Ski the Northwest
From epic resorts to the best hidden powder
By Colin Anderson
While there are plenty of Northwest residents who yearn for the first warm days of spring, others can’t wait to see the first snowflakes hit the ground. For these folks, it’s not just winter these next few months—it’s ski season. You’ll find the die-hards up early at Chair 1, eager to catch the opening ride up the lift for first tracks upon the previous night’s snowfall. For the avid skier or rider, it’s a better wakeup than any strong cup of coffee or trip to the gym.
Shortly after opening, you’ll find the weekend warriors, the second-tier group who spends many a weekend on the slopes but at a slightly more casual pace. They might not catch the first tracks and skip lunch to squeeze in three more runs, but they are out enjoying their time in nature with family and friends.
By mid-morning, families and the ski-school crowd fill out the mountain. Little ones get fitted in the rental shop while Mom or Dad go off on their own for a few runs or simply cozy up in the lodge with a book and a hot drink until the day’s lesson is done.
It’s a scene that plays out across ski locations all over the Northwest—and one of the great benefits of the mountains of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, and into Canada, is you can find a place and a pace that fits exactly your experience and enjoyment level. We have resorts where it would take days to hit every run, and independently owned mountains that few more than the locals ever experience. Popularity in skiing and snowboarding among youth continues to soar, and no matter where kids go, instructors are eager to get them up and confident, and usher in the next generation of skiers and riders.
While most stick to their favorite mountains or check the morning report to see which got the most powder overnight, it’s also fun to venture out to new places and explore new terrain. Below are some of our favorites.
May your ski season be blessed with deep powder and bluebird Saturdays!
Whistler Blackcomb | WhistlerBlackcomb.com
About 90 minutes north of Vancouver, British Columbia, is one of the most incredible mountain experiences the world has to offer. Whistler Blackcomb is actually two ski areas connected by a peak-to-peak gondola, which is almost worth the price of admission on its own.
Outside the breathtaking scenery, this place is massive; over 200 marked runs, 8,100 acres, 16 alpine bowls, and even three glaciers are found within its boundaries. If that wasn’t enough the resort also offers onsite heli-skiing for those in search of untouched powder. Down in the village you can arrange snowmobile and winter zipline tours, or book a relaxing service from the spa. You can also find yourself barreling down a sheet of ice in a bobsled at the sliding center, which was utilized during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Gourmet restaurants (some 200 options) and vibrant nightlife make for a lively evening, and ski in/out lodging make hitting the slopes easy each morning.
Whitefish Mountain Resort | SkiWhitefish.com
Once a relatively small “locals” mountain, the perfect snow conditions and charming community of Whitefish, Montana, have helped grow the mountain into a premier resort destination in the Northwest. You can arrive by car or at the Glacier Park International Airport, or for a truly unique experience, hop on the Amtrak train and finish your journey by being dropped right downtown.
On mountain there is beginner terrain, however, more than half of the 3,000 acres is designated black or double black diamond, offering big challenges for thrill-seekers. From its peak you can see into Canada and the borders of Glacier National Park, as well as the town of Whitefish and Whitefish Lake. There are a variety of accommodations to choose from on-mountain, and if you stay off property you can catch the free S.N.O.W. shuttle that makes stops throughout town and at popular hotels throughout the day.
Schweitzer | Schweitzer.com
Similar to Whitefish size, stature and terrain, Schweitzer offers excellent snow, incredible views, and a village for those looking to do more than just hit the slopes. The snow is fantastic each year, and those in the know head straight for the Outback Bowl, where there are dozens of long, smooth runs and open glades in which to explore. Two high-speed quads, and a high-speed six-pack keep the lift lines moving even on the busiest of days.
Grab lunch at the Sky House and, on a clear day, take in amazing views of Sandpoint, Idaho, and massive Lake Pend Oreille in the valley below. There are a dozen restaurants on-mountain, and Sandpoint is also easily walkable for a night on the town. Kids can enjoy tubing, and there are also snowshoeing and cross-country ski tracks in which to explore.
Mount Bachelor | MtBachelor.com
The iconic mountain outside of Bend, Oregon, is the sixth largest ski area in North America, coming in at more than 4,300 acres, 100 runs, and 3,300 feet of vertical drop. If that’s not enough to lure you for a weekend, you’ll also have the privilege of saying you’ve ridden down a volcano. While trees are sparse on the peaks of most mountains, here you will find an incredible amount of wide-open bowls in which to charge hard and really dig into incredible powder. Bachelor offers guided snowshoe trail hikes with professional naturalists, tubing and terrain parks, 52 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails, and you can even book a dog sledding trip during your visit. After a day on the slopes, head into nearby Bend, where you will find some 30-plus breweries in which to unwind with a tasty pint.
