In Washington, it doesn’t take much for a small community to start sliding downhill fast. Maybe the local lumber mill shutters. A high school closes and kids have to bus over to the next town.
Or maybe there’s just 10 inches of fresh powder, a small hill and a diesel-powered rope tow.
Long before buzzwords like “mixed-use ski villages” and “lifestyle properties” were king of the hill in the ski-resort industry, smaller community- or privately owned ski areas were the center of skiing in North America. And, in some places around Washington, they still are.
What they might lack in vertical feet or quad chairlifts, they make up for in good vibes and low ticket costs.
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Considering that a family of four will spend up to a whopping $296 this season for a day of skiing (not including ski rentals, gas and lunch) at Crystal Mountain, owned by Boyne Resorts, smaller noncorporate holdouts are becoming an increasingly attractive option for those wanting to get in a few quiet turns without breaking the bank.
Here are five favorite mom-and-pop ski hills around the state:
Nearest town: Port Angeles
Summit elevation: 5,240 feet
Base elevation: 4,700 feet
Skiable acres: 200
Combine a couple of rope tows, considerable snowfall and lots of hikable lines, and you have an idea of the riding experience at Hurricane Ridge. Just 30 minutes up the hill from Port Angeles, Hurricane features noteworthy steeps, bowls and glades a short hike off the top of the intermediate rope tow. The small ski area is open weekends only, making it perfect for fresh tracks for nine-to-fivers. The best part? All-day lift tickets range from $12 to $32.
North by Northwest snowboard shop owner (and Hurricane Ridge volunteer) Frank Crippen has been riding the area since the mid ’90s and cites “powder, friends, low cost and powder” as his favorite reasons for riding “the Ridge.”
However, there has been a storm brewing for the past two years between local skiers and snowboarders and Olympic National Park over weekday access to Hurricane Ridge. The park has opted to close the road to Hurricane Ridge Monday through Thursday in winter to accommodate snowshoers and backcountry skiers. Visit freehurricaneridge.blogspot.com for more info on the issue.
For directions and more info: hurricaneridge.com.
Loup Loup Ski Bowl
Nearest town: Twisp
Summit elevation: 5,280 feet
Base elevation: 4,040 feet
Skiable acres: 550
“On the weekends, you sometimes have to wait for three chairs,” said Sandy Liman, general manager of Loup Loup Ski Bowl, located between Twisp and Okanogan on Highway 20. Perhaps that statement alone sums up Loup Loup’s appeal — especially to skiers and snowboarders accustomed to rush hour-style bottlenecks at ski areas closer to Seattle.
“A big day for us is 400 skiers,” said Liman.
A retired K2 executive and competitive skier, Liman, 68, has skied at nearly every ski resort in North America. After retiring, Liman spent more time at his small vacation log cabin in Twisp for access to steelhead fishing and cross-country skiing, but ended up falling in love with the skiing atmosphere at Loup Loup.
“The Loup is a diamond in the rough. A lot of ski areas have gone into the shopping mall-style product, but the Loup is simply about that original thrill of being one with the hill.”
While Loup Loup doesn’t offer much in the way of extreme terrain on its 1,240 feet of vertical, there is some glade skiing, which Liman said should only improve in the next two years as the U.S. Forest Service provides some thinning in the undergrowth.
Unlike the ski areas west of the Cascade crest, Loup Loup gets significantly less snow than its wetter, steeper brethren.
“We get 250 inches of snow in a good year, but twice as much sunshine,” said Liman.
For more information, including nearby cross-country trails and accommodations: skitheloup.com.
Nearest town: Dayton, Columbia County
Summit elevation: 5,670 feet
Base elevation: 4,545
Skiable acres: 430
They call it champagne powder here, but is that really an appropriate description in Washington’s wine country?
Known for its good tree skiing and sunshine, Ski Bluewood is in Southeast Washington, 21 miles outside of Dayton.
With two triple chairs and 24 official runs, Bluewood also offers sno-cat rides to a side-country zone, Vintner’s Ridge, for skiers and snowboarders to access some untracked tree lines.
For directions and information: bluewood.com.
Leavenworth Ski Hill
Nearest town: Leavenworth
Summit elevation: 1,875 feet
Base elevation: 1,475 feet
Skiable acres: 12
You can’t really beat $15 lift tickets — even if it’s just for a couple of runs at this small community-owned ski area. Bring the kids, bring grandma and get ready to have fun sliding on 12 acres served by two rope tows. Side note: They have cross-country skiing, tubing, sledding and a ski jump. Finish the day with a Bavarian sausage and a beer.
For directions and information: skileavenworth.com.
Badger Mountain Ski Hill
Nearest town: Waterville, Douglas County
Summit elevation: 3,300 feet
Base elevation: 3,000 feet
Skiable acres: 20
Established in 1938 and lovingly run by volunteers, Badger Mountain near Waterville is a true local hill. Not really a destination for experienced skiers. The $10 lift tickets and gentle pitch make it a great learning mountain. More info: skibadgermt.com.
John Kinmonth is a Seattle-based freelance writer.