Category Archives: Winter Guide

The Slippery Slope of Constructive Ski Criticism

Ski lesson in Andorra, Spain

Let’s get the introductions out of the way. My name is Jill Adler. I live in Park City, Utah. I taught skiing at Deer Valley for 15 years before moving over to Park City Mountain Resort in 2011. Essentially, I have been teaching for 30 years and have my PSIA level III certification*. I would say the overwhelming majority of my lessons are successful but occasionally we hit a snag with our ski criticism and it almost always has to do with personality rather than the lesson itself; like the Russian ice-skating diva from Florida in 2020 (the first ski season post COVID) who shouted from across the busy bunny hill that I was a terrible instructor. I wouldn’t pick up her five-year-old who wasn’t wearing a mask and her nose was a faucet of snot. I told both of them that I would show her how to get up so she could do it on her own. The woman shouted obscenities at me, saying she didn’t pay a thousand dollars to do it herself. I said calmly and ironically, “Actually, you did. My job is to teach you how to do it yourself.” The lesson ended abruptly with me skiing away and telling her to have a nice day. Disagreement is one thing, verbal abuse is another.

Last season, I skied with a senior couple from New York. They told me they always take one private lesson at the beginning of each vacation. Despite saying they wanted to improve their technique, they had never skied with the same instructor twice. It was obvious after a couple of runs that the other instructors had given up trying to teach them anything and were tour guides instead. You go with the path of least resistance. Both of them could have learned so much if they were vulnerable enough to admit there was room for improvement. The woman fought me with every observation I made; insisting I didn’t know what I was talking about. Her husband, however, not only listened but activated. By the end of our morning together, he was skiing better than she! When he tipped me, the glare she gave him would have slashed his face a hundred times if looks were knives.

Which brings me to this season. I recently had an experience where I was taking a few runs with a friend and she kept complaining that she didn’t have the right skis for the conditions. This was not a lesson; just girls out for a fun afternoon. We had just finished a run off the top of the hill and, to be honest, it’s the best snow on the mountain right now. Normally, I keep my instructor hat off when I’m not in a lesson. I get that no one wants to feel like someone is watching them. But she was so upset at herself and self conscious. She said she had almost “yardsaled (that means crashed and lost all of your gear on the run) eight times.” She was struggling (physically and emotionally) and wanted to leave. She didn’t ask for help but it seemed like a waste to have gotten all the way to the top where it was good only to want to leave. Granted, she had a pair of race skis more suited for icy groomers than moguls, but her main issue was not the skis.

Often people who haven’t had a ski lesson in a while- years perhaps or since they were a kid- forget about certain things they need to do when skiing; like looking ahead instead of at their feet, or pressuring their downhill ski instead of leaning uphill, or, in this case, not using your ski poles in the bumps. She wasn’t my student but when someone isn’t being safe or having fun, I try to offer a pointer for all our sakes. I didn’t want to leave and I didn’t want her ending her day feeling frustrated. When she started using her poles, she instantly found a groove. What was odd, however, was that instead of being thankful, she got defensive and proclaimed again that it was her skis, that she had been skiing since she was 2 so she knew what she was doing, and that her skis are terrible in these conditions. I listened and offered to swap skis so she could repeat the run and regain confidence.

I could tell she was way more comfortable on my skis- AND SHE USED HER POLES. Here’s the rub- I had no trouble making turns in the bumps on her skis. Granted, her skis are much stiffer than mine but if you can steer, bend a ski, plant your poles, etc. you can ski the ones she was on. I told her it wasn’t the ski; it’s stiff but not incapable, but what she heard was, “any good skier can ski any ski”. She felt insulted. I felt awful that I had hurt her feelings. Those weren’t my words. I only wanted to help her to have fun and not feel like she was surviving a run but really skiing it. Not to mention that I would never say a good skier can ski any ski. It’s just not true for a variety of reasons.

