If we get another winter of light snow in the mountains, you can still spend your vacation at the slopes. Here’s what to do when you get there.
Brothers and sisters of the Chapel of the Holy Moguls, do you have the faith? Do you simply know, deep in your heart, that the snows will come again?
Kneel three times as you buckle your ski boots, kiss your electric glove-warmer and proclaim your belief that the Great Merciful Meteorologist wouldn’t deprive Northwest skiers of deep mountain snows two winters in a row.
But just in case …
Here are ideas for five ski-resort getaways, at slopes across the Northwest and British Columbia, where you can have a good time without actually, well, skiing.
Close counts. And Crystal’s high Cascades scenery and usually reliable snow are only 80 highway miles from Seattle.
Plan your weekend around a trip to the top of Crystal’s Mount Rainier Gondola. Unique among Washington ski areas, the gondola’s out-of-the-weather, eight-passenger compartments welcome nonskiers to ride along to the top for “woohoo”-worthy views of Washington’s big mountain.
Celebrating its fifth birthday this winter, the $8 million gondola carries riders 2,456 feet upward in nine minutes and 39 seconds to an elevation of 6,856 feet. Weekend tickets for nonskiers range from $8, for kids 10 and younger, to $23 for adults.
Another nonskiing option, likely doable even without a surplus of snow: guided snowshoe tours, with options that include a gondola ride or a chairlift ride with dinner; $50, snowshoes and poles provided.
A bonus at the gondola’s top: Summit House, Washington’s highest-elevation restaurant, where the lunch menu ranges from a Skiers Wrap (includes grilled chicken, applewood-smoked bacon and blue cheese crumbles; $16) to steak and truffle frites ($28). Open 10:30 a.m.-2:45 p.m. daily during ski season. Reservations recommended: 360-663-3085 or crystalmountainresort.com/dining/summit-house-restaurant.
Staying the night
Alta Crystal Resort, nestled in woods 10 minutes downhill from the ski area, has a heated outdoor pool and hot tub, always a kick when it’s snowing outside. A one-bedroom fireplace suite with kitchen on a mid-January weekend starts at $270/night. altacrystalresort.com. Slopeside lodging options, too: see bit.ly/1NYCfkf.
MORE INFORMATION: crystalmountainresort.com
The 2010 Winter Olympics left a legacy of winter-sports facilities that make Whistler, B.C., 219 highway miles north of Seattle, much more than just a ski resort.
Among Whistler’s many nonski activities, it’s hard to find a better stupid-grin-inducing, bucket-list adventure than taking your own spin on the Olympic bobsled course.
Rain, snow or shine, share a four-person bobsled with a trained pilot on what’s touted as the world’s fastest sliding track. Bob, weave and feel your lips flap through 10 twists and turns at speeds of more than 70 mph. Winter season: Dec. 4-March 27, $169 Cdn/person, 16 and older. (Single-person skeleton sliding, too, at same price.) To convert Canadian prices to U.S. dollars in November 2015, subtract about 25 percent.
• Another Olympic legacy: Try your hand at biathlon, that oddball winter sport that combines shooting a rifle and schussing along a cross-country ski trail. Learn rifle marksmanship at the Whistler Olympic Park biathlon range (13 and older, $20 Cdn without skiing), or include coaching on your nordic skiing technique ($85 Cdn including gear rental, plus trail pass of $10-$25).
Other activities: tobogganing, ski jumping, baseboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating and more. Details: whistlersportlegacies.com.
You won’t go hungry here. TripAdvisor lists 153 restaurants, cafes and snack bars spread throughout Whistler Village, on the slopes and nearby. For a full guide, see bit.ly/1PwLtpr.
Top ratings on TripAdvisor go to Rimrock Café, with fine dining ranging from wild salmon ($34) to 12-ounce Angus rib-eye steak ($48); Red Door Bistro (French), with a West Coast bouillabaisse for $27; and the informal Peaked Pies, where the traditional Australian meat pie is $6.75 (all prices Cdn).
Staying the night
If money is no object, Whistler can happily accommodate you. Four Seasons, Pan Pacific and Fairmont are among top-rated resorts here. Get a Four Seasons room with king-size bed and forest view on a mid-January weekend for $589 Cdn/night; fourseasons.com. TripAdvisor favorite Nita Lake Lodge has mid-January weekend rates of $354 Cdn/night for a lakeview studio with fireplace; nitalakelodge.com.
The budget-conscious should consider UBC Whistler Lodge, a 42-bed hostel open to the public (whistlerlodgehostel.com), or Hostelling International’s Whistler hostel, in what was Olympic athletes’ housing (mid-January weekend dormitory bed, $34 Cdn/night;bit.ly/20FsMVR).
With a base at almost 5,000 feet elevation, Big White, near Kelowna, B.C., has that obvious advantage over more-glamorous Whistler with its sometimes-rainy 2,215-foot base — and Big White just accomplished an early season opening, Nov. 13. The family-friendly resort, known for its “Okanagan Champagne” powder snow and snow-coated trees called snow ghosts, is 348 highway miles from Seattle.
