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. Parking lots are basically tailgate central, and 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
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, though night skiing has been abbreviated in recent years. Staffing issues and management changeups have plagued the ski area for the past two years, but a new general manager is trying to meld Stevens' shaggy soul with its new corporate identity.
Drive time: 1 hour 45 minutes
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 launched a huge upgrade project this summer, the base area already under construction to become a new base lodge. A new parking lot (with paid parking) and a weekend bus from Enumclaw hope to address capacity issues, plus a near doubling in season pass prices should thin the crowds. 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
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
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 last season and extended night skiing. 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
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 but the draw remains good slopes under oft-sunny skies.
Drive time: 3 hours
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
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 lift with a faster, bigger one.
Drive time: 4 hours
So close and now well back in reach: British Columbia’s ski mecca (two mountains, 37 lifts!) is massive but somehow keeps getting bigger. The last few years have seen new gondolas—though the new Creekside one didn't finish construction in time for 2022 opening day—plus various 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 have become increasingly rough in recent years. Still, it's hard to argue with the vertical reach and runs that go on forever. The après-ski scene is, on the other hand, well-prepared for the masses.
Drive time: 4 hour 15 minutes
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
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. Just as in the outdoorsy, beer-sodden town of Bend down the road, there’s always a Bachelor party to be found.
Drive time: 6 hours
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 town of Ketchum remains charming, if expensive. Recently the resort’s bigger Bald Mountain added 380 more skiable acres, plus a new chairlift, in expert terrain.
Drive time: 10 hours 15 minutes