I tried to tell her that I see what she can’t. I wasn’t saying she doesn’t know how to ski. It was my way of saying all of us can benefit from an extra set of eyes. Trust me, I’ve eaten my own share of humble pie when skiing in clinics, ripping around with pros or with Rachael Hodson. 😉 I even had one assh*le Park City ski instructor tell me in a training clinic that I couldn’t call myself a professional unless I widen my stance. Not quite the way to effectively communicate feedback but he was Austrian.

Finding the Right Track With Ski Criticsm

Whether you’re a seasoned skier or just making pizzas on the bunny hill for the first time, we’ve all been on the receiving end of someone “just trying to help.” While it might be tempting to blame the skis or dismiss the advice, let’s explore how to gracefully accept constructive feedback and turn those tricky bumps into a smoother ride.

🏔️ Tip #1: Embrace the Learning Curve

Skiing is a dynamic sport that constantly challenges us to improve. Remember, even the most skilled skiers constantly tweak their technique. Embracing the learning curve can make every run an opportunity for growth. When your instructor shares some insights, don’t see it as a negative but as a chance to enhance your skills and make your next run even more awesome.

⛷️ Tip #2: Shift Your Perspective Around Ski Criticism

It’s easy to get defensive when feedback comes our way. We’ve been programmed as kids to tell our parents to eff off when they get on our case but this isn’t that. Instead of seeing pointers as criticism, shift your perspective to view it as valuable guidance. Ski instructors are there to help you enjoy the sport to the fullest. In one day, they can get you to a place in your skiing that might take years to do on your own. Consider their advice as a friendly tip from someone who’s been down the mountain a few times – unlike some unhealthy parenting, they want to help, not hurt.

❄️ Tip #3: Open Communication Channels

If you’re unclear about the feedback, speak up. Ask questions. You can’t pick up what I’m putting down if you’re at a different table. Effective communication ensures that you and your instructor understand each other. Ask for clarification on specific techniques or why certain adjustments are recommended. Understanding the “why” behind the advice can make it easier to implement. Just pay attention to whether you’re asking “why” to challenge authority or to better understand the concepts and exercises. A kid asking why he has to go to bed at 9 is not the same as him asking the teacher to explain a math problem.

🎿 Tip #4: Try Before You Deny

When your instructor suggests a change, give it a go before dismissing it. What’s it going to hurt? Like swapping skis with a friend, sometimes experiencing the difference firsthand is the best way to understand the benefits of a particular movement. Remember, trying new things is what keeps things fresh and evolving.

⛰️ Tip #5: Trust Your Instructor

Ski instructors are trained professionals with a wealth of knowledge and experience (unless your kids have a J1)*. Trust that they have your best interests at heart. It’s not about judging your ability; it’s about elevating your day, week, or life. A little trust can go a long way in transforming your skiing experience.

🌨️ Conclusion: Carving a Path to Improvement

Next time you find yourself on the receiving end of some well-meaning advice from a ski instructor, keep these tips in mind. Embrace the learning process, shift your perspective, communicate openly, give it a try, and most importantly, trust that your instructor is your friend not a narcissistic parent or significant other. We have nothing to gain by making you feel bad. If you listen with an open mind and heart, you’ll be punching through snow with newfound confidence in no time.

*Level I certification is meant to affirm that the instructor is qualified to teach beginner/novice guests, primarily on beginner/novice terrain (typically identified as “green”). Level II certification generally means that the instructor is qualified to teach through the intermediate zone, in which students are primarily on intermediate (blue) and some green terrain. Level III certification generally means that the instructor is qualified to teach ALL students and on expert (black) terrain.

*J1 is a foreign worker on a student visa brought in to fill jobs at a US ski resort. J1s usually have no experience so they work with kids’ group lessons.

8 Top Local Ski Areas Untouched By Ikon and Epic

local ski area in NM

Has American skiing sold out? The pressure is on right now to choose Ikon, Epic, an individual area season pass or skip it altogether because you won’t ski more than five days anywhere. Decisions, decisions. Every month you put it off, the price goes up.

