As home to a mountain that claims the most snowfall of any mountain in the United States, Washington is a world-class ski and snowboard destination. Often overlooked to Colorado or Utah because of its distant location, Washington has some serious snow that simply can’t be beat. The fantastic snow season this year means there is no reason not to get out to the slopes and find some fresh powder—it’s not too late! Washington state has plenty of places to ride the lift, but here’s the low down on my top three: Mount Baker Ski Area, Crystal Mountain Resort, and Steven’s Pass. Though, I must preface this article by admitting these are the only 3 I’ve been to in Washington so far. Don’t take my word for it; get out there and find your favorites. Then tell me what’s missing from this list.
While Utah resorts receive an average of 500 inches of snow in a season and Colorado gets 300 inches, Mount Baker in Washington state has been known to get upwards of 700 inches in a single season. During the 1998-99 season it received a record-breaking 1,140 inches! If you’re used to riding on groomed runs, these snowfall differences probably won’t mean that much to you, but here’s why they should…
Fresh powder feels like nothing you’ve ever skied or boarded on before. (I’m a boarder, but know that this all likely applies to skiers as well. There’s room on the mountain for all of us!) As this wikiHow article explains “speed is your friend in deep snow.” For snowboarders, you have to keep your front tip up. Something I learned the hard way, having never boarded in such deep, new snow before. Without speed and balance weighted toward the back, you’re likely to get stuck. Speaking from experience, getting stuck is not a fun position to be in as it’s very difficult to get yourself out of. Regardless of the negatives, I’ll now seek on fresh powder as much as I can. The riding is smooth and the feeling of making your own tracks is unbeatable.
While the most fresh powder can be found at Mount Baker, the passes (Steven’s Pass and Snoqualamie Pass) and Washington’s tallest mountain have their fair share of fresh powder days—so long as you can be ready to hop in the car when the weather hits. The video I created snows scenes from Steven’s Pass, Crystal Mountain Resort and Mount Baker Ski Area in that order.
What I expected to be a small hill, actually turned out to be quite a nice mountain. Steven’s Pass is about 2 hours from Seattle, with a drive that offers scenic views through the town of Index. The two cons to this winter escape are: parking and rental lines. If you’re going to go for the full day, get there early. Like, really early. Parking fills up and then you’re out of luck, though you can always drive 30 mins further to Leavenworth for lunch and try back for night skiing. The rental lines can get out of control, so rent in Seattle or on the way to avoid spending an hour getting your equipment.
The runs are dynamic and fun, offering great, sweeping views at the top of lifts. The upstairs bar in the main lodge is a great place for lunch or dinner, the food is delicious and the craft beer selection is always welcome after a few hours burning calories. If you’re a beginner or you’re with beginners, this is certainly one of the more newbie-friendly places in the state. I also love their affiliation with REI that allows REI members to get the “PNW Advantage Pass” giving you daily discounts and a way to skip to lift pass line. Order ahead of your trip by a week, or order the day-of and pick-up at the reception desk. I’ve gone to a few $20 nights, because that price can’t be beat!
Hot Tip: If you’re there for night skiing, take the Hogsback Express lift over to the Tye Mill lift. From the top of that lift you’ll see the most spectacular sunsets.
Crystal Mountain Resort
You can’t get a view of Rainier quite like this one. The Summit House restaurant even makes the list of “13 Restaurants You Have To Visit In Washington Before You Die,” so plan on hitting that up if you’re there on a warm or sunny day. Your lift ticket, though the most expensive of these three ski areas, comes with a ride on the gondola (which you can take with or without your snowboard in tow).
Just 1.5 hours from Seattle, this mountain resort has plenty of parking and shuttles for your taking, so that’s not a concern. It’s also a much bigger area than Steven’s Pass, so regardless of how many people are riding that first lift up, they’ll be sure to disperse as you get further up the mountain. I will mention that the runs at Crystal seem to be a little more difficult than those at Steven’s. The blues tested my skills on a number of steep catwalks, switchback runs, and hidden mogul patches. With long lifts though, you’ll enjoy leisurely runs and the time you have to take it the gorgeous views.
Mount Baker Ski Area
Ahh, now my favorite! Good thing I visited Mount Baker last, because I’ve already been spoiled by it’s fresh powder, open expanses and unforgettable views. It’s a hike to get to from Seattle, at 2.5 hours, but the extra driving is worth it in my opinion. Mount Baker Ski Area is a must-go for any level rider. There is tons of space at this ski area, giving people plenty of room to spread out and find their own path amongst the trees. Speaking of trees, this is the only location that really gives you the options to forge your own tracks and discover hidden terrain. There’s so much “white space” as I like to call it to weave in and out of trees and find jumps that will land you back on a run. So. Much. Fun.
I didn’t eat at this resort or check out the lodges, so I can’t speak to that. With views of Mount Shuksan and Baker that will make you feel like an ant, I doubt you’ll want to spend much time inside. Baker has a number of wonderful, easy riding, but it’s also home to some experts of experts runs and world-famous backcountry riding. You definitely notice an older, more experienced crowd up at Baker. And up it is. The drive to the resort is much like that of the road to Crystal, a winding series of snowy switchbacks. I hear they keep it pretty clear, even on the days it’s snowing. With the most snowfall of any mountain in the country, be prepared for the weather and be prepared for some amazing fresh powder. The freshest I’ve felt in the country—like buttah.
Enjoy the snow!