Getting a solid “9” on the measure of over-the-top adventures (Whistler’s bobsleds get a 10) is Big White’s 60-foot-high ice-climbing tower, constructed of four telephone poles coated in 3 feet of ice. Expert help and climbing gear provided, for all ages; $25 Cdn per climb.
Other nonski activities include dog sledding, skating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, tubing/tobogganing and sleigh rides. There’s also winery touring an hour away in Kelowna, part of the Okanagan wine country.
Big White has 24 on-mountain restaurants, cafes, delis, pubs and nightclubs. They range from the Happy Valley Day Lodge’s Kettle Valley Steakhouse (bison stroganoff, $24 Cdn, or an 8-ounce New York steak, $35 Cdn) to the Blarney Stone Irish Tavern, where you can reserve your own keg of Guinness at St. Patrick’s Day.
Staying the night
Big White has ski-in/ski-out accommodations for more than 17,000 guests. For ease of booking, go through Big White Central Reservations (bit.ly/1QnYZwo). For a mid-January weekend, rates for a one-bedroom unit with kitchen start at $139 Cdn/night.
Among choice locations is Sundance Resort, just above the Bullet Express lift near the village center, with a heated outdoor pool and water slide.
MORE INFORMATION: bigwhite.com
SCHWEITZER MOUNTAIN RESORT
In Northern Idaho, 362 highway miles east of Seattle and with no international border crossing to slow you down, Schweitzer is a strong bet for dry, powdery snow with no “Cascade concrete,” as moist Western Washington snow is sometimes called.
Take a guided snowmobile tour of Schweitzer with Selkirk Powder Co. A unique twist: Tours start from a lodge at the ski area’s 6,375-foot summit, atop the Great Escape chairlift, so you get great views and never need leave the ski area.
The trails, restricted to snowmobile use, include wide, banked turns and smooth straightaways for easy navigation by first-timers. Three tours daily, Thanksgiving to April, start at $150 for 90 minutes of riding time. See selkirkpowder.com.
Other options include snowshoeing (including guided moonlight outings), tubing and spa indulgences.
Cozy up to two fireplaces in the Selkirk Lodge’s Chimney Rock Grill, where dinner entrees range from calamari piccata to pan-seared duck (both $22.95). Or get takeout tidbits from Gourmandie, a specialty-foods market focusing on farmstead cheese, cured meats, and a local and international selection of beer and wine.
Looking for over-21 fun? Take part in the Great Beer Blast scavenger hunt to five of Schweitzer’s slopeside watering holes.
Staying the night
Two slopeside lodges, the Selkirk Lodge and the newer, pricier White Pine Lodge, edge the ski village’s pedestrian plaza and are a two-minute walk from the base of the lifts. The Selkirk Lodge, described as having “European style with rustic Northern Idaho charm,” offers a room with king-size bed and kitchenette for $247/night for a mid-January weekend.
More information: schweitzer.com
Mount Bachelor ski resort, centerpiece of the beautiful Central Oregon Cascades, is 349 highway miles from Seattle. This huge and varied ski area, a perennial training ground for winter athletes, is just a half-hour uphill from its biggest asset: the bustling, beer-licious city of Bend.
Dog sledding is a tradition at Bachelor, with an outfitter called Oregon Trail of Dreams, operated by Jerry Scdoris and his daughter Rachael, who had her first Iditarod finish in 2006. See snow-covered Broken Top, the Three Sisters and Mount Bachelor from the comfort of an Iditarod-style dog sled.
An outing with one hour of orientation and trail time, with the option to help with the watering and feeding of the dogs afterward, is $99/person on weekends, or $90 midweek. (Book by Nov. 20 for an $80 midweek special.) mtbachelor.com/site/winter/activities/sled_dogs
Other activities include tubing, snowshoe tours or nearby snowmobile tours and lava-cave tours.
Bachelor has good on-hill eateries, but the best are high on the hill, so if you’re not skiing, your best bets are down the hill — in Bend.
With more than 20 craft breweries (beermebend.com), here’s the town to sample the best pub fare around. Among pubs that get raves is 10 Barrel Brewing with its Cubano Stromboli: ham, pork verde, banana peppers, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and cilantro with stone-ground-mustard cheese sauce; $12. And they have pretty good beer, too. 1135 N.W. Galveston; 10barrel.com.
Take the self-guided tour of the Bend Ale Trail, with free tastings at some breweries: bit.ly/1dtlWxD.
Staying the night
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Bachelor almost prides itself on its lack of a tourist village or slope-side condos. So enjoy the pristine mountain atmosphere and — déjà vu all over again — stay downhill in Bend.
Topping charts on TripAdvisor is a 1950s motel originally known as The Plaza, gutted and upscaled a couple years ago into Wall Street Suites, 1430 Wall St. A one-bedroom suite with kitchen on a mid-January weekend is $211/night. wallstreetsuitesbend.com
Looking for a bargain? I like Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast, a charmingly funky 10-room inn that includes a big, custom-cooked breakfast, starting at $100/night for the same period. 642 N.W. Colorado Ave. millinn.com.