The Best Northwest Winter Getaways

Infinite ways to enjoy the cold weather, from sleigh rides and igloos to relaxing by a fire
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

We may have more than our share of soggy, gray days here in Seattle, but we find solace in one fact: It’s probably snowing in the mountains! Then we make tracks to bright, bracing snow country. Whether you prefer to enjoy your winter wonderland up-close on slopes, trails and ice rinks or from the warm perch of a cozy lodge—we’ve got the soul-satisfying getaway for you.

Portlandia Meets the Volcano
Government Camp, Oregon
Drive from Seattle: Nearly 4 hours; I-5 south to I-84 in Portland, then follow the signs through Wood Village to U.S. Highway 26
Average annual snowfall: 246 inches
Average winter high: 36 degrees


Moonlight and an early dusting of snow on the main drag in Government Camp, Oregon; Photo mthoodterritory.com

With its year-round ski season (thank you, Mount Hood glacier) and reputation as a prime destination for mountain climbers, hikers, bikers and campers, the iconic volcano that is Mount Hood attracts a steady stream of visitors all year long. So you would think the town of Government Camp would be a Whistler-like hub of spas, dining and commerce. It’s not. And that’s what makes this funky little Alpine-esque village so appealing. The main drag is pretty much just a loop off the highway, lined with ski shops and mom-and-pop pizza parlors often done up in a quasi–Swiss chalet style. But what Government Camp lacks in polish it makes up for with its welcoming vibe. Activities for every skill level, and lodging and dining options for every budget give it a truly egalitarian spirit.

If you plan to ski or snowboard, there are three resorts to choose from: Mt. Hood Meadows (skihood.com), Mt. Hood Skibowl (skibowl.com) and Timberline Lodge and Ski Area (timberlinelodge.com), in addition to smaller resorts, Cooper Spur (cooperspur.com) and Summit (summitskiarea.com), and miles of free cross-country ski trails through the national forest.  
But if you’re a snow novice, or just on a tight budget, snow tubing is your sport.

You won’t need any skills, coordination or pricey gear, which is why it’s one of the most popular activities, especially for families. There are even runs gentle enough for toddlers.

At public Sno-Parks throughout the forest, tubing is free, just be sure to BYO tube or sled and pick up a Sno-Park parking permit at one of the stores in town. At private resorts, you pay a fee but get amenities, such as one-, three- and four-person tubes, flush toilets, snack bars and tow ropes. Mt. Hood Skibowl even has an automatic tube lift and glow-happy nighttime “Cosmic Tubing.”
If that’s too much of a thrill ride, kick back in a horse-drawn sleigh. The 25- and 45-minute rides running through Government Camp and the surrounding forest are a true Currier & Ives experience (mthoodadventure.com/winter/sleigh-rides).

A few miles farther up the mountain, you’ll find the winding, climbing road to Timberline Lodge. The 77-year-old, Works Progress Administration (WPA)–built National Historic Landmark is a must-see, an ode to craftsmanship told through hand-hewn stone and woodwork. The grand lodge, which served as the exterior of the fictional Overlook Hotel in the movie The Shining, greets visitors with its stone arch entryway set between the building’s two large wings. Inside, it’s all heavy beams and warm wood finished with hand-carved details. Grab a casual (but resort-priced) lunch in the Ram’s Head Bar and enjoy the stunning view. Or stay for an upscale dinner by chef Jason Stoller Smith in the Cascade dining room.


Warm your toes and indulge the Full winter lodge fantasy in front of a massive stone fireplace at Timberline lodge; Photo mthoodterritory.com

Overnight guests at the lodge can use the heated outdoor pool and hot tub, which are open year around. The deluxe fireplace rooms are predictably pricey at $320 per night, but the “Chalet” bunkrooms are a screaming deal if you’re splitting the cost with friends. The extra-large room sleeps 10 and costs $215 a night. In fact, group lodging is a common option on the mountain. Timberline Lodge offers shareable condos down the hill in Government Camp, through its off-shoot property, The Lodge at Government Camp. If you’re willing to be located a short drive from the resorts, the nearby tiny towns of Welches and Rhododendron have dozens of quaint Forest Service cabins nestled in the trees among creeks and trails, which you can rent through Mt. Hood Vacation Rentals and VRBO.