But epic liftlines, parking nightmares, crowded slopes make plunking down $1k+ unejoyable. If you’re sick of making up the cost of your cheap Epic and Ikon pass savings with a $24 frozen burger, $6 coffee and $1000 ski lesson then rethink how you ski and consider a pass to a mom and pop spot; untouched by corporate America. Brown bag it to these 8 local ski areas where pricing comes second to homegrown spirit and an unpretentious vibe. 

Where The Soul of Skiing Still Lives

Beaver Mountain, Utah

Beaver Mountain Trail Map

Opened in 1949, The Beav is the oldest continuously-owned family ski resort in the U.S. and a place that will always welcome families of all abilities. It’s run much the same way Marge Seeholzer’s father-in-law, Harold, had when he realized his dream for this Logan Canyon hideaway. The original warming lodge is today’s ticket office and you can find Marge still selling those tickets through the walk-up window. They may not cost $.25 anymore but at $60 it’s still the cheapest ticket in Utah.  A 2-hour group lesson with rentals and a beginner lift ticket will set you back $80. Inside the day lodge, a cheese burger with fries is $11.50 but feel free to splurge on the famous ​​Big Beav Double Bypass Burger (two patties, cheese, bacon and BBQ sauce) and fries. It may not be the biggest ski area around but with 800+ acres, four lifts, two terrain parks and a 1700-foot vertical drop there’s enough terrain for beginners to experts. They are even open for night skiing on scheduled days throughout the season. Even for non-skiers, there are miles of groomed trail systems, open spaces for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Powderhorn, Colorado

Let Aspen and Vail have the big spenders; Real Janes and Joes head to this Western Colorado gem on Grand Mesa, 50 minutes from Grand Junction. Powderhorn’s widely-spaced aspen glades offer some of the West’s best tree skiing, while the Mission: Affordable program provides beginners with three days of free rentals, lift tickets, and lessons. Non-skiing parents can watch their kids log laps from the lodge’s sprawling deck, where sack lunches are A-OK—though the aroma from the on-site smoker (and its locally-raised beef, chicken, and pork) makes Powderhorn’s BBQ seem more appealing than any PB&J. Day ticket from $79.

Snowy Range, Wyoming

Owned and operated by the Maddox family (and a small team of investment backers), Snowy Range keeps prices low with old-school amenities. Slow, fixed-grip lifts serve friendly runs suitable for beginners and intermediates. A small Nordic trail network makes it convenient to explore the snow-laden spruces sans chairlifts. You can find the trailhead at the northeast corner of the ski area’s overflow parking lot. A popular hangout for nearby residents—not just day-tripping lift-riders—the day lodge feels more like a community fish-fry than an impersonal resort. Its kitchen simmers up homemade chili and the taps feature local beers (really local, as the crowd-pleasing Virginia Pale Ale is brewed on-site). Day ticket from $49.

Red River Ski Area, New Mexico

Although little Red River changed hands a few times since opening in 1959, the Judycki family has been in charge since 1980. Uniquely located three and a half hours from Albuquerque and directly adjacent to the town of Red River, you’ll feel like you stepped back into a time when your parents took you on your first skiing road trip. You can smell the fireplace smoke and the boys in the bar. The town itself has year round recreation but at the mountain you will find an even split of the 200 acres between beginner, intermediate and expert terrain and snowmaking on 85 percent of it. The high elevation and low temps keep the snow of the southern Rockies light and fresh. The five lifts help you access all of that including a 1600 vertical-foot drop. Lift tickets are $98.

Bogus Basin, Idaho

If only we could make Park City Mountain a non-profit like Bogus Basin! Located 16 miles from Boise, Bogus became a 501 c3 is 2013 with all of the revenue invested straight back into the resort and the community. The board of directors are all volunteers.  Locals can park for free in the downtown lot and take a free shuttle straight to the mountain if the upper lots are full. The feeder resort may sound like it’s just for Boise locals but it beats its glitzy neighbor Sun Valley by 300 acres and sells tickets for half the price ($73). Inbounds, there’re 11 lifts, 2600 acres and an 1800 vertical potentially taking you to 40 percent black and double black runs but backcountry skiers drool for the extensive backcountry network just outside the ski resort boundary. Did we mention, there’s 175 acres of night skiing, tubing and a mountain coaster? Who needs corporate greed to get things done on a ski hill?

