of the best and most easily accessed backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the Pacific Northwest. Think steep chutes, open bowls and powder-filled glades—all on untracked powder.

As of this year, International Mountain Guides offers one- and two-day trips for intermediate and advanced skiers. No backcountry experience is necessary; just get your hands on an all-terrain ski or snowboard setup, dust off your goggles and watch for a weekend storm.

Power up with pancakes and bacon at The Alpine Inn, near the base of the hill, then meet your guide and head for the hill. Depending on the skill level of your group, your guide might discuss how to use an avalanche transceiver, demonstrate some basic route-finding and terrain-assessment skills, and give personalized tips for skiing in variable conditions. Terrain is diverse, and where you spend your time depends on where you find the best powder.

At the end of the day, crash in a room at The Alpine Inn, then wander over to the Snorting Elk Cellar to brag about the day’s best runs over a burger and a Rainier beer. CHARLOTTE AUSTIN

For a one-day trip, costs start at $500 for as many as three people. For more information, check out mountainguides.com; to book a trip, call 360.569.2609.
On the Edge
Snowshoeing at Crater Lake
Stack the deck in favor of serious powder with a trek to one of the snowiest inhabited places in the U.S.: Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon. With an average snowfall of 44 feet per year—and snow depths of up to 16 feet—this is a dreamy winterscape, perfect for one of life’s simple pleasures: snowshoeing amid spectacular scenery.


The snowshoe views are astounding at Crater Lake, Oregon; Photo: George Ostertag /getty images

Just strap on your snowshoes, grab your sunglasses and go—there’s literally no learning curve, and you don’t need poles or other gear. As you skirt the stunning lake—the deepest in the nation—take in the sheer cliffs and caldera, and muse about the natural violence that created this landscape 8,000 years ago: the collapse of the Mount Mazama volcano.

Go it alone, or join a free ranger-guided walk (generally mid-December through April; snowshoes provided; reservations required; call for details, 541.594.3100).

The snow sticks around here, usually well past May, when the 100-year-old Crater Lake Lodge opens for the season, providing a comfortable home base for exploring (open May–October, but book early, it sells out by March. $167–$294. 888.774.2728; craterlakelodges.com). During winter months, book a superbasic, rustic room (no Internet or cable, but a gas fireplace) at Jo’s Motel, a restored 1940s motel about 22 miles from the lake (52851 Hwy. 62, Fort Klamath; 541.381.2234; josmotel.com). The park’s north entrance and Rim Drive are closed to cars in the winter, but the west and south entrances are plowed daily and are open year-round. KRISTEN RUSSELL

Outdoor Ice Rinks

Even when there’s no snow, there’s often ice. Get your winter on at one of these open-air rinks in Washington

LARA ROCHÉ-SUDAR
 

Old-fashioned fun—skating under a blue sky at Suncadia; photo Anne Taylor


Bellevue Magic Season Ice Arena
Bellevue
It may not be set among snowdrifts and forests, but the covered, open-air rink in Bellevue Downtown Park is the largest in the area, and offers a great seasonal frosty fix. Open November 28, 2014–January 11, 2015, open daily, times vary; general admission, $12, includes skate rental; hot cocoa and snacks available (cash only).10201 NE Fourth St.; bellevuedowntown.com

Riverfront Park Ice Palace
Spokane
This full-sized covered outdoor rink along the Spokane River has been included on lists of the best in the country. Full schedule of classes and specials, including morning sessions for parents with toddlers and a College Skate on Wednesday nights. Plus: curling clinics and drop-in hockey. Open October 29, 2014–March 1, 2015, conditions permitting. $3.50–$5, rentals extra. Hours vary. 507 N Howard St.; 509.625.6601; spokaneriverfrontpark.com

Suncadia Resort
Cle Elum
Unlike many outdoor rinks, this smallish patch of ice is not covered. Instead, strings of charming white lights crisscross overhead, and a blazing fire pit nearby completes the picturesque scene. Opens November 26, closing date depends on the weather. $12–$15/per session or $20–$25/all day. Rentals available; there’s a discount if you bring your own skates. 3600 Suncadia Trail; 509.649.6400; suncadiaresort.com

Winthrop Ice and Sports Rink
Winthrop
Nestled in the beautiful Methow Valley, this community rink was named one of the top 10 ice rinks in the West by Sunset magazine. This uncovered rink is a social hub for the Winthrop community, with funky Friday theme nights as well as skating lessons and serious hockey. Open from sometime in November through March, depending on weather and success of a refrigeration funding campaign. Prices vary. Skate and hockey stick rentals. 208 White Ave.; winthropicerink@gmail.com;
winthropicerink.com

Grouse Mountain Resort Ice Skating Rink
Vancouver, British Columbia
It’s hard to imagine a more charming scene than the 8,000-foot frozen pond on the snow-covered summit of Grouse Mountain. Open from late November to April, conditions permitting. Complimentary with lift ticket or pass; rental skates available; food and warmth in the Peak Chalet a few feet away. 6400 Nancy Greene Way; 604.980.9311; grousemountain.com

LOOKING FOR MORE NORTHWEST WINTER GETAWAY IDEAS? READ OUR FULL ARTICLE ON SOME OF THE BEST NEARBY SNOWY SPOTS.