Lookout Pass | SkiLookout.com
Idaho is indeed not all potatoes and farmland. In fact, the powder in the north and central parts of the state is legendary—including that at Lookout Pass in Kellogg. Saddled on the Idaho/Montana border on Interstate 90, it’s about as convenient a drive-up location as you can ask for. While most mountains are thankful to receive around 300 inches of snow each season, Lookout regularly sees totals of 400-plus, including more than 500 inches of snow as recently as 2018! While it doesn’t boast the terrain of larger mountains in the area, the light, fluffy and deep powder more than makes up for the lack of terrain.
The lodge and single bar are come as you are. Many kids from Western Montana, North Idaho and Eastern Washington get their start here at the well-regarded ski school. A night’s stay in the historic mining towns of Kellogg or Wallace offers a glimpse into the past after a memorable day in the powder.
Brundage Mountain | Brundage.com
Another of Idaho’s great powder stashes, Brundage brings a few more big-mountain amenities to the game without sacrificing too much of the “local mountain” feel. With its nearest metropolitan area from which to draw—being a 2.5-hour drive from Boise—it doesn’t see the same swells of crowds that other regional resorts do. With a peak of 7,800 feet and nearly 2,000 feet of vertical drop, there is plenty to explore amongst the 67 named trails as well as an additional 420 acres of unpatrolled backcountry. Glades are also a hit here for those who like to get into the trees in search of the really deep snow.
Nearby McCall offers everything you need for a comfortable weekend stay. You can rent snowmobiles or explore miles of cross-country ski trails. Enjoy the local ice rink or even soak in one of the numerous nearby hot springs—both primitive and developed.
Discovery Basin | SkiDiscovery.com
At first glance, the mountain doesn’t look too imposing. The front side of “Disco” offers several intermediate and beginner runs that are perfect for those out for a leisurely day on a lightly crowded mountain. One look at the backside trail map, however, and you’ll see why serious skiers and riders from all over try and make an annual pilgrimage to this relatively small and out-of-the-way locale. The Limelight Chair puts you on top of some of the steepest chutes you’ll find without use of a helicopter. While extremely technical, when the powder is deep, it’s one of the best advanced areas in the West, and after a day of hard charging, even the most physically fit will be ready for a long snooze.
Luckily, relaxation is not far away in the quaint town of Phillipsburg, Montana, and the serene beauty of nearby Georgetown Lake.
Red Mountain Resort | RedResort.com
Fifteen years ago, Red Mountain and the nearby town of Rossland was a relative unknown, likely due to its location being roughly three hours from Spokane, Washington, and across the border into Canada. As interest in exploring British Columbia’s Selkirk Loop has expanded, so has the number of people who’ve come across this absolute gem of a ski hill.
Small hotels and bed and breakfasts once were the bulk of the accommodations, but now you’ll find a massive village with ski-in/ski-out options and many of the amenities of any world-class resort destination. Red boasts five peaks and 3,850 acres to explore. Red Mountain also offers the unique experience of single-run passes for cat skiing at just $10 per run. There are some long runs here, with the max vertical drop checking in at nearly 3,000 feet. While it continues to expand, the resort does work hard at maintaining a local mountain feel. Book your trip here before even more discover it.
REALLY HIDDEN GEMS
White Pass | SkiWhitePass.com
Where else can you get such a view of several of Washington’s biggest natural icons while strapped into your board or skis? On a clear day, unobstructed views of Mount Adams and Mount Rainier provide the backdrop for one of the truly beautiful skiing locations in the West. The views alone will bring you great appreciation for this special place. It’s a great mountain for the whole family, as there is a lodge onsite as well as childcare available (see latest COVID info for availability) for those little ones not quite ready to hit the slopes. There is also a tubing hill and guided snowshoe tours. Once off the slopes, there are plenty of opportunities to relax, and short drives to explore the surrounding scenery are also a great way to take in this special place.
Lost Trail | LostTrail.com
If glitz and glamour and the corporate ski experience are things you loathe, you’ll find the peace and family forward experience you seek at one of Montana’s best-kept secrets.
Opened in 1938, Lost Trail is still owned and operated by the Grasser family today. Their mission is to continue to operate a small family oriented mountain where incredible snow can also be affordable. Ticket prices are half the price of most large-scale resorts, but the dry powder and conditions here are legendary to those who make the trek down Montana’s gorgeous Bitterroot Valley.
There are all kinds of unique places to stay nearby including rustic cabins, bed and breakfasts, and wood-fire warmed yurts found on the backside of the mountain. While not easy to get to, the experience of minimal lift lines, few frills and wonderful powder is something that’s getting harder and harder to come by each season, making this a truly unique experience.
There are even more gems hiding in plain sight all throughout the Northwest. Will you find a new favorite this season?