Mt Rose, California

We popped over to Mt Rose after an epic day at (BVR- Before Vail Resorts) Kirkwood many years ago. Had we not ridden a lift with a long-time local we might have missed why this little hill, 22 miles from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport with a base elevation of 8,260 feet, the highest in the Lake Tahoe region, is the hidden gem of California. Our local guide showed us up and down some of the best expert terrain we had played in that whole trip. The 200+ acres Chutes offers more than 1000 vert on 40-55 degree, north-facing pitches. With extensive snowmaking and that high elevation, Rose can open early and remain open when other Tahoe resorts struggle. To be honest, the Buser family tried to sell the resort in 2017 but didn’t get asking price so they decided to hang onto it. Lucky for all of us. Locals’ lift tickets are $99 but for visitors, tickets are on the pricey side ($155). However, they do have regular specials like 2-for-1 Tuesdays that make a side trip more realistic.

Montana Snowbowl

This Missoula ski area is that expert’s unicorn – relatively no lift lines, untracked powder even on weekends, 80 percent advanced and expert runs all for a $60 lift ticket. They only have three chairs and a T-bar but you can easily access all of the 950 acres and 2000 vertical feet. In itself, Snowbowl isn’t really a destination for out of towners but plan a roadtrip along Montana’s Powder Highway-Highway 93- and you will have the adventure of a lifetime. We’re talking Lost Trail, Montana Snowbowl, Blacktail and Whitefish Mountain Resort. 

Mt. Ashland, Oregon

Skier going down the mountain at Mt. Ashland.

When southern Oregon residents heard in 1992 that their beloved Mt. Ashland was folding, they spent a year raising $1.7 million to buy it and keep it operational. Now run by the non-profit Mt. Ashland Association, these slopes include a high-alpine cirque with steep chutes and bowls, but learners also find their wings. Families can carry sleds to the Grouse Gap toboggan hill, a half-mile walk beyond the resort’s back parking lot before heading back to the cityDay ticket from $64, free for kids under six and seniors 70 and older.

What are some of your faves? Leave me a comment below!

Summer Skiing Could Still Happen

UPDATE: Arapahoe Basin reopened May 28, 2020, with a TBD closing date. All passholders and day ticket purchasers ($99) have to submit to a raffle two days prior and make a reservation if their name is drawn before they can head up. The ski area is allowed to admit only 600 skiers and snowboarders but there will be no tailgating and partying after slushing it up on the 20 open runs and three chairlifts. They will have to wear face coverings in designated areas and no food will be sold. Still, they get to ski!

With no more ski areas open – HUGE shout out to COVID-19 for that- and just a smattering of diehards uphilling for turns, we can officially call an end to the 2019/20 ski season. But what about summer skiing?

According to the National Ski Areas Association, some 460 ski areas in 37 states could lose $2 billion from the shutdown. Most areas began to shutter around March 15, 2020, just when spring ski breakers were marking off their vacation to-do lists. Jackson Hole had already announced that they would stay open a week past their normal closing to accommodate for the late Easter weekend. With fresh snow in the forecast, resorts were primed for a bustling spring before pandemic panic struck. Then everything came to a screeching halt; everything but our desperate need to keep skiing.

We Weren’t Done Skiing

March is not only one of the snowiest months of the year but also the busiest after December, pulling in about 20 percent of overall skier visits for the season. Not so for 2020. We won’t harp on the financial hits that the resorts will sustain. You can read about that here. It’s the emotional hit that rippled through ski communities, causing mass devastation.

