5 Reasons You Need To Ski The Pacific Northwest
Skiing here in the U.S. is pretty diverse, from the iconic maritime spines of Haines to the touchy cold conditions of our inner, more continental, states. But the Pacific Northwest is a combination of some incredible characteristics that make it one of the most rewarding places in the country to explore in the snowy months. Here are five things about skiing in the pacific northwest that make it so special to me.
1. Fire lookouts add a little luxury to ski mountaineering.
Here in Washington.
There are a number of unmanned fire lookouts that remain open through the winter. The access gets more challenging as the service roads are enveloped in snow, but the extra effort is well worth it because you’re rewarded with a protected place to sleep and cook with a fantastic view in striking distance of peaks like Mt. Larrabee on the U.S.-Canadian border. Sometimes you’ll even have to shovel out the lookout yourself.
2. Volcanoes and glaciers mean turns all year long.
Though most wont attempt a 15-volcano tour in two weeks like Jess McMillan and Chris Davenport did in 2012, you can definitely get your fix all year long up high on the volcanoes of the Cascades. Rainier, Hood, Helens, Adams and Baker—just to name a few—are skiable all year. The access to most of these peaks is great, and there are routes both up and down to challenge all ability levels.
3. More moisture equals steeper lines.
That same 4 percent pow that leaves contrails of cloud smoke behind you in the intermountain west has a hard time sticking to high-angle faces. Here in the PNW, the higher moisture content of the snow allows it to adhere to the 45+ degree faces, giving a skiable base to some high-angle lines that otherwise wouldn’t hold snow.
4. You can feel “out there”—way out there.
As winter takes hold of the PNW, whole highways shut down. The spiderweb of various service roads into the wilderness areas are made impassable to wheeled vehicles, making snow machine and—even more often—human-powered access your only option. This turns what would be day hikes in the summer into multi-day ski tours as the trailhead gets pushed further and further down by the snow line.
5. Massive relief means massive terrain.
We’re right here on the ocean, so our adventures start at zero elevation. With mountains 10,000, 12,000, and even 14,000 feet tall, we get some of the longest sustained descents in the lower 48. Rainer, for instance, in the right conditions, can offer a continuous descent of over 9,000 vertical feet!
The Pacific Northwest is a special place. Our proximity to the ocean affords us a number of unique characteristics when it comes to skiing and ski mountaineering. We get deep days, steep lines and you can find turns throughout the year.