Updated Friday, December 7, 2012 at 09:48 AM
When I first moved to the Puget Sound area 25 winters ago, I was amazed at how the lowlands could be trapped in a dreary gray mass of clouds and rain but that just 50 miles east it was completely different. There, in the mountains, it was a winter wonderland where fluffy white flakes fell by the truckload. I so wanted me some of that.
Thing is, I had no idea where to go for snow fun nor was my tiny, late-’70s Honda Civic — itself not much bigger than a healthy snow boulder — much up for the task. (Truthfully, nor did I have the driving skills to negotiate such truckloads of snow, but, being a male, I’d never admit to anything other than that I am a great all-weather driver.)
Here then is something I could have used back then: a guide to some winter snow-fun opportunities on two of Washington’s major Cascade Mountains passes, as well as options for ways to get there.
About 50 miles east of downtown Seattle is The Summit at Snoqualmie ( summitatsnoqualmie.com), which comprises four ski areas: Alpental and Summit West, Summit Central and Summit East. Accessed via Interstate 90 from exits 52 and 54, they offer skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing along with lessons and equipment rentals.
For up-to-date information on the latest Snoqualmie Pass driving conditions check www.wsdot.com/Traffic/passes/snoqualmie. The site offers comprehensive driving conditions at the pass as well as weather forecasts, restrictions (e.g., whether or not chains are required) and five pass cams that let you have a look-see for yourself.
For those who’d rather not rassle with winter driving conditions — that is, not in the mood to pinball off other vehicles when mountain snows and freezing rains turn blacktop into a slush-covered luge track — the following companies offer rides to the slopes:
• Seattle Ski Shuttle ( seattleskishuttle.com/ride-snoqualmie or 206-935-SNOW) offers weekend rides to the Summit at Snoqualmie with pickup locations in West Seattle, downtown Seattle and Bellevue. Cost: $35 round trip. They also offer custom trips to snow spots of your choice, as long as you have between four and 14 people. Price varies.
• Ride sharing and carpooling. The Ski Lift ( www.theskilift.org) is a social-networking site that focuses on ride sharing to ski areas. After registering with the site, enter where you want to go — or where you’re offering a ride to — and voilà! You’re put in touch with like-minded folks who also want to play in the snow. Sites such as RideshareOnline.com and meetup.com/SkiSeattle are also excellent ways to find rides to the slopes.
Other Snow Fun
The ski area is not the only place for snow fun near Snoqualmie Pass. Sno-Parks at Gold Creek and Hyak offer snowshoeing, snow play and cross-country skiing opportunities. Especially cool: From Hyak, one can enjoy about eight miles of groomed cross-country ski trail on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, much of it along the shoreline of scenic Keechelus Lake.
Gold Creek and Hyak are both accessed from I-90 Exit 54. Sno-Park permits are required for parking. They cost $20 for a three-day pass, $40 for an annual pass, and are available online (www.parks.wa.gov/winter) and at various outdoor-themed retailers .
And starting Dec. 21, the Forest Service offers weekend guided snowshoe tours of the area, snowshoes provided (suggested donation: $15-25), and a new Nordic ski winter-ecology outing. Reservations: Kim Larned, 509-852-1062, weekdays until Dec. 19; after that, call 425-434-6111.
Located at the state’s pivot point where Western Washington becomes Eastern Washington, Stevens Pass Ski Area (www.stevenspass.com) is 65 miles east of Everett and 35 miles west of Leavenworth. Like the Summit, Stevens Pass offers the full range of downhill opportunities, lessons and rentals. In addition, a separate Nordic Center for cross-country, skate skiing and snowshoeing is located five miles east. Free daily shuttles are offered from the main ski area to the Nordic Center.
For the latest conditions, forecasts and three Stevens Pass cams, check wsdot.com/traffic/passes/stevens .
Along with the above-mentioned ride-sharing and social-networking sites, a number of companies run buses and shuttles to Stevens Pass. Among them:
• Mountain View Shuttle , which offers weekend and holiday rides/lifts from Sultan, about 22 miles east of Everett. Cost $13. Information: 425-743-1300.
• Muffin Run Ski Bus leaves from Everett on Tuesdays. Cost: $32. Call 800-457-5522 for info.
• In addition, some groups offer multiweek ride programs combined with lessons and/or rentals. A couple of those include the Bainbridge Island Ski Bus , which offers a six-week program on Saturdays starting Jan. 5. Price varies. 206-842-2306 or www.biparks.org .
• Another is the Snow Rider Bus , sponsored by the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation Department. It picks up snow enthusiasts at various points on Whidbey Island as well as in Everett. The eight-week Saturday program starts Jan. 5. Price varies. 360-221-6788 or swparks.org/snow_rider.html .
• For still more transportation options see stevenspass.com/Stevens/the-mountain/other-transportation.aspx .
Other snow fun
As at Snoqualmie Pass, starting in January, the Forest Service will offer weekend guided snowshoe tours in the Stevens Pass area, snowshoes provided. For information, call 360-677-2414 .
Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer . Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog is mcqview.blogspot.com.
Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times, 2006
Snowshoers explore the Steppin’ Stoker snowshoe-only trail at the Stevens Pass Nordic Center, which caters to both cross-country skiers and snowshoers. It’s one of the snow-fun destinations off Highway 2 in the Cascade Mountains.