After a day on the slopes, relax in the heated pool and hot tub at Timberline Lodge; Photo mthoodterritory.com

The Huckleberry Inn (U.S. Highway 26; 503.272.3325; huckleberry-inn.com) has some of the cheapest accommodations on the mountain, including a dorm room that sleeps 14 for $185 per night, but it’s better known as everyone’s favorite place to fuel up on the way to or from the mountain. The inn’s throwback 24-hour diner has been serving up burgers and shakes, omelets and huckleberry hotcakes to soggy skiers and hungry hikers for decades.

But if you want craft beer and citified food, hit Mt. Hood Brewing Co.’s Ice Axe Grille (87304 E Government Camp Loop, Government Camp; 503.272.3172; mthoodbrewing.com), where the bratwurst and charcuterie come from Olympic Provisions, and the chowder is chock-full of steelhead. After a day playing hard in the snow, an icy pint from the seasonally rotating taps never tasted so good. DANIELLE CENTONI


Crowned “Oregon’s Highest Hotel Room,” Timberline Lodge’s charmingly rustic Silcox Hut is tucked even farther up the mountain from the lodge and, in winter, it’s only accessible by skis or Sno-Cat. Think of it as an overnight camp for grown-ups: bunk rooms, three shared bathrooms, dinner and breakfast served family style, a resident host who acts as your counselor and cook, and games in the cozy, TV-free living room. But forget KP duty; this camp is all about R&R. Someone else will make your bed and transport your luggage while you ski, sip wine by the big stone fireplace and rejuvenate at the Timberline Lodge’s pool, spa and sauna. The catch? You have to book it as a group. But, then again, what could be more fun than gathering 10–24 of your friends for a private winter ski party? Rates start at $145 per person. D.C.

Wunderbar Winter!
Leavenworth, Washington
Drive: About two and a half hours from Seattle, east on either U.S. Highway 2 (Stevens Pass) or I-90 to Blewett Pass; check pass conditions
Average annual snowfall: 95 inches
Average winter high: 35 degrees


It’s a wonderful life for snow lovers in Leavenworth’s town square; photo Ashu Shah

If you like your holidays with a heaping helping of happy kitsch, journey to Seattle’s backyard Bavaria, a little Christmas paradise tucked among the North Cascades in Chelan County. Here, you’ll find the holidays done up with all the trimmings: lights twinkling as far as the eye can see, strolling carolers, horse-drawn sleighs threading through forests and chalets fringed with snow. There’s even a nutcracker museum.

Once a bustling railroad town, Leavenworth nearly went under after the rail lines were re-routed. Then, in the 1960s, town leaders hit on the idea of creating a themed town. They’ve taken it to heart (some might say to extremes). If you visit on December weekends, leave your irony at the city line and embrace the experience: streets packed with revelers for the Christmas Lighting Festival, roasting chestnuts and plentiful winter quaffs, tots squealing on a teeny sledding hill in the town square and a nightly visit from St. Nick. Shops are filled to the brim with tourist tchotchkes, but sharp-eyed strollers will find a few high-quality options.

For a break from brats, try the memorable Latin food at South (913 Front St., Leavenworth; 509.888.4328; southleavenworth.com); the green enchiladas are outstanding. And check out the winter offerings on tap (but not the food) at nearby Icicle Brewing Company (935 Front St.; 509.548.2739; iciclebrewing.com).

As winter fun goes, you’re covered, with everything from classic—sleigh rides, tubing and sledding—to more exotic offerings, such as snowshoe/wine tours (Blue Sky Outfitters; 206.938.4030; blueskyoutfitters.com) and dogsledding (Northwest Dogsled Adventures; 509.782.4400; sierrablukennels.com). You may recognize the pups from Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” video. There’s even a sweet little ski area in town, with easy slopes perfect for families and beginners, and the West Coast’s only ski jump (15 and 27 meters; call for lessons; Leavenworth Winter Sports Club; 509.548.6975; skileavenworth.com). For serious skiers, Mission Ridge and Stevens Pass are about 30 miles away (daily shuttle to Stevens; stevenspass.com).

