Great ski runs come in all shapes and sizes in the Washington Cascades.
From narrow chutes to wide-open bowls, from low-angle glades to cliff-top drops, these signature runs at the state’s six major Cascades ski areas should be on every shredder’s list.
Powder Bowl, Crystal Mountain
Get there: Off the top of Chair 6, head to the dramatic north face of Silver Queen, the highest lift-accessed peak at Crystal Mountain, at 7,002 feet. You’ll have many different lines to ski in this wide bowl funneling down to the popular intermediate groomer, Lucky Shot.
Drop in: “It has always held this mystique,” says Kim Kircher, director of the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol. Long before a lift accessed the top of Powder Bowl, skiers used to hike it because the Silver Queen peak was so visible at the ski area. Even now, you must ride two chairlifts to access it. “It’s not easy to get to, so it doesn’t immediately get skied out,” she says. The steepest turns are directly off the top. Down the ridge to the right often has the best snow quality, Kircher says.
International run, Alpental
Get there: Step off the top of Alpental’s Edelweiss Chair at 5,420 feet. Directly north, peek over the edge and you’ll see one of the steepest runs in the Cascades. If you’re ready to attempt the difficult entry, go for it.
Drop in: This might be the best expert run in the state. The right side is steepest, hugging a cliff line; lower on the slope you can veer into trees to the left for powder. If you stay right, you’ll find even more steep turns. “There’s nothing quite like the psychological aspect of dropping into International,” says Russell Hartwig, of the Alpental Volunteer Ski Patrol. “It’s quite astounding when it’s untracked.”
Polaris Bowl, Stevens Pass
Get there: Off the top of the Southern Cross and Double Diamond chairlifts, take a short traverse to the northeast along the ridge, then make a 10-minute climb to the summit of Big Chief Mountain at 5,858 feet.
Drop in: The short hike takes you away from the often-crowded slopes of Stevens into terrain that is remote, steep and wild, including a natural halfpipe toward the bottom. “You get killer vertical if you do the whole run,” says Chris Danforth, vice president of sales and marketing at Stevens Pass. The drop is more than 2,000 vertical feet to the base of Mill Valley on the back side.
Bomber Bowl, Mission Ridge
Get there: Take the Liberator Express chairlift to the top of Mission Ridge at 6,820 feet. Follow the low-angle groomers down to a wide bowl where a B-24 bomber crashed during a training mission in 1944. The wing from the bomber is on display atop the bowl.
Drop in: Legend has it that if you rub the wing, snow will fall, so skiers and boarders religiously stop by, especially during powder days. “It has definitely served us well the last two years,” says Tony Hickok, marketing manager for Mission, of the aircraft’s powder mojo. The run winds under the scenic Bomber Cliffs, which expert skiers often climb above for harrowing drops through narrow chutes.
West Ridge, White Pass
Get there: Off the Couloir Express chairlift in Paradise Basin at 6,500 feet, take a high traverse along West Ridge leading into open, low-angle glades and tree-skiing. From the ridgetop, your choices of where to ski seem endless.
Drop in: The snow is often great on this high-elevation run, with treed terrain that holds powder for days after storms. “The quality of the snow is noticeably better there,” says Kevin McCarthy, general manager of White Pass. Even though you’re in trees, the skiing is comfortably open enough to find powder stashes. “You can pretty much ski anywhere you want,” McCarthy says.
The Canyon, Mount Baker
Get there: From Panorama Dome at 5,000 feet atop Chair 1 and Chair 6, head toward Gunners Bowl, a rolling, wide-open run that funnels down to The Canyon, a narrow drop between steep mountain walls.
Drop in: It feels a little like being on a roller coaster inside The Canyon. “One thing I love about it is how much it changes during the season,” says Amy Trowbridge, marketing manager for Mount Baker. At the start of the season it’s steep and tricky, then Mount Baker’s famed dumps stack up the snow in The Canyon. “As the season progresses, it actually gets less steep” because of the snowpack, she says.
John Nelson is a Seattle-based freelancer who blogs at skizer.org.