Lift tickets might be the most common means to enjoy the snow and ice this winter, but they are hardly required. There are plenty of ways to play this winter without a riding (or paying for) a lift. Here are 10 ideas:
1. TRY CURLING
The Olympics are in February, which usually means a spike in curling interest. Seattle’s Granite Curling Club is home to the West Coast’s most accomplished curling club. Former club athletes include 2010 Olympian and Kentridge High graduate Nicole Joraanstad. The club also has a team competing at this month’s Olympic Trials in North Dakota. The club offers several open houses this winter to allow people to try the sport. The events cost $25 per person or $60 per family. Opens house are scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 21, Jan. 18, Feb. 15-16 and 22-23, and March 8 and 29. Info: curlingseattle.org
2. GO TUBING
Skiing isn’t the only way to cruise down a snowy slope. An inner tube (or, in some cases, a soft sled) will also do the trick. Hyak Sno-Park on Snoqualmie Pass or Paradise on the south side of Mount Rainier offer tubing areas. It’s $20 per vehicle at Hyak or $15 per vehicle at Mount Rainier National Park. The Summit at Snoqualmie has a tubing park. Tickets are $5-$20 per person for two hours and include a tube. Info: parks.wa.gov/winter, nps.gov/mora, summitatsnoqualmie.com.
3. VISIT THE MTTA
The Mount Tahoma Trails Association has long been one of the best deals in the South Sound. Use of the groomed trails requires a Sno-Park pass ($20 per vehicle per day or $40 for the season) and a special grooming permit ($40 per vehicle for the season), but the bargain is in the lodging. Stay overnight on the trail in one of the association’s cabins for $15 per person. The cabins and trails are maintained by volunteers and much of the maintenance is funded by donations. Info: skimtta.org.
4. CRASH A PARTY
Northwest ski areas are great at throwing parties. Whether it’s the celebration of snowboarding that is Mount Baker’s Legendary Banked Slalom or White Pass’s family-oriented Winter Carnival, you don’t need a lift ticket to attend. Check ski area websites for events and details.
5. RIDE A FAT BIKE
The Methow Valley, already Nordic skiing nirvana, emerged last season as a destination for fat biking. Fat bikes are mountain bikes with low-pressure, nearly motorcycle-size tires that allow riders to pedal over compacted snow. The Methow Valley Sports Trail Association has designated portions of its trail system to the sport. And fat bikes are available to rent in town. A trail pass is $22 per day, but some sections of free trails are also open to the bikes. Fat bike rentals are available at Winthrop’s Methow Cycle & Sport starting at $40 for a half day. Info: mvsta.com, methowcyclesport.com.
6. GO NORDIC
Not nearly as many people visit Northwest ski areas to cross-country ski as they do to alpine ski, but there are several good reasons to give it a try. Because Nordic skiing doesn’t require a lift (although you can ride one to the trails at the Summit at Snoqualmie), trail access is about a third the price of those $60 lift tickets. White Pass, Stevens Pass and the Summit all have neatly groomed trail systems. If the savings isn’t reason enough to try cross country skiing, consider this: According to healthstatus.com, a 170-pound person burns 877 calories per hour cross-country skiing. A downhiller burns 673 calories per hour, however, that rate does not account for all the time those skiers spend sitting on the chairlift burning just 82 calories per hour.
7. TAKE A SNOWSHOE TOUR
National park rangers at Paradise and Hurricane Ridge offer free snowshoe tours each winter. The tours include snowshoe rental and typically move at a leisurely pace ideal for families. Want to head out on your own? Snowshoe rentals are available at the parks too. Check the national park websites for schedules. Park entry is $15 per vehicle for a seven-day pass. Info: nps.gov/mora, nps.gov/olym.
8. VISIT LEAVENWORTH
The Play All Day Pass at the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club costs $27 and grants access to cross-country skiing at three locations, plus rope-tow-serviced alpine skiing and tubing at the Leavenworth Ski Hill. The ski hill also has the state’s only Nordic ski jump. Afterward, head to town to tour shops and sample fudge. Info: skileavenworth.com.
9. EXPLORE MOUNT BAKER
There are plenty of ways to play in the snow near Mount Baker. There are more than 100 miles of trails to explore by snowmobile inside Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Sledders flock to hills outside the ski area to create unofficial runs. And cross-country skiers can find groomed trail systems such as the 15 miles at Salmon Ridge off Mount Baker Highway. Salmon Ridge, maintained by the Nooksack Nordic Ski Club, is relatively flat and ideal for beginners. A $20 per vehicle Sno-Park pass is required. Info: fs.fed.us/r6/mbs, nooksacknordicskiclub.org.
10. VISIT RAINIER
Snow will soon mean the closure of Chinook Pass on state Route 410, Cayuse Pass on state Route 123 and other roads, but there are still plenty of places to play at the national park. The road from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise is open when conditions permit, giving visitors access to numerous recreation possibilities. The park entry fee is $15 per vehicle. Drive all the way to Paradise to play in the snow or stop at West Side Road to ski, snowshoe or fling snowballs. Sledding is permitted only in the designated area at Paradise. Info: nps.gov/mora.
It might be a great year for snow, or it might not
There will be more snow than normal in the mountains this winter — unless there isn’t.
That, essentially, is what this winter’s predicted “neutral phase” means for Northwest skiers and snowboarders.
“It means we have an equal chance of above, below or equal (temperatures and precipitation compared with normal),” said Garth Ferber, a longtime meteorologist with the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.
While a normal winter could mean average snowfall (about 400 inches) for the six Cascade ski resorts, Ferber says “there are a lot of different ways to get to normal.”
“It could mean a little bit of everything,” he said. “Rain, dry stretches, big storms with snow.”
This has been evident already this fall with a wet September followed by a dry October. Crystal Mountain even opened for a few hours on Oct. 1.
Skiers and snowboarders have enjoyed long stretches of good conditions on the slopes in recent years. Ferber says last winter was classified as a weak La Nina that was “almost neutral.”
The center’s May 1, 2013, snow depth report, the last of the season, showed the six Cascade ski areas were at 95 percent of their normal snow depth, 71.2 inches, for that date. On the same date in 2012, also a weak La Nina winter, the six areas were at 152.2 percent of normal for the final report.
Forecasts for La Nina weather patterns, caused by the cooling of equatorial waters, are on the wish lists of most snow lovers because La Nina typically brings colder winters with more precipitation to the Northwest. El Nino, caused by warmer sea temperatures, typically has the opposite impact.
Craig Hill, email@example.com