Thousands of season passholders sat sad faced, wondering if the areas would reopen or at least if they were going to reimburse them for the lost ski days. Those who only ski two weeks a year won’t understand. When you are a local with six ski areas to choose from and you measure your ego by the number of days you ski, one of the major factors to consider before dropping $1k on a pass are the projected closing dates.

Last year, Snowbird stayed open through June and reopened for a special 4th of July ski day. Whistler closed May 27, A-Basin June 2, Squaw Valley July 7 and Mammoth Mountain on July 28. Therefore, if you lived in Utah and purchased a Bird 19/20 season pass you potentially missed out on three months of skiing. Let’s break it down. With the season starting in December, you might predict seven months of skiing based on last year. Yet even without counting on July 4th skiing, Snowbird traditionally skis through May. That’s six months. They closed March 15 giving you only 3.5 months on a “six-month pass.” Most ski resorts, by the way, have yet to address this concern but perhaps they won’t have to if they can reopen before it’s too late.

Summer Skiing Not out of the Realm of Possibility

There may still be a slim (albeit VERY slim) possibility that a few areas will re-open for summer skiing if the quarantine ends before all of the snow melts. As of this post, Arapahoe Basin posted on their site that they could reopen even if it’s as late as June if conditions allow. “Don’t be discouraged. This is a marathon and A-Basin is a marathon runner. What other area stays open from mid-October to July 4th? We all need to do the right things now if we want to get open again.” Update: The Governor of Colorado extended the closure order through May 23, 2020.

Mount Baldy ski area in Southern California reopened on April 22 when San Bernadino County allowed golf courses to reopen. After 11 days, they closed out the season, “Thanks to the most solid crew any mountain has ever had, several feet of late season snow and some very respectful skiers & riders we were able to open again on 4/22/20 to finish off a season like this properly,” the resort’s website stated.

Summer Skiing

photo by Gary Westwell

Vail Resorts (which includes Whistler, Breckenridge and Heavenly resorts) posted, “We made the difficult decision to close our North American resorts and retail stores for the 2019/20 winter season. ” Mammoth Mountain’s statement: There is no estimated reopening date for Mammoth Mountain at this time. Reopening the ski area is dependent on the COVID-19 situation, state and federal mandates, as well as other safety factors.

Squaw Valley hasn’t changed their stance that “while the possibility of Squaw Alpine reopening for skiing and riding still remains, we have no estimate for such action. The resort will be closed until further notice.”

Oregon Ski Resorts At The Ready?

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said this week that the state will allow ski resorts to reopen. Mt Bachelor, Ore., had earlier announced they are “closed for now but our goal is to reopen as soon as we can.” In the meantime, they were the first ski area to officially offer a $100 voucher to all 19/20 season passholders and can be used for pass products, lessons and rentals in 20/21. Timberline Ski Area is usually running race camps throughout the summer so this has to be good news for them. The plan as outlined is that guests must make online reservations but prepurchased lift tickets and passes will be valid. Food would be to go and social distancing practiced in the parking lots and chairs.

Season Passholder Reparations Coming

Utah skiers, in particular, were underwhelmed with the response from Alterra’s Ikon Pass which is good at Solitude and valid for five days at Deer Valley and Snowbird/Alta. Extended purchase deadlines, slight discount for renewals (about $120), interest-free payments, and insurance against another pandemic closure just aren’t enough enticements. My friend and former ski instructor Tony Fantis told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Why would I reinvest now for a season I don’t know is going to happen? From a risk standpoint, I would rather wait and pay more later.” That is despite Alterra promising customers can defer their pass to the 2021-22 season if it looks like they couldn’t use it this season … so long as they do so by December 10.

Vail Resorts announced their “severance package” shortly after a class action lawsuit was filed against them and Alterra. Epic Pass holders will be credited 20-80 percent toward a 2020-21 pass renewal, depending on how often their 2019-20 pass was used. For skiers ready to renew, VR has offered a pass deposit of $49 with the remainder due in September.
Mountain Collective is the worst of the bunch and you would be wise to avoid it. From their website- “The Mountain Collective Pass is non-refundable and non-transferable. All purchases are final and may not be refunded, transferred between parties, or transferred to another season.” Basically, you get nothing for last season and if anything happens to cause the season to end early next year, you are SOL.

