Text by Tess Weaver
The West Coast isn’t populated with near the quantity of ski resorts as the Northeast. Unlike the Rockies, its major resorts aren’t recognized by name around the world. And West Coast ski towns aren’t known for their quant charm. What you will find at ski resorts in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California are some of the world’s deepest snowpacks (Washington’s Mt. Baker recorded 29 meters of snow during the 1998–99 season), above-treeline skiing, lots of elbow room, playful terrain and laid-back, friendly vibes. Plus, after a four-year drought, California resorts could see huge snowfall this season thanks to the massive El Nino that’s predicted to peak during spring ski season. Here are four legit West Coast resorts that have managed to remain under the radar.
Crystal Mountain, Washington
The highest and largest ski resort in Washington, Crystal Mountain, about two hours from Seattle, tops out at almost 2,133 meters and offers some of the best skiing in the Northwest in the shadows of Mt. Rainier. A top-to-bottom gondola accesses over 914 vertical meters of varied terrain, including steep glades perfect for powder days. Crystal’s ski patrol tweets its terrain openings—time it right and you can score fresh tracks all day. Take Chair 6 to the top of Powder Bowl for what could be your all-time favorite powder run. After the resort is tracked, Crystal opens Northway, an area of expert terrain accessed by an old double chair. Then, hike to the controlled backcountry of Southback, which patrol recommends you ski with a partner, beacon, shovel and probe. The base area is basically a parking lot–RV’s and a taco truck serve as a refreshing reminder you’re in the Pacific Northwest.
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Mt. Bachelor, Oregon
With one of the longest seasons in the country, Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor offers skiing from November through late May. The 2,763-meter volcano sits isolated on the eastern flanks of the Cascades and attracts 400 inches of the driest snow in the Northwest. When the winds are calm and the mountain is open to the summit, all 360 degrees of the peak are skiable. The wind does blow, but it’s also what creates the natural halfpipes and unique wind lips the area is known for. If Summit Express is open, head right to the top of the mountain for the steep hike-to lines in the bowl or the fun and feature-laden alpine bowls off the backside. On a powder day, ride Northwest Express, exit right and traverse west for a seemingly endless line up of above-treeline bowls and old growth glades. High–speed quads access 3,000 of the 3,683 acres and efficiently space out crowds—which are slim to none mid-week. Surrounded by wilderness, Mt. Bachelor’s base is devoid of condos, shops or even a scene. People are here to ski.
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A half-hour from South Lake Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe is known for its award winning terrain parks and the South Shore’s only Superpipe (where Olympians Maddie Bowman and Hannah Teter train), but its north facing terrain also offers perfect tree skiing on a powder day. If it dumps, which it often does, head for the steeps of Preachers Passion off the summit. Sierra-at-Tahoe’s loyal clientele know the lifts open on time on a powder day and occasionally even earlier for season pass holders. You’ll find Tahoe’s best jumpline in The Alley and the small features in the Burton Progression Park make for easy learning. At Sierra-at-Tahoe, you won’t find a fancy village, a big spa or ski-in/out condos access. The resort focuses on its best assets–2,000 acres of varied terrain, high natural snowfall and a fun personality. Quirky events line the calendar and the Solstice Plaza deck at the base offers ample space to play, drink, eat and listen to live music.
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You don’t need a budget-breaking heli-ski trip to enjoy Alaska’s legendary Chugach range. The state’s largest ski resort, Alyeska, is only 40 minutes from the Anchorage airport and receives more than 18 meters of snow each winter. Even on a “low” snow year, Alyeska’s snowpack puts most other resorts to shame. With few visitors, you’ll most likely have its steep and challenging terrain to yourself. And midweek tickets are still only $60. The tram accesses more than 900 meters of vertical and views of hanging glaciers in Chugach State Park. Don’t miss Christmas and New Year’s Chutes—hit them on a good day and you might as well be heli skiing. While Alaska sees shorter days mid-winter, the daylight stretches out in the spring, when you can ski until 7pm. And you don’t have to worry about altitude—Alyeska’s base elevation is lower than Quebec City’s. Hotel Alyeska offers lodging walking distance from the lifts, as well as restaurants, a spa, a concert venue and a heli pad out back in case the sound of the chopper is just too enticing.
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