Snow Report

14 Ski Mountains to Visit Across the Pacific Northwest

Ski season has already begun in Northwest resorts. Here's what's new, what's different, and how the heck snowsports will work during a pandemic.

By Allison Williams

View from the top, Summit at Snoqualmie. Photo courtesy the resort.

The Covid Caveat: Procedures and policies around social distancing, lift ticket availability, and lodge openings are likely to shift throughout the 2020-21 winter season. Always check before heading into the mountains, as most ski areas will not be selling day-of access to ski slopes.

Summit at Snoqualmie

Family Friendly / Lodging / Night Skiing  

While the slopes may not be high at Seattle’s closest ski hill, the appeal is wide; four distinct zones meld into one resort that spans I-90, from the steep cliffs of Alpental to the beginner-friendly magic carpets of Summit Central. The day doesn't end at sunset; during night skiing as many as 13 chairlifts spin. It’s easy to forgo après ski when you can make turns right après work. Drive time: 1 hour

Covid Change-ups: Masks required. Though Snoqualmie doesn't plan to institute reservations for season pass holders, they've halted pass sales; day ski tickets will mostly be available online and in advance—not at the window for walk-ups. Advising skiers to "use your vehicle as base camp," the mountain recommends tailgate hangouts since lodges are closed.

Stevens Pass Mountain Resort

Family Friendly / Expert Slopes / Night Skiing 

What happened when the scrappy underdog of Northwest ski hills—with its creaky chairs, greasy lodge food, and lifties blasting tunes on the night shift—got a Vail makeover? Stevens has spent two years under the Colorado company’s umbrella and so far the biggest changes have been with season passes (they work at Whistler now, too!) and a chairlift upgrade. Stevens Pass has always been Seattle’s most accessible serious ski spot, the parking lots filling before sunrise and emptying only after the late-night live music fades at the Foggy Goggle bar (which we don't expect to be hopping again until the pandemic ends). Night skiing isn't just a novelty; there's serious vertical terrain until 10pm. Even under new ownership, Stevens’ has retained its shaggy soul—and its piping hot liquid-cheese nachos. Drive time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Covid Change-ups: Masks required. All Vail resorts use the same reservation system, which means season passholders have to book days in advance (but they also get a chance to grab days the week of), and advance day ticket sales start online December 8; no tickets are sold at the mountain. Only household groups will ride together on chairlifts, with singles seated at opposite ends of four-person chairs, and rentals are booked in advance.

Mount Rainier towers behind Crystal Mountain Resort.

Crystal Mountain Resort

Après Scene / Expert Slopes / Lodging 

Washington’s sole gondola, Washington’s lone alpine village—it’s not wrong to call Crystal the state’s only real ski resort, though it's a small one when you grade on a Colorado or Whistler Blackcomb scale. Acquired by conglomerate Alterra a few years ago (which means it now shares an owner with Aspen), Crystal could see even more expansion in coming years to ease record levels of congestion. For now it delivers varied terrain over 10 lifts, many mid-mountain lodges, limited night skiing, and viewpoints where Rainier appears so massive, it’s almost distracting. Drive time: 2 hours

Covid Change-ups: Masks required. Though Crystal had previously announced a no-reservation policy, it switched course by suddenly dropping a system the day before it opened in November, giving Ikon Passholders priority (though even those buyers quickly saw most weekend days fill in advance). It offers similar advance rentals and distancing policies to the ones at Stevens Pass, plus no singles in the gondola line on weekends. New outdoor firepits and food truck–style outdoor dining options take the place of shuttered lodges, and lifts start a half hour early (8:30am) on weekends.

Mount Baker Ski Area

Expert Slopes / Bargain Tickets / Crowd-Free 

Some things never change at the state’s far-north ski hill, like Baker’s record-breaking levels of snowfall—often double that of other Northwest resorts—and its steady parade of Bellingham college students and ski bums, all of whom appreciate the affordable lift tickets. Owned by a mostly local collection of stockholders since its creation in 1953, the ski area resists pretension and courts snowboarders with the annual Legendary Banked Slalom competition. Aging infrastructure can’t sour the mountain’s long-held chill—and the real-wood fireplace and high-class food makes you wonder why you'd want an upgrade anyway. Drive time: 2 hours 45 minutes

Covid Change-ups: Masks required; no reservations required so far but likely to go into effect later in the season. Reduced lesson capacity and likely required advance booking for rentals means planning is necessary for many visitors. New grab-and-go food options are available in all lodges.

Powder clouds are the only kind at Mission Ridge.

Mission Ridge Ski and Board Resort

Family Friendly / Sunny Forecast / Crowd-Free 

Wenatchee’s ski hill is practically in town, just a 20-minute drive up through city neighborhoods to slopes blessed by Central Washington sun. When the snow shows, it’s an airy powder, and crowds never approach Stevens levels. A planned expansion could add acres of beginner terrain and new lifts in a few years, but there are already upgrades, like a new Chair 2 for the 2020-21 season. For now the charm comes from mid-run surprises like a slopeside sundeck and an airplane wing left over from a crashed B-24 bomber, now mounted above Bomber Bowl. Drive time: 3 hours

Covid Change-ups: Masks required and the staff boards chairlifts by household party only. For now the mountain will sell day-of lift tickets, but reserves the right to limit them on peak days. Though a bus usually runs from downtown Wenatchee, it's unlikely to operate this season.

Young bombers ski White Pass.

