Ski Guide 2009 | 20 ways to enjoy the winter for $20 or less

October 25, 2009 

A lift ticket this year will set you back as much as $63.

Ski rentals will set you back another $30 or so. And if you need lessons, well your day on the slopes could easily cost $150 per person.

But you don’t have to be rich to have fun in the snow in this winter. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the season without taking out a second mortgage.

Here are 20 ideas that cost $20 or less per person.

1. SKI FREE – FOR A WEEK

Go to 49 Degrees North, located north of Spokane near Chewelah, from March 29-April 4 and you can ski for free. The ski area ends its season with a free week every season. “It’s got to be the best deal in the Northwest,” said Brad Northrup, the resort’s spokesman. Chewelah is a long drive from Tacoma, but it might be worth the trip. Hotel rooms are inexpensive in Chewelah. The Nordlig Motel (509-935-6704) has small but clean rooms starting at $48 per night.

Ski49n.com

2. GO TUBING

You don’t need to know how to ski to zip down a snowy slope. Just grab an inner tube from your local tire store and head to Hyak Sno-Park on Snoqualmie Pass or Paradise on the south side of Mount Rainier. $20 per vehicle at Hyak or $15 per vehicle at Paradise.

parks.wa.gov/winter and parks.gov/mora

3. LEAVENWORTH SKI CLUB

The Play All Day pass not only gets you a chance to ski for about one-third the price of a major ski resort, but it gives you more opportunities. From 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. you’ll have access to the Nordic trails and the Leavenworth Ski Hill rope tows for alpine skiing. The alpine ski area is tiny, but it has the state’s only ski jump. You also get 11/2 hours of tubing. $18 per person.

Skileavenworth.com

4. SKI SUN MOUNTAIN LODGE

Tucked away in the Methow Valley, Sun Mountain Lodge is what many people consider to be the ultimate cross-country skiing destination. You can spend a small fortune to stay at the lodge or you can stay at other hotels in the area and just drop in to use the more than 200 kilometers of groomed ski and snowshoe trails. $20 per person.

Sunmountainlodge.com

5. FREE SNOWSHOE TOURS

Each winter national park rangers at Paradise and Hurricane Ridge offer free snowshoe tours that include snowshoe rentals. The tours are mellow and don’t cover a lot of ground, but they are perfect for getting kids a taste of the sport. Check the national park Web sites for schedules. $15 per vehicle to enter the national parks.

nps.gov/mora, nps.gov/olym

6. POLAR BEAR JUMP

Olalla Lagoon is home to the state’s biggest Polar Bear Club. When a cannon fires at noon on New Year’s Day, participants dash into the frigid water. Why? Who knows, but the event costs exactly what you might expect – nothing.

Al’s Grocery Store, 253-851-4955

7. TAKE A WINE TOUR

There are dozens of wineries in Washington, many of which have tasting rooms open all year, said Ryan Pennington of the Washington Wine Commission. The commission’s Web site allows you to map out a tour – including wineries located near snow recreation areas. Pennington says wine tasting is usually $5 or less and in most cases the fee is credited toward any purchase.

washingtonwine.org

8. SKI THE MTTA

The Mount Tahoma Trails Association has long been one of the best deals in Pierce County. The trails are free to use as long as you have a Sno-Park pass ($20 for a day pass), but the real bargain is in the lodging. Stay overnight on the trail in one of the MTTA cabins for a $25 weekend or $10 mid-week refundable deposit.

Skimtta.org

9. RIDE A SNOW MACHINE

Snowmobiles to most folks are a not-so-quiet sport. In Washington, dozens of Sno-Parks scattered throughout the Cascade Range fill up with growling snow machines and riders decked out in gaudy jumpsuits. There are snow-machine Sno-Parks near most Cascade Range ski areas – and even near Mount St. Helens. Snowpark fee included in snow machine license.

parks.wa.gov/winter

10. SKI NOOKSACK VALLEY

With 15 miles of trails just off Mount Baker Highway, Salmon Ridge is a haven for cross-country skiers. The area is maintained by the Nooksack Nordic Ski Club and offers groomed and tracked trails, suitable for those who also want to skate ski, and plenty of untracked landscape. The terrain at Salmon Ridge is relatively flat and ideal for beginners. The trails offer views of the Nooksack River, Mount Sefrit and Mount Shuksan. $20 per vehicle Sno-Park pass.

