Frozen

Ways to Play in the Snow near Seattle

Snow bikes and sledding hills: The Pacific Northwest has plenty of options to enjoy winter beyond the ski resorts.

By Allison Williams

Tubing lanes were built for speed at Summit at Snoqualmie.

Winter does little to curb the Seattleite's affection for playing outside. While downhill skiing draws crowds for moguls and pow stashes, riding chairlifts isn't required to get active in the snow. Ride a bike, sled, snow bike, or even a bobsled, and don't forget a hat with a poof on top.

Tubing

Tucked behind the parking lots for the larger ski areas, Summit at Snoqualmie's tubing hill simplifies the whole barreling down a snowy hill experience. Riders ascend in a covered moving carpet before taking a ride down one of the 20 or so grooved lanes, all in a provided inflatable tube. Only kids with adults are allowed to ride double, and the organized setting cuts down on some of the chaos of freeform sledding. The downside: Tickets sell out often during the December-to-April(ish) season, particularly on weekends. Leavenworth Ski Hill also operates a single tube lane with a rope tow and 100-foot drop, and Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park has a walk-up tube run with tubes provided.

Sleigh Rides

Technically, most songs about sleigh rides don't have to be reserved for the Christmas season—which is not to say one must hum "Jingle Bells" on a glide with Eagle Creek Sleigh Rides, pulled by a pair of draft horses, through an old dairy ranch outside Leavenworth. Journeys start on wheels in early winter, but when enough snow falls, the old-fashioned sleigh runners hit the trail for a half-hour tour of trees and valley views. Nearby, Icicle Outfitters routes a version along the Icicle River, and Leavenworth Sleigh Rides boasts a hefty 16-seater for group outings.

Horses do the hard work at Eagle Creek Sleigh Rides.

Sledding

Grab Rosebud and start slogging—DIY sledding means no motorized rides up the hill, but more freedom to ride wherever. Several Sno-Parks ($25 per day to park) across the state have dedicated downhill areas, like Hyak at Snoqualmie Pass with its molded lanes (not to be confused with the ski area's official tubing hill) and Lake Wenatchee State Park's downhill through the trees. The sledding hill at Mount Rainier National Park's Paradise closed for 2022–23 due to staffing shortages but usually holds snow through spring. When snow hits Seattle, every steep street becomes a luge track.

Snow Camping

The few, the proud, the possibly deranged: Yes, some people choose to sleep outside in the mountains when it's snowy.  We broke down the steps to a successful winter overnight here—spoiler alert, it involves hot water bottles and down booties—but the joys of snow camping come in the glorious views. Try spots around Mount Rainier or Mount St. Helens (some require permits) or Artist Point near Mount Baker Ski Area for big-peak backdrops. Pro tip: Nights get shorter come March and April, but there's still plenty of snow up high.

Snow camping at Artist Point comes with chills—both from the cold and the views.

Snowshoeing

What if hiking met the Ministry of Silly Walks? Stepping through powder on snowshoes may take some practice to not feel awkward, but the flotation devices turn the whole wilderness into a playground. The true challenge lies in figuring out where not to go, specifically into avalanche-prone or otherwise dangerous terrain. Rangers lead guided snowshoe hikes at Mount Rainier National Park, Snoqualmie Pass, and Mount Baker. For DIY ease with the added benefit of pre-vetted routes, both Crystal Mountain Resort and the Stevens Pass Nordic Center have marked trails and rentals. Or, of course, you could dive into our list of the best snowshoe hikes in the state.

Cross-Country Skiing

Nordic skiing settles into a rhythm something like a heartbeat, more meditative than its ride-the-lifts and bomb-the-pow downhill cousin (not to mention cheaper and less dangerous). Summit at Snoqualmie, Stevens Pass, and White Pass ski areas all offer lessons and rentals at their respective Nordic centers, not to mention groomed, marked trails. Those with their own gear can explore the Kongsberger Ski Club trails out of the Cabin Creek Sno-Park for only the cost of a parking permit, located just east of Snoqualmie Pass. But the real center of the skinny-ski scene sits in the Methow Valley, where 120 miles of trail spiderweb across the terrain—the largest network in North America.

White Pass Ski Area grooms trails for Nordic, or cross-country, skiing.

Snowmobiling

The thrill of speed, the hum of an engine going brrrp brrrp as a 500-pound machine barrels through the wilderness—snowmobiling may not appeal to the more zen nature lovers, but the contraptions bring far-off snow spots into day-trip distance. The town of Roslyn, not too distant from I-90 east of the mountains, morphs into a snowmobile hub once the snow falls, with rentals at the Last Resort and Cascade Playtime. Groomed trails start right at the rental shops, ideal for beginners without motor experience (or the ability to read dangerous backcountry snow).

The Last Resort rents snowmobiles—and helmets.

Bobsledding

Gotta cross the border for this one: Whistler Sliding Centre operates one of the 16 or so bobsled (or bobsleigh, as they call it) tracks in the world, a frozen maze of ice that costs $10,000 a day to operate. Rides for the general public help fund the facility, with Olympic and World Cup athletes piloting each sled with up to three riders behind them. The 40-second thrill is a rough one—more than 75 miles per hour and a force of up to four Gs—but a big helmet and thorough instruction reassure nervous guests. The experience feels like a real peek into a niche sport, and it's tempting to sign up for skeleton rides (the face-first one that's like luge), also available December through early spring.

Bobseld rides at the Whistler Sliding Centre are basically an Olympic experience.

Ice Skating

Thanks to the Kraken and a trio of facilities by Sno-King, indoor ice rinks are plentiful around Seattle. For outdoor triple lutz space after holiday pop-ups come down, a road trip is in order. Suncadia Resort near Cle Elum prides itself on more cold weather activities than the Winter Olympics—almost everything on this list, in fact—and boasts a picturesque outdoor skating rink open to both guests and the public. Far east in Spokane, the Skate Ribbon in Riverfront Park reimagines the pond shape into a one-way traffic lane, a kind of frozen lazy river of skating.

Spokane's twisty-turny Skate Ribbon.

Fat Biking

That saying about how easy it is to hop back on a bike applies when the tires are more than four inches wide and the route is entirely on snow. Fat biking (usually not called snow biking, since that refers to a motorized scooter) has grown in popularity, accessible even to beginners. Methow Cycle and Sport rents the bikes to visitors who may have come for the Winthrop area's ski trails but want a new conveyance, and they direct riders to the ski trails that allow cycles and the 30-mile network near Pearrygin Lake. Fat bike rentals are also common in Bend, where new bike-minded routes have popped up in recent years, and Idaho ski resort Schweitzer

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