Mountain Home Lodge in Leavenworth; Photo Brad Schmidt
Consider a visit in January, when the fests persist: The second annual Timbrrr! Winter Music Festival draws the likes of Hobosexual, Prom Queen and Dude York (1/9–10; timbermusicfest.com); a week later, the town, still decked out for the holidays, tosses a little summerlike fun into the mix (fireworks, relay races, tug-of-war) for Bavarian Icefest (1/17–18; leavenworth.org).

For lodging, stay apart from the crowds (and polka music) at Mountain Home Lodge (8201 Mountain Home Road; 800.414.2378; mthome.com), where you can cross-country ski, sled and snowshoe in relative solitude. If you’re traveling without kids, soak up staggering views of the mountains and the Wenatchee River from your jetted tub at the hopelessly romantic Enchanted River Inn Bed and Breakfast (9700 E Leavenworth Road; 509.548.9797; enchantedriverinn.com). Wundervoll!  KRISTEN RUSSELL

Peak Experience
Whistler, British Columbia
Drive from Seattle: Nearly 4.5 hours; I-5 north to exit 255 at Bellingham (Meridian exit/Highway 539) and head to Lynden and the Aldergrove border crossing. From there, you’ll connect easily with Canada 1, and then to the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler.
Average annual snowfall: 38.5 feet
Average winter high: 23 degrees


Skiers from around the world wander the charming walkways of Whistler Village: Photo Mike Crane, Tourism Whistler

It’s 4 p.m. on a winter day, and hundreds of red-cheeked skiers and boarders spill off Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and head to après ski venues in the village after an exhilarating day on the slopes. Near the base of the mountains, chairlifts and gondolas begin to shut down, even as huge grooming machines can be seen on the uphill slopes, ready to start their night’s work.

Darkness comes early this far north, and lights soon begin to twinkle from shops and restaurants along the expansive pedestrian-only Village Stroll, packed with chiseled athletes, families with little kids, chic snow bunnies and everything in between. Their conversations—in a half-dozen languages—fill the air with stories about the day’s epic runs and new discoveries.

It’s a larger-than-life scene, which is fitting, since Whistler Blackcomb dwarfs other North American ski resorts with 8,171 acres of terrain, more than 200 trails, 37 lifts that can carry more than 67,000 skiers uphill per hour, and sweeping vertical descents as much as seven miles long. It boasts accommodations to suit every budget and lifestyle—from five-star luxury resorts to family-friendly townhomes—and a similar breadth of restaurants. There’s literally something for everyone.


Whistler Blackcomb ski area has more terrain than any other ski resort in North America; photo David McColm

But for first-timers—and there are many among Whistler’s 2 million a year—approaching the mountains the next morning can be overwhelming. There’s so much terrain, so many runs, it’s hard to know where to start the day. Surprisingly, it’s best to jump right in and go to the top of either mountain, where you can join a free mountain tour, offered at 11:30 a.m. daily. (On Whistler, meet at the top of the Village Gondola; at Blackcomb, at the top of the Solar Coaster Express chair.)

Once oriented, spend the rest of the day exploring. You can travel easily between Whistler and Blackcomb, thanks to the Peak 2 Peak gondola, which connects the two mountains in a quick 11 minutes. (Take this spectacular scenic ride even if you have no plans to schuss down any hill.)

Not-to-be-missed runs on Whistler include Peak-to-Creek, the longest run in North America, and Dave Murray, where the men raced for downhill gold in the 2010 Olympics. On Blackcomb, the aptly named Upper and Lower Panorama off the 7th Heaven
Express chair can’t be beat on a sunny day, while expert skiers and boarders head for the Horstman Glacier bowl.

There are family zones on both mountains, perfect for new or tentative skiers and boarders, as well as terrain parks for those who live for big air.