White Pass Ski Area

Family Friendly / Bargain Tickets / Night Skiing 

Though perched on a relatively well-traveled east-west highway, White Pass manages to fly under the radar with its high-speed lifts and mellow runs that stretch back toward the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Largely frequented by South Sound and Yakima locals, its 2011 expansion gave skiers more breathing room and opened gladed, but not steep, terrain in its Paradise Basin. In recent years, the base lodges got a tune-up (though they may not be open much in this Covid season). Drive time: 3 hours

Covid Change-ups: Masks required, lifts by household only. The mountain is eschewing night skiing this season, but so far is not requiring reservations. Day lift tickets will be sold but could be limited. Like many other ski areas, White Pass is instructing skiers that "Your car is your new day lodge," so expect to eat and relax there.

Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area

Expert Slopes / Bargain Tickets / Crowd-Free 

Two short rope tows and a Poma lift are a throwback to ski resorts before express quads and RFID passes. That the Olympic National Park even hosts a ski area is a shock, but it limits lift operations to a small area near the Hurricane Ridge Lodge; expert skiers use the rope-tow boost to ski down to the park road and hitch a ride back to the parking lot. Skiing is only open weekends (dependent on when the road is plowed), and a national park entry fee is required—though fourth and fifth graders get park entrance and lift tickets for free. From the top of the ski hill, Vancouver Island looks close enough to bat with a mitten. Drive time: 3 hours 15 minutes

Covid Change-ups: Though this nonprofit-run tiny ski operation has yet to release details, mask requirements are likely. Hurricane Ridge has already noted that lessons will be more limited than in years past, but private instruction remains an option.

Timberline Ski Area lights up Mount Hood.

Mount Hood

Night Skiing / Family Friendly / Lodging 

Resorts crowd the Portland-area volcano, from sprawling Mount Hood Meadows and its varied slopes on the southeast to the Ski Bowl’s extensive night skiing terrain on the west. Timberline, based around the famous eponymous lodge, boasts a lift that reaches so high up Mount Hood it can sometimes offer year-round skiing—we’ll see how long that lasts as glaciers recede. It also recently acquired the family-friendly Summit area a few miles downhill at Government Camp and replaced its Pucci chair with a faster, bigger one this year. Drive time: 4 hours

Covid Change-ups: Policies vary, but masks are required at all three Hood ski areas. Timberline opens reservations three days in advance (but will sell individual tickets), while Meadows doesn't require them for passholders. Ski Bowl is only selling tickets online and in advance.

Whistler Village is a cozy hub at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb.

Whistler Blackcomb

Après Scene / Expert Slopes / Lodging 

So close, and yet just out of reach: British Columbia’s ski mecca (two mountains, 37 lifts!) claims the biggest uphill upgrade in the region, but with border closings few Americans are likely to access the mountain this season. The last few years have seen a new 10-passenger gondola, plus two other lift replacements, and a new pod hotel in Whistler Village. With the Vail-owned twin behemoth usually open to season pass holders from Stevens, the weekend Whistler crowds were rough in recent years. The après-ski scene is, in normal times, well-prepared for the masses. Drive time: 4 hour 15 minutes

Covid Change-ups: For those already on the right side of the Canadian border, Whistler's Covid procedures follow the model for all Vail Resorts: Reservations and masks required, distancing enforced.

A boarder rides the Sun Peaks park.

Sun Peaks Ski Resort

Family Friendly / Sunny Forecast / Lodging 

Another Canadian resort that likely goes in the "future dreams" file. Sun Peaks is like Whistler, but homier; like Sun Valley, but Canadian-er. It’s tempting to compare central BC’s ski resort to its brethren, but only Sun Peaks can boast a director of skiing like Nancy Greene. The Olympic gold medalist and Canadian ski hero not only helped build the resort town with her husband (the mayor), she also usually does free ski tours in the afternoons. Recent new chairlifts have eased access to the Sun Peaks slopes, which shoot up in every direction in BC’s interior mountains outside Kamloops. Drive time: 5 hours 30 minutes

Covid Change-ups: Masks required, and day tickets are limited. The U.S.–Canadian border remains closed to all but essential and family travel.

Mount Bachelor Ski Resort

Family Friendly / Sunny Forecast / Après Scene 

While Mount Baker ski hill is actually on ridges next to the volcano, Oregon’s Mount Bachelor ski area is smack on its eponymous cinder cone—11 lifts fanned around the mountain base. With more than 4,300 skiable acres, it’s one of the largest ski hills in the country, and its reliable sunshine and omnipresent craft brews cement it as a good-time destination. Ikon Passholders get limited access. Just as in the outdoorsy, beer-sodden town of Bend down the road, there’s always a Bachelor party to be found. Well, most years. Drive time: 6 hours

Covid Change-ups: Masks required, household-only chairlift rides, outdoor food carts—the usual. Bachelor is mixing it up in one manner, requiring advance reservations for parking, but not skiing. In the absence of a chauffeur who'll drop you off, however, it amounts to the same thing.

A Sun Valley view from the lift.

Sun Valley Resort

Après Scene / Sunny Forecast / Lodging 

Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains made ski history with the world’s first chairlifts; one inched up what is now Sun Valley’s small, family friendly Dollar Mountain back in the 1930s. Today, the resort prides itself on snowmaking in the cold, dry climate. The resort’s bigger Bald Mountain has added 380 more skiable acres, plus a new chairlift, in expert terrain. Stevens Pass passholders score limited access. Drive time: 10 hours 15 minutes

Covid Change-ups: Masks required, limited groupings on lifts. Sun Valley doesn't expect to require reservations for skiers, though daily walk-up tickets may be limited on some days.

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