If the Resorts Do Reopen for Summer Skiing Will We Even Care By Then?

Though we still wish we could ski, many coronavactioners are finally ready for summer; for the rain to stop, the snow to melt, the warm skies to shine because, hell, if you can’t ski and don’t have backcountry skills, at least we can hike and bike. The other thing to consider is once we get in the summer groove, will we want to go back to skiing? TBH, it might take two feet of fresh powder to get me back in the mood.

But after you get your fill of dirt, there’s always a trip to Argentina in July; if the country lifts their air travel ban before September. The resorts down south are poised to open for their winter season but they are tracking the spread of COVID-19 as we speak. If ever there was a time to visit the southern hemisphere, it would be this year, weather and COVID contingent of course.

Must Haves for Summer Skiing

Shred Goggles – Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Ted “Shred” Ligety knows something about skiing year-round. So trust him when he makes goggles that kick butt on summer sun. The Shred goggles won’t fog no matter how heated your dome gets. It has a spherical lens with a dramatically wide field of vision so you can spot bikini-clad Betties from anywhere. The contrast boosting lens (CBL) allows you to see just as well in flat light as bright sun and, even though the lens doesn’t look super dark to the naked eye, it provides plenty of UVA, UVB, UVC protection. The NoDistortion tech in the lenses prevents, yes, distortion you get from a curved lens at altitude while the high quality “Whipped Cream” multilayer face foam ensures that this go-to goggle fits under just about every helmet. Plus, it won’t pack down like most foams so you can count on them for next season too.

summer skiing goggle

BRYNJE Women’s Wool Thermo Longs Base Layer with Inlay might look like something from a steampunk rave but it totally makes sense when you think about the heat generated skiing in 60-degree temps. All you want to wear is a shell pant but that feels nasty against bare skin. You won’t overheat in the Mesh Thermo Longs and the integrated shorts and reinforced knees keep you from chafing.

brynje fishnet baselayers

Helly Hansen’s Odin Mountain Softshell Jacket is the ultimate spring and backcountry shell. It’s a warm, breathable, comfortable worn alone or with a mid-layer or thin puffy underneath for cooler days. This lightweight beauty is made of 4-way stretch with a weather protective membrane and another with maximum breathability. It moves with you whether you climb or ski.

summer skiing jacket

How To Speak Skier: Snow Conditions

ski words

Ever wonder what the heck those ski bums are talking about when they say things like, “Yeah, I was expecting bulletproof but rode out the wave on 2″ of blower on top of cream”? You’re not alone. Like lawyers, doctors, and IT technical support, the industry has a lingo all its own. Ski words are another language.

Here is a glossary of most common idioms in a skier’s vocab used to describe snow conditions:

Powder a.k.a Blower
Cold, new, loose, fluffy, dry snow that has not been compacted.
Tracked up powder. Can still be fluffy but nowhere near untracked powder. 
Packed Powder
Powder snow that has been packed down by skier traffic or grooming machines. The snow is no longer fluffy, but it is still quite soft. Setting an edge in packed powder is easy, and skiing the surface does not make noise.
New Snow
Fresh snowfall that is too dense to be called powder, but isn’t quite Cascade Concrete.
This is an often-misunderstood snow term. When fresh snow becomes densely packed, it is hardpack. The snow has never melted and recrystallized, but has been tightly compressed through grooming, skier traffic, or wind exposure. You can plant a pole or set an edge in hardpack, and it is a relatively quiet skiing surface. Hardpack retains a white color, unlike frozen granular snow.
Frozen Granular
Snowsports folks often call this surface “icy”, but it is different from ice in many ways. Frozen granular is a hard surface formed when melted and refrozen snow forms granules that freeze together after rain or warm temperatures. Frozen granular is noisy to ski, but will support a pole plant or allow you to hold an edge. Frozen granular snow will often return to an easier-to-ski loose granular state after grooming. Frozen granular snow has a gray tint.Ice a.k.a Bulletproof Snow a.k. East-coast Powder
Not to be confused with frozen granular, ice is a hard, glazed surface created by freezing rain or large quantities of rain followed by sub-freezing temperatures. Ice will not support a pole plant, will not support an edge for most riders, and will chip when hit. Ice is generally translucent and may have a blue color.