When hunger calls, stay on the mountain for famed Belgium waffles at the Crystal Hut on Blackcomb, or take a break in the Village for a gourmet hot dog and poutine at Zog’s Dogs (4340 Sundial Crescent; 604.938.6644), an outdoor stand steps from the Village Gondola. The aprés-ski scene is lively at classic watering holes Dusty’s (at the base of the Creekside gondola), Garibaldi Lift Co. (at the Whistler gondola), and Merlin’s (Upper Village, by Blackcomb’s Wizard chairlift).

With its Olympic history, it’s easy to think that the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb are the area’s only attraction. Truth is, there are many other ways to entertain yourself.

Spend a few hours exploring Whistler Village. Cruise along the Alpine-style buildings and explore the wide variety of shops (outdoor gear, clothing boutiques, art galleries and gift emporiums) while mingling with other pedestrians also happily braving the cold and snow. Then, take to the ice at the outdoor Whistler Olympic Plaza skating rink. This is also your chance to pose for a picture with the famed Olympic rings.

For a day of indulgence, the Scandinave Spa (8010 Mons Road; 604.935.2424; scandinave.com) offers Nordic-style bliss. Heat up in the steam room, sauna or hot tub, plunge into a cold pool and then rest quietly in a solarium. Repeat as many times as you like. Massages optional. At Meadow Park Sports Centre (8625 Highway 99; 604.935.7529; whistler.ca), fitness classes and swimming are on the agenda, and there’s a skating rink where you’re likely to see future hockey stars at practice.

Other activities include snowshoeing on the groomed Lost Lake trails (equipment rentals at Lost Lake PassivHaus; crosscountryconnection.ca), scenic walks on the Valley Trail system’s pathways, a day of tubing at the Whistler Blackcomb Coca Cola Tube Park; a treetop zip line tour (604.935.0001; ziptrek.com/whistler-canada) or the ultimate adrenaline-inducing activity: a bobsled ride at the Whistler Sliding Centre (4910 Glacier Lane; 604.964.0040; whistlerslidingcentre.com).

At Whistler Olympic Park in the nearby Callaghan Valley, enjoy the extensive cross-country trail system, or sign up for a biathlon lesson. Keen eyes pay off: If you’re lucky, you may see the Canadian team practicing on the ski jump (5 Callaghan Valley Road; 604.964.0060; whistlerolympicpark.com).

Keep warm under the stars, around the fire pit at Chateau Whistler at the base of Blackcomb (fairmont.com); photo Leanna Rathkelly

On Sunday nights, Whistler puts on one of its finest attractions, the free “Fire & Ice” show. Bundle up and head to the base of Whistler Mountain to see fearless skiers and boarders jump through hoops of fire as they race down the hill. VIRGINIA SMYTH

WHERE TO EAT
A recent addition to the Whistler dining scene, Red Door Bistro (2129 Lake Placid Road; 604.962.6262; reddoorbistro.ca) offers a menu of locally sourced entrées served in an intimate dining room. The Wild Wood Bistro and Bar (breakfast, lunch and dinner; several locations including 4500 Northlands Blvd., Whistler Village N; 604.935.4077; wildwoodrestaurants.ca) is a favorite of locals, thanks to the wide selection on its menu (ribs, steak, seafood, pasta, burgers for dinner) and reasonable prices.

WHERE TO STAY
The Nita Lake Lodge (2131 Lake Placid Road; 604.966-5700; nitalakelodge.com) is Whistler’s hidden gem, just down the street from the Creekside Gondola. With luxury suites that overlook picturesque Nita Lake, the boutique hotel also features
the luxe Cure Lounge—a perfect place to chill out after a day on the slopes.

Washington state residents can get a break on Whistler Blackcomb ticket prices by signing up for an Edge Card. Preload the card for one, three, five or 10 days of mountain access; the more days, the bigger the discount. Proof of Washington state residency is required. For more Whistler Blackcomb information, go to whistlerblackcomb.com; other Whistler information can be found at whistler.com.


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