A lot to like, including price, in Eastern Washington ski vacations
Take your next ski vacation in Eastern Washington, for great snow and low prices.
Special to The Seattle Times
Snow Sports 2008
Think ski vacation, and places like Sun Valley, Aspen, Steamboat Springs and Park City come to mind.
Think a bit more, though, and those dreams evaporate as you add up the expenses. Airfare for the family, lodging in a resort town, lift tickets at a premier ski area, and dining out morning, noon and night. Ka-ching!
Fortunately, there are other options. You can have a great ski vacation without breaking the bank — and without leaving the state. A few hours driving puts you in some remarkable ski country, with affordable lodging, unique ski terrain and new environments to explore.
Go to the far side of the Cascades and you'll also find true dry, fluffy powder and lift-ticket prices that won't totally bust your budget.
Be warned, though, that the Cascade resorts do have one thing that most of their east-side counterparts lack: lift lines! So get in shape, because you won't be spending a lot of time resting up while waiting for the lifts.
Here are three of my favorite over-the-mountains ski getaways:
Remarkably, one of the true gems of Washington skiing is frequently maligned by Seattle-area skiers who seem to think it's too far out in the sticks. Their loss. Fact is, Mission Ridge, just outside Wenatchee, frequently has some of the best snow in the state, with an abundance of terrain.
We took a merry band of skiers and snowboarders to Mission last January. None of the half-dozen snowhounds had ever visited this little day resort, yet every one pledged to go back — and soon!
Colorado-native Chris Bloomquist started skiing in the early '70s, is a master on both alpine and telemark gear, and has worked at resorts ranging from Vail to Grand Targhee. Yet he declared the Mission snow as fine and powdery as anything he experienced at the big Rocky Mountain resorts. "The snow is great, the terrain is varied and fun, and there're no crowds! One of the best days I've had on skis in decades."
This was during a holiday weekend, and at most, the lifts had 15 to 20 people waiting at any one time.
When compared to typical destination resorts, Mission Ridge is tiny. Yet the area has 36 designated runs spread over 2,000 acres, and a wide variety of tree-skiing options to be explored. The lifts service 2,200 vertical feet of mountain, with one high-speed quad running to the summit for maximum service to the steepest and deepest runs.
Mission Ridge sits just 15 minutes outside Wenatchee, which has a number of modestly priced hotels, ranging from basic to ritzy. Many offer skier packages that including lodging, breakfast and Mission Ridge lift tickets. The city also offers the finest authentic Mexican dinners in the state, at El Sol on North Wenatchee Avenue and Casa Tapatia on Grant Avenue in East Wenatchee.
Getting there: From Seattle, head east about 135 miles on Highway 2 over Stevens Pass to Wenatchee. Continue southwest through town, following the signs to Mission Ridge. The resort is 12 miles past the Wenatchee city limits.
Cost: Adult all-day lift ticket, $50.
Mount Spokane, 30 miles from downtown Spokane, offers crisp, deep, dry snow and boasts an unusually high number of sunny days each winter. The resort offers more than 45 designated runs, serviced by five double chairs, with 2,000 vertical feet of terrain to explore.
Though somewhat bigger than Mission, Mount Spokane still offers the small-town feel of a day-use ski area. On long weekends, the crowds can be a bit denser as college students from Gonzaga, Eastern and Washington State University (Pullman is just two hours away) flock to the slopes. Yet the small resort has enough area to spread the crowds, keep lift lines short — if not nonexistent — and the snow fresh and light throughout the day.
We found Mount Spokane a joy to explore, with a relatively high percentage of challenging black-diamond runs for the thrill-seekers among us. The mountain also is a snowboarder's paradise with an elaborate terrain park that includes rails, half-pipes, tree jibs and a number of jumps. Finally, there's a healthy stash of trees and free-terrain for unregulated skiing and riding.
Come nightfall, Spokane offers a wealth of big-city lodging and dining options. You can easily find accommodations that match your budget.
Getting there: From Seattle, drive 281 miles east on Interstate 90 to Spokane. Turn north on Highway 395/Highway 2, then east on Highway 206.
Cost: Weekend all-day adult lift ticket, $42 plus tax
If Mount Spokane feels small, and Mission Ridge smaller, Bluewood ski area is downright minuscule — by destination-resort standards. However, this little pocket of powder near Dayton, Columbia County, is a skier's paradise — provided you don't need huge couloirs, massive mountains, enormous crowds and rockin' night life to make your ski fantasies come true.
Bluewood has one of the higher bases in the state, at 4,545 feet above sea level, and with its location in the far southeast corner of Washington, it gets nothing but light, dry powder on its slopes. Just 24 runs and two lifts await you here, so you can shred the mountain from top to bottom, side-to-side in a long weekend.
But that's OK. It's designed as a day resort, and its frequent powdery snowfalls keep things fresh. The mountain is tree-covered top to bottom, but the forest is mostly ponderosa pine and larch so you'll find lots of wide glades and narrow chutes to explore between the groomers.
For the widest variety of lodging and dining options, stay in Walla Walla, 45 miles from the ski area, or settle for one of the two or three hotels in the small town of Dayton (pop. 2,500), 15 miles from the ski area. Dayton also offers what is said to be the only 4-star French restaurant in Eastern Washington — the Patit Creek.
Getting there: Walla Walla is 273 highway miles from Seattle. Take Interstate 90 east to Ellensburg, then I-82 southeast through Yakima to Richland. Take Highway 12 to Walla Walla. To get to the ski area, continue on Highway 12 about 30 miles to Dayton. Turn left on Fourth Avenue in Dayton and drive 15 miles to the ski area at the end of the road.
Cost: Adult all-day lift ticket: $39 plus tax.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 06:34 AM
On Pakistani piste, skiers reclaim former war zone
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.