PHOTO: Tommy Ellingson and Josh Larkin rip through some fresh snow on Skibowl’s Upper Bowl.
One sweet thing about Mount Hood is that it’s just an hour’s drive from Portland. Another is that it offers six solid options for skiing and snowboarding.
I’ll list them here by proximity to Portland and include some key numbers and a basic description. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below. I should probably say from the outset that I’ve sampled them all, many times, and I really don’t have a favorite. I like them all, so I will try to be as unbiased as possible here.
1. Skibowl is a fun, laid-back resort with 1,500 vertical feet of terrain if you count the highly recommended hike to the peak of Tom Dick Peak. It’s got 960 acres, 65 trails and up to 350 inches of annual snowfall. Management promotes Skibowl as the top night-skiing resort in the U.S., with 550 acres covered by lights. Skibowl also has the classic mid-mountain Warming Hut for waiting out white-outs, plus some serious 40-degree steeps in the Outback. One downside is that Skibowl’s lifts are Old School and SLOW. Another downside has to do with elevation; check your weather sources to make sure the upper elevation snow on Mount Hood isn’t rain at Skibowl. But when visibility is good and snow is fresh, it’s hard to beat a day in the Upper Bowl, followed by a visit to the Warming Hut, followed by a night in the Upper Bowl.
2. Established in 1927, Summit Ski Area is the oldest lift-served ski hill on Mount Hood. It is tiny, with three runs and 306 feet of vertical drop. This is NOT the place to be stuck on a powder day, but Summit (now owned by Timberline) does fill an important role as an excellent spot for teaching the kids, or getting them lessons. Kids under five ski or snowboard for free, and if the shredding doesn’t work out with the little ones you can still salvage your day because there is also a tubing area, and tubing is easy.
3. Timberline boasts the longest-running season in North America, with lift service into September most years. With 3600 vertical feet from the top of Palmer to the bottom of Jeff Flood, Timberline is tops in the Pacific Northwest for vertical drop, but it needs to be said that it is a relatively rare (and glorious) day when both Palmer and Jeff Flood are in operation. Timberline has five high-speed quads, 41 trails, 400-500 inches of annual snowfall and five pretty amazing terrain parks. The one thing it lacks is pitch. For much of winter your only option for prolonged pitch is a snowcat ride to the top of Palmer. But between the grandeur of Timberline Lodge, the views on a clear day and the killer jumps and features on Paintbrush, this place has a lot to offer. Especially when Palmer is open (photo below). Timberline is also a rare place where skiing in the summer is both more expensive and more crowded than skiing in the winter.
Timberline’s Palmer Chair routinely operates into September for elite race and freeride training.
4. Mt. Hood Meadows has 2,150 acres of terrain and 2,777 feet of vertical (4,500 vertical feet if you include hikes to the Super Bowl above Heather Canyon). It also has 85 runs, 430 inches of average annual snowfall and 11 lifts, six of them high-speed quads. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget the six terrain parks including the 500-foot in-ground SuperPipe. And the 40-degree steeps and tree runs in the Private Reserve. Plus the view from the Cascade lift (photo below). So yeah, Meadows is big-time, and day pass prices reflect that: over $100 on peak days.
The Cascade Express at Meadows takes riders to 7300 feet, weather permitting.
5. Cooper Spur (owned by Meadows) is another small resort that’s tailor-made for kids, with 350 feet of vertical, 50 acres of terrain, 10 runs and one double chairlift. It’s tiny but it’s got some pretty good pitch for kids moving past the pizza stage and into french fries. There’s also a lively youth racing scene here, so be careful you don’t get run over by a 12-year-old in spandex doing 50. Still, with mountainside lodging and a revamped Crooked Tree Tavern, Cooper Spur is a worthwhile spot to check out for a family visit.
6. If you’re all too familiar with all the above, there’s always the backcountry. The routes range from Mirror Lake to Tilly Jane to the seven primary descents from the summit of Mount Hood. But don’t even think about it if you don’t know what you’re doing. Backcountry shredding is for seasoned skiers and boarders with avalanche training and survival gear. The Mazamas, Mt. Hood Ski Patrol and other outdoor groups offer all sorts of safety and skills courses. Once you’ve got the basics, check out Christopher Van Tilburg’s Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes. Van Tilburg writes about 31 backcountry destinations on and around Mount Hood. That should keep you busy for a while.
Questions? Comments? Corrections? Rants? Let us know in the comments below.
Last modified: January 24, 2020