Municipal Moguls

Urban Skiing Is Seattle's New Favorite Sport

Because sometimes sledding isn't enough.

By Allison Williams February 15, 2021

Skiers hit the slopes in style on Capitol Hill.

Image: Michael Guio

Seattle doesn't score a near-foot of snow within city limits every winter—but when it does, urban slalom has become a common sight. While our famous hills have long drawn sledders armed with saucers and racing sleds (and laundry baskets and cookie sheets), skiers and snowboarders are increasingly breaking out mountain gear for in-town play.

Why the uptick? For one thing, the recent backcountry skiing boom means that more city residents own touring equipment designed to travel either uphill or downhill, negating the need for chairlifts. But fancy touring setups weren't the only implements to hit the snow this Valentine's Day weekend; intrepid adventurers booted up Denny Hill with snowboards and alpine skis, traversed golf courses on thin cross-country sticks, and even turned tricks on skateboard-like snow skates.

Capitol Hill environmental engineer Emily Guyer had considered driving to Crystal Mountain on Saturday before deciding the roads were too treacherous—and there was fresh powder just outside her own front door anyway. "We lapped the hills in front of our house," she says, noting that Roy Street in particular was so compacted by sledders that it resembled the groomed runs found at ski resorts. "It feels very uniquely Seattle."

On Sunday Guyer followed her usual five-mile running loop on her alpine touring gear. Even as she returned to work Monday, it made her smile to look out the window at streets she'd skied. "It's not something you can do in the Northeast," says the Massachusetts native; the hills there aren't steep enough and, well, "they do a great job plowing."

Snowboarders outnumbered skiers on Thomas Street on Saturday.

Image: Michael Guio

Urban skiing has become so popular in Seattle that certain "runs" have earned a reputation. In Mount Baker, someone posted a sign on South McClellan Street blazed with double black diamonds—a symbol for advanced, steep terrain. Snow sport Facebook groups shared Google maps of the city drawn with green, blue, and black lines to resemble trail guides posted in ski areas. In group Ski the Northwest, one plan outlined how to use Link light rail to travel between favorable hills, calling the $4.50 transit fee "a bargain by today's lift ticket prices."

Gas Works Park became a veritable Aspen clone this weekend when Seattle Skate Features, a business founded last year by two 16-year-old boys to sell skateboard ramps, constructed a pop-up terrain park facing Lake Union. Skiers and snowboarders weren't the only ones to use the jumps and rails they erected; one man even launched in a kayak. The teen duo plans to share clips of the most dramatic Gas Works tricks on their Instagram all week.

Of course, there's a stark difference between Dravus Street and, say, the slopes at Alpental. Washington skiers joke about Cascade Concrete—the nickname for our wet, heavy snowpack—but the city has a literal slab of blacktop under those ten inches of new powder. At ProSki Seattle on Aurora, manager Michael Long expects his repair shop to address the toll taken on expensive gear, mostly in the form of scratches and gouges. "I'm guessing we'll see all the things people screwed up this week," he says.

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