Seattle Resorts: Where Big Snows Fall -
Fly into SeaTac International Airport in Seattle, Wash., on a clear winter day surrounded by mountains of white. Oversized dormant volcanoes hover above seas of glacier-carved peaks. The Washington Cascades stretch as far as the eye can see with the Olympic Mountains jutting up across Puget Sound.
Here six ski resorts within a one- to three-hour drive run chairlifts to haul you up the slopes. They range from large, crowded ski areas with the latest in six-pack lifts to family-friendly smaller hills. You won't find large luxury condos at these resorts, but rather, small independent inns, hotels, condos, chalets, cabins, and B & Bs. Two additional small ski hills are serviced by rope tows.
Low elevations and a wet Pacific climate dump snow in truckloads here. Its consistency sometimes lives up to the nickname of "Cascade Cement," but that's a small price to pay for up close skiing and snowboarding.
Get to the slopes the quickest by heading directly up I-90 to Snoqualmie Pass. There, the Summit at Snoqualmie combined four small ski hills into one larger resort community strung along both sides of the freeway. You'll find 19 lifts, 65 trails, three terrain parks, a superpipe, and night skiing. Each of the four base areas hold a mix of restaurants, lodges, hotels, cabins, and vacation homes.
The south side of the freeway lines up Summit East on Mt. Hyak, Summit Central on the former Ski Acres slopes, and Summit West of Snoqualmie Summit origin—all connected via crossover ski trails. Alpental sits separate, tucked behind a side ridge on the north side of the freeway. A free shuttle connects all four base areas.
Head north from Seattle toward the Canadian border for Mt. Baker, a resort that revels in multi-foot-deep dumps piling up 647 inches of snow each year. The resort claimed the world's record for snowfall a decade ago with more than 1,000 inches. The closest lodging is about 20 miles away down a gnarly, windy road that often requires chains to drive, but not scary enough to waylay the urge to ski where you might need a snorkel.
Highway 2 leads over Stevens Pass, where locals from Seattle head for night skiing after work. Stevens Pass also racks up the snow with over 450 inches each year. Its 10 lifts allow skiers to explore both the front and backside.
Continue eastward toward Wenatchee, stopping at the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club to experience a bit of history with rope tow skiing and an historic 1930s lodge. Stay in Wenatchee to ski Mission Ridge, where four lifts and two rope tows cover 2,250 vertical feet on the Cascades' eastern ridges. These slopes, on the edge of the state's more arid zones, maintain a reputation for drier and lighter snow.
Head southeast from Seattle for two resorts that garner views of Mt. Rainier, the immense glacier-flanked volcano that dominates the skyline. Crystal Mountain, the largest ski area in the state, sits at the highest elevation, catching a lighter powder than the others. Its 11 lifts service 3,100 feet of vertical above lodges and hotels clustered at its base. The resort expanded in 2007 with the addition of the Northway chair—the first of six new lifts and a tram planned for future development.
White Pass holds a special niche for Yakima and Tacoma families due to its ease of access on Highway 12 and night skiing. But the resort with its five lifts also attracts the hardcore skier and rider to its steep glades. This where Phil and Steve Mahre, arguably America's greatest ski racers in history, grew up and honed their skills.
Take a ferry to travel west from Seattle into Olympic National Park. Hurricane Ridge maintains one of only three remaining lifts inside a U.S. national park and stands as the furthest west ski area in the Lower 48. The ski hill's three tows climb on a ridge that shoots views into the park's rugged interior.
Longer excursions from Seattle can take you to larger destination resorts within a day's drive. Whistler Blackcomb sits only five hours away in B.C., and Mt. Bachelor is an eight-hour drive to central Oregon. You can also drive to other Washington resorts like 49 Degrees North and Mt. Spokane within six to seven hours.