With the biggest network of Nordic ski trails in the United States, Washington’s Methow Valley has long been a wintertime haven for cross-country skiers. But while Mazama has serious “Twin Peaks” vibes (the Freestone Inn is basically a less-haunted dupe of the Great Northern Hotel) and Winthrop is admirably committed to its nouveau-cowboy aesthetic, the tiny town of Twisp is one of my favorite Methow communities, because it is just that.
From its surprisingly strong showing for the 2017 Women’s March (no small feat for a town of fewer than 1,000) to its cultivation of local, sustainable art, there’s a rare sense of fellowship in Twisp. Add in an excellent local coffee roaster and ski trails less than 15 minutes away by car, and you’ve got the makings of a ridiculously pleasant home base for weekend winter adventures. Here’s how to make them happen.
Where to stay
Twisp, like the Methow Valley as a whole, has a number of lodging options, from minimalist roadside motels to bougie Airbnb properties. If you’re traveling with a crew, the cozy, overwhelmingly cute Methow Valley Inn (234 E. Second St.) offers group rentals on blocks of rooms in a restored 1912 home that looks like something out of “Gilmore Girls” and is within walking distance of most of what you’ll need in Twisp.
If you’re traveling with a dog — and with the ascendance of a few dog-friendly trails throughout the Methow Trails network, you very well could be — Twisp River Suites (140 W. Twisp Ave.) is a boutique hotel with a dedicated set of pet-friendly suites (Paws Awhile Pet Suites) across the street from its main hotel. Some of the suites even have washers and dryers — never a bad idea when you’re stinking up your ski clothes on the trail every day.
Where to eat (and drink)
Cinnamon Twisp Bakery (116 Glover St. N.) is one of my favorite places in the Methow Valley. Less busy than the skier-crammed Mazama Store 29 miles up Highway 20, Cinnamon Twisp makes excellent, filling, unpretentious pastries and egg-el (a portmanteau of “bagel” and “egg”) sandwiches with locally sourced ingredients, down to the wheat and rye in the bread (it’s from Winthrop’s Bluebird Grain Farms) and the red bell pepper in the Western egg sandwich (Willowbrook Farm in Carlton). While its brethren throughout the valley play host to weekend ski warriors inhaling soup trailside, Cinnamon Twisp has a local, neighborly atmosphere and a welcoming vibe. Folks come here to share coffee with friends and family or even to work on laptops. Sugar monsters should order the bakery’s namesake pastry, the Cinnamon Twisp, which is half-cinnamon roll, half-palmier — and entirely delicious.
Winthrop microbrewery Old Schoolhouse has a taproom in Twisp (502 S. Glover St., Building 11 N), with beer, kombucha, wine and sparkling water, plus locally made snacks including beef jerky from Jon Brown of Winthrop’s Arrowleaf Bistro. (The brewery also has a full-service pub in nearby Winthrop. It’s an excellent dinner spot; few meals are as delicious as a post-ski burger and beer.) Hops enthusiasts will like the Ruud Awakening IPA, and less intense beers are also on offer. Old Schoolhouse Brewery’s taproom is located at TwispWorks, a converted ranger-station campus that now houses artist studios and small businesses.
No Northwest town is complete without its own coffee roaster, and Twisp is no exception. You may have had coffee sourced from Blue Star Coffee Roasters (3 Twisp Airport Road) at Seattle’s Brimmer & Heeltap or Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery. But at Blue Star’s Twisp location, you can check out the roaster’s entire production line to see how your coffee is made, then drink it.
For groceries, Glover Street Market (124 Glover St.) stocks high-end organic, locally sourced foods, and the market’s breakfast-and-lunch counter is also a good stop for a quick meal. For a more traditional grocery experience (and a less punishing price tag), Hank’s Harvest Foods (412 E. Methow Valley Highway) is just off Highway 20 on your way into town.
Where to hit the trail
Unlike in Mazama or Winthrop, where you can practically step off your porch and onto a ski trail, staying in Twisp means you’ll need to drive to the trailheads to ski. But the trip is relatively short — 15 to 45 minutes, depending on where you’re headed — and depending on weather conditions, you sometimes need to drive to snow from Winthrop anyway. It’s not a deal-breaker.
From Twisp, you have your pick of several Nordic ski areas (plus Loup Loup Ski Bowl if you’re a downhill skier or if you want to try out a luge). The Methow Trails comprise the biggest network of Nordic trails in the country, but check the weather and the Methow Trails’ grooming reports before you commit to where you’re going: Snow levels were disappointingly low in Winthrop when I visited, which made for a thin skate platform and subpar conditions. But there was plenty of snow in Mazama, and conditions should improve throughout the valley as winter continues.
If you’re a fan of the Methow Valley, I don’t need to tell you where to go — although I came up with a new favorite route on my most recent trip. Skiing from Freestone Inn to the Mazama Store to the Bush School trailhead and back allows for at least one coffee break (we called it the Latte Loop; Methow Trails, feel free to incorporate this nomenclature into your official materials).
For beginners, there’s plenty of generous, flat-ish terrain in Mazama (just stay off Doe Canyon, on which inclines are unpleasant for beginners in good conditions, and an icy nightmare in bad). If you’re feeling confident, the Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge is a good out-and-back route for newbies. But stick to the Community Trail; the big hill up Goat Creek Cutoff, while perfectly surmountable, can be a site of chaos when skiers are scrambling to come up and down at the same time. (I’m not a parent, but maybe don’t take kids on this route?)
Winthrop’s trails will be the easiest to get to from Twisp. If conditions are good, Powers Plunge is a fun up-and-down route for intermediate skiers; if you’re new to skiing (or just newly returning), the valley floor is your friend.
If you go
Getting there: Take Interstate 90 east to U.S. Route 97. The drive takes a little more than four hours. Check pass conditions before you leave. Common-sense snow-driving practices and winter tires are both a good idea.
Ski passes and trail conditions: Passes are required to access the Methow Trails and are available for purchase in Twisp at Glover Street Market, Loup Loup Ski and Snowboard Shop, and Twisp River Suites. Day passes cost $25 and three-day consecutive ski tickets cost $63, with the option to add on days at a slightly discounted rate ($21/day). Dogs are allowed in some parts of the trail network with a $10 day ticket. (Stick to areas specifically designated as dog-friendly, as dogs can do serious damage to cross-country ski trails.) Passes are also required — but much cheaper — for trail users on fat bikes ($10) and snowshoes ($5). Seasonal punch cards and passes are also available, but they’re costly and unlikely to be practical for weekend visitors. Trail access is free for kids under 17 and seniors over 75.
More information about passes and detailed grooming reports is available at methowtrails.org. Check these before deciding where to ski for the day. (Avoid trails described as “thin” or “rough,” which means “icy” and “unpleasant” in grooming-speak.) Methow Trails has an app, but cold temperatures tend to suck down phone batteries, so pick up a paper map along with your ski pass.