nooksacknordicskiclub.org

11. SNOWMOBILE NEAR BAKER

Snow hounds have 168 miles of trails to explore inside the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Snowmobiling isn’t allowed in wilderness areas, so check maps before heading out. But there are still plenty of tracks. $5 per vehicle.

www.fs.fed.us /r6/mbs

12. SLED AT BAKER

Sledding isn’t allowed inside Mount Baker Ski Area. But, unofficially, groups of tubers and sledders often slide the slopes outside the ski area’s boundaries near Highwood Lake and Picture Lake. The area around Bagley Lake is also popular.

The sledding sites are located just before Heather Meadows Lodge off the Mount Baker Highway. There’s free parking at the lodge.

www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs

13. SLEEP IN THE BOGUS YURT

If you’re in the mood for some soft winter camping, Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area near Boise has a yurt. The yurt offers easy access to snow play opportunities, sleeps 10 and costs $100 per night.

bogusbasin.org

14. TAKE IN A WINTER CARNIVAL

Giant ice sculptures, snow castles, pond skimming, food and music are just some of the attractions you’ll find at the winter carnivals around the Northwest. Some of the best include White Pass’s Winter Carnival (Feb. 27-28) and the McCall Winter Carnival (Jan. 29-Feb. 7). The carnivals are free to attend.

Skiwhitepass.com or mccallwintercarnival.com

15. VISIT RAINIER

Mount Rainier National Park is a great place to snowshoe, sled and even get into a snowball fight. And Mount Rainier is never short of snow – especially at Paradise, where they measure it by the foot. An average of 630 inches fall at Paradise each year. Paradise Inn is closed for the winter, but rooms are available at the National Park Inn at Longmire. One catch: The road to Paradise is often closed in the mornings so snowplows can clear a path through the previous night’s drifts. $15 per vehicle.

nps.gov/mora

16. HIT THE NORDIC TRAILS

Lift tickets are expensive, but one of the great things about cross country skiing is you don’t need a lift. So, Nordic trail passes are considerably more affordable. White Pass is $12, Stevens Pass $18.50 and the Summit at Snoqualmie $17. If that saving doesn’t make you feel good enough, also consider that you are burning way more calories than alpine skiers.

Skiwhitepass.com, stevenspass.com or summitatsnoqualmie.com

17. ICE SKATE THROUGH THE TREES

Apex Mountain in British Columbia offers the unique opportunity to ice skate on a 1-kilometer loop through the trees. The ice trail used to be free, but it now costs $4 (Canadian). Skate rentals cost an extra $7. Apex also offers an ice climbing wall, a hockey rink and, of course, some of the steepest ski runs in inland B.C.

Apexresort.com

18. TAKE A SLEIGH RIDE

Take a 30-minute, 11/2-mile ride on a sleigh pulled by Belgian draft horses through open meadows and along the Icicle River near Leavenworth. Bruce and Sandy Wick have run Icicle Outfitters since 1983 and can accommodate up to 20 people per ride. The ride ends with warm beverages. Rides are $17 per person but several Leavenworth hotels offer discounts. The Wicks recommend calling (800-497-3912) ahead to make a reservation.

info@icicleoutfitters.com.

19. SOAK IN AN IDAHO HOT SPRING

Most of Washington’s hot springs have been damaged in recent years or are closed during the summer. Even the popular Goldmyer Hot Springs aren’t reachable right now due to road repairs. But if you want to visit a hot spring, Idaho has some to offer during the winter. Gold Fork outside Donnelly, Idaho, will cost you a couple of bucks, or you can find a number of free backcountry springs.

IdahoHotSprings.com

20. TAKE A HIKE

Just because Washington’s most popular trails are covered with snow during the winter doesn’t mean there aren’t ample opportunities for low-elevation hikes. Pack Forest near Eatonville is loaded with trails than can be used for free. Also try low trails at Olympic National Forest like the Duckabush River Trail near Quilcene. A $5 per vehicle Forest Pass is required to use this trail.

Packforest.org or www.nps.gov/olym

The Olympian, Bellingham Herald, Idaho Statesman and Tri-City Herald contributed to this report.

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