New powder snow that has been blown into dense ridges by strong winds.

Windblown snow
A windy day can compact and drift surface snow, leaving an inconsistent skiing surface that can be either densely packed, keeping a rider on the surface, or leaving deep, soft drifts of heavy snow formed when snowflakes are damaged by strong wind. These are usually creamy conditions.

Strong winds can remove all surface snow, leaving an ice-like surface in wind-affected areas. It is hard to set an edge in windscoured snow.

Loose Granular / Sugar Snow 
This surface results after new snow thaws, refreezes, then recrystallizes. This is also created by grooming of frozen or icy snow.

Wet Granular
Loose or frozen granular snow that has become wet and soft after exposure to warm temperatures or rain. This is a fast, soft, easy-to-ski surface.

Corn snow
Corn is similar to wet granular in that it is composed of large, loose granules of snow that freeze together at night and loosen up during the day. It is a soft, fast and consistent surface to ski.

Breakable (or unbreakable) Crust
When rain falls on top of new snow, followed by freezing temperatures, a crust forms on top of the snow. The crust makes for inconsistent skiing conditions, as it may be breakable or not breakable.

Trip Report: Skiing Mt Hood Meadows

Mt Hood

Disclaimer- this was written last season when Utah had snow.

Ryan shook his head. “Why would you want to go to Portland when we have great snow in Utah?” he asked. My boyfriend doesn’t get out much and apparently he doesn’t follow the weather. It’s been snowing in Mt Hood Meadows; a lot. The snowpack at the Oregon resort has surpassed 200 percent of normal. You might wager that Hood has gotten snow at least three days a week, every week this season. The reports of massive dumps began rolling in around Christmas time and kept on rolling.

Ryan has a point, though. It is such a challenging choice to travel away from Utah in the winter. It’s often not as sweet someplace else. Utah is known for the driest, lightest snow on the planet and even on a mediocre day it beats skiing “Sierra Cement”. Those coastal resorts usually see a mix of rain and snow which can wreak havoc on a ski slope. Hence, I’ve never gone to the Pacific Northwest for a ski vacation. But there’s something to be said for a change of scenery. As yet another storm moved through the PNW, the timing just seemed right.

I didn’t get the memo.


I landed in the middle of freezing rain and an ice storm that closed the highway to Hood River. As people around me commented about how this was the “worst winter” they’ve seen, my anticipation escalated. Powder in the mountains! But… WTH is freezing rain? I stepped off the MAX lightrail train from PDX to Chinatown wearing my YakTrax for traction and the hipster dude next to me nodded, “You came prepared.” I solidly placed my boot into a pile slush that sat atop black ice. Yep, that’s what freezing rain is.

Mt Hood

The Portland rain was heavy and wet and dank as I walked the few blocks from the commuter rail to the hotel.  In Utah, we’re good with a down puffy and knit hat; in the PNW, Gore-Tex is king. Nothing is spared without an umbrella. The rain drenched the top of my boot bag and Eagle Creek carry-on as I wheeled it down the few blocks to my hotel.

Staying in Portland

My Utah mind had a hard time wrapping my head around rain in the middle of winter. I was now stranded in Portland at the uber hipster, boutiquey Society Hotel (no TVs in the rooms which are powered by solar, but a public coffee bar in the lobby for live podcasters). The vintage feel of the mahogany floors, vaulted ceiling and single check-in stand created a timeless calm to the chaotic weather outside. The minimalist lodging was built in 1881 to house sailors who stopped into port then later offered shelter to Japanese immigrants, gypsies and the homeless through the years. It eventually became this funky urban spot with a rooftop garden that offered beds to backpackers and honeymooners alike.

Mt Hood

After a restful night (courtesy of the provided earplugs), I threw open the curtains. Rain. Then the email from the Mt Hood folks-  Just in case you hadn’t heard, all of the roads through the Gorge are shut down. Wait, I came all this way and I’m not going to ski?? I walked myself to a delicious breakfast diner called Fuller’s to contemplate my next move. The communal place consists of two, horseshoe-shaped counters- no tables or booths- that serves up hashbrowns and bacon grilled to perfection. I would find my way to the slopes even if I had to bum a ride off the guy next to me, Craigslist or bus.

mt hood

The waitress mentioned ODOT operates a carpool resource called There is also a Facebook Ride Share group. Dave Tragethon to the rescue! The resort’s head of PR picked me up on his way to work and drove us along the old-school ski road (Hwy 26). The rain quickly turned to light snow. A couple of hours later I had my Atomic ski gear from the mountain’s pro shop and was ready to rock the conditions which ranged from soft blower to coral reef, aka dust on corrugated crust.

To Mt Hood Or Bust

The overcast, white-out visibility prevented me from taking in those Willamette River Valley views. Not only that but the clouds socked us in to the point of disorientation and I had no clue where to go. Local ski instructor Katie Kadlub, was my hand holder. The layout of the hill made me feel like I was in different spots but that was due to her guidance. We actually kept circling back around. Funny, I expected a mom and pop place but Mt Hood skis like a big mountain. Though the resort has a base elevation of 3,600 feet, it has a vertical of 3,700 feet, an average base of 100+ inches on mostly intermediate and advanced trails. They’ve got steeps, bowls, tons of PNW trees and gentle groomers back to the base. And when you hit it right, the snow builds and builds.

mt hood

When Your Day is Over

After a quick lunch inside the South Lodge at the Alpenstube, we were back out for laps in Heather Canyon. The snow accumulated during the morning and through lunch making the hardpack beneath nonexistent. With legs on fire and a Cheshire cat grin, we clinked beer mugs for the ‘Stube apres scene and I waited for Dave to get off work. He was my ride to the “Lodge Suite” at Cooper Spur Mountain Resort just around the bend from Meadows. The pet-friendly, cabin-style room had a giant log bed and flatscreen. All you need after a hard day of lapping empty trails.

I downed a hearty filet and chocolate torte at their Crooked Tree Tavern I rushed to bed. Cooper has its own attractions including a Nordic Center but most residents do their serious alpining at Meadows. There wasn’t a lot going on this evening.

mt hood

The volcanic Mt Hood itself is home to six ski areas totaling over 4600 acres: TimberlineMount Hood MeadowsSki BowlCooper SpurSnow Bunny, and Summit. Though most are done for the season, Meadows closes on May 6 and you will still be able to ski through the summer at Timberline if you’d rather make turns than paddle in the Columbia River Gorge.

Day 2 Mt Hood Powder Day

The snow continued into the night, clearing by morning so that we had access to the experts only gates into Private Reserve and S&R Cliffs. PNW skiing? Now, we were talking! Nearly a foot swirled around us with no one else to poach it. Interstate 84 was still closed because of the ice storm so we danced among the glades and mini-rockchutes, lapping the empty lift mazes until it was time to fly home.

Ski Season Is Never Over In Oregon

At this point there are only a few resorts still doing winter – Snowbird, Utah, Mammoth Mountain, Calif., Arapahoe Basin, Colo. and Blackcomb, B.C.. There’s enough snow in Mt Hood Meadows to keep you skiing into August but with big plans in the works for their upcoming 50th Anniversary celebration, they’ll let Timberline do the honors.

The anniversary website has already launched. The list of events and deals is growing by the day. Some of the plans include a special 50 time pass (limit 50) as well as special midweek $50 lift ticket and learn to ski or snowboard packages (limit 50 each). There’s no better time than next season to experience Mt Hood, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.


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