Alpental & the Summit at Snoqualmie

Don't knock the Pass! Although renamed into a corporate mouthful, this backyard area remains a perennial, if often sodden,

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Ten Best Pacific Northwest Ski Areas

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Alpental & the Summit at Snoqualmie

Don't knock the Pass! Although renamed into a corporate mouthful, this backyard area remains a perennial, if often sodden, favorite. Diesel-spewing buses still clog its parking lots as if massed for a military invasion, but there's enough slope capacity to accommodate the crowds. Under new, deep-pocketed management, the Summit has spent $6.5 million on long-needed improvements this year; it's the place for you and/or your kids to learn how to ski or snowboard. Alpental is serviced by the same lift ticket and a shuttle bus, but remains spartan at its core. In contrast to the gentle slopes at the Summit, Alpental offers surprisingly challenging terrain. Leave work and get to both sites in time for the most accessible night skiing around.

Best mountain tip: Alpental loyalists relish the exhilaratingly steep Upper Internationale; this and other chutes and the backcountry (special pass required) make for the only expert-level skiing on I-90.

How to get there: I-90 east to the Pass (52 miles, one hour). Info: 206-236-1600. Tickets: $34 ($25 midweek).

White Pass

This is where our country's greatest skiing duo, Olympic champs Phil and Steve Mahre, got their start, so don't scoff at the mainly intermediate skiing. While 1,500 vertical feet of terrain certainly isn't overwhelming, it's good enough if you're trapped in Yakima for the weekend. It's also possible to stay overnight right at the base (509-672-3131 for info), a rarity among Northwest areas.

Best mountain tip: Some steep little gems lurk amid the mostly moderate terrain, like Execution and— when conditions are right—an eminently jumpable cornice on Mach V.

How to get there: I-90 east to Ellensburg, then I-82/Hwy 97 south to Yakima. Follow Hwy 12 west 51 miles to the mountain. (195 miles, three and a half hours). Info: 509-672-3100. Tickets: $33 ($22 midweek).

Mount Hood

Ski on the actual mountain at either of two areas—Timberline (on the south side) or Mount Hood Meadows (to the east). Timberline has mostly moderate terrain, with six lifts and 3,590 vertical feet. The famous Palmer lift reaches all the way up to 8,500 feet for summer skiing! Mount Hood Meadows is a larger, more modern resort, with slightly drier snow, and 10 lifts, including a new high-speed quad.

Best mountain tip: Timberline's landmark log-hewn WPA-era hotel and lodge truly justifies the trek from Seattle—especially for a long weekend getaway. Reservations essential (800-547-1406).

How to get there: I-5 south to Portland bypass I-205. Take Hwy 26 east about 50 miles to Timberline Road and 8 miles to the lifts. For Mount Hood Meadows: continue east on Hwy 26 to SR 35 and over Barlow Pass. Take Forest Service Road 3555 to ski area (depending on destination, at least five hours). Info: 503-227-SNOW. Tickets: Timberline $34 ($31 midweek), Mount Hood Meadows $39.

Mount Bachelor

Bend, Oregon, is a charming town, set back 22 miles from the mountain, continually ranked as one of the most unspoiled ski resorts in the country. Bachelor's skiing and snowboarding are also highly regarded, especially by families. There are several steep and challenging sections, but most of the mountain's 70 trails (serviced by seven high-speed quads!) are geared for intermediate-level cruising. For boarders, there's also an excellent snowboard park with a half-pipe and slalom course.

Best mountain tip: 222 consecutive days of skiing and snowboarding last season.

How to get there: I-5 south to Portland. From there, head east on US Hwy 26, then take Hwy 97 south to Bend. The mountain is 22 miles up the Cascade Lakes Highway from Bend (185 miles, three and a half hours, southeast of Portland). Info: 800-829-2442. Tickets: $39.

Whistler/Blackcomb

What more can we say other than there is no excuse for not coming here? Whistler and Blackcomb are serviced by separate lift networks, but share a common lift-ticket and gondola base. Together these resorts possess more than 7,000 acres of skiable terrain, featuring three enclosed gondolas, 13 high-speed lifts, more than 200 marked trails, plus 12 bowls and three glaciers. The sheer size is overwhelming. For years, Whistler/Blackcomb has been ranked the no. 1 ski resort in North America by various magazines. Our only caveat is that on cloudy days, visibility can be a major problem.

Best mountain tip: Discounted lift tickets are sold at the 7-Eleven in Squamish, roughly 30 miles south of Whistler.

How to get there: I-5 north to the Canadian border, where it turns into Provincial Hwy 99. Follow it north through Vancouver and up the scenic (but treacherous) Sea to Sky Highway, 75 miles to Whistler (215 miles, five hours). Info: 604-932-5090. Tickets: C$57 (or US$40, depending on exchange rate).

Stevens Pass

Probably the most popular local ski and snowboard destination for day trips. The drive is easy if you can beat the traffic, and the mountain offers something for all skill levels. Ten lifts, including two high-speed quads, generally keep things moving, but on weekends—especially in the rental shop—the masses clog even this best-prepared of operations. Crowds tend to dissipate around 4pm; the mountain stays open with night skiing until 10. Day care is available, and there's a new half-pipe for boarders.

Best mountain tip: Get away from the crowds by taking the Double Diamond chair over the front face of the resort and down to more challenging terrain on the backside.

How to get there: Hwy 2 east up the Skykomish Valley (78 miles, two hours). Info: 206-634-1645. Tickets: $39 ($29 weekdays).

Mission Ridge

Mission Ridge holds low-key appeal for intrepid road warriors. Its intermediate terrain stands on the leeward and generally storm-protected east side of the Cascades—resulting in a surprising number of sunny days. The snow doesn't suck, either. Mission Ridge isn't for daytrippers, but rewards anyone with business taking them over the divide (like a cattle drive, perhaps?).

Best mountain tip: The snow—lighter, fluffier, and drier than our Cascade crud. A weekend getaway to Mission is the poor man's alternative to Utah.

How to get there: Hwy 2 east to Wenatchee, then southwest to the end of Squilchuck Road (138 miles, three hours). Info: 509-663-6543. Tickets: $33 ($26 midweek).

Mount Baker

No, you don't actually ski on Mount Baker itself, though the area does feature stunning views of that peak. Renowned for its epic snowfall and long season—already well under way—the independent, family-owned area is friendly, affordable, and refreshingly unglitzy. The snowboard mecca of the Northwest boasts 1,500 vertical feet, eight older chairlifts, and terrific backcountry skiing. Advanced skiers enter these unpatrolled and sometimes avalanche-prone regions through gates posted with ominous "You've been warned" disclaimers; if you pick the right conditions (after fresh unstable snow has consolidated) and follow a trail-savvy local, it's powder city. Don't go alone.

Best mountain tip: The late and early season. While other areas are slushed out and studded with rocks in April, Baker emerges from its mantle of winter storms to offer ideal, blue-skied spring skiing conditions.

How to get there: I-5 north to Bellingham, Exit 255, then east to the end of SR 542 (150 miles, three hours). Info: 360-734-6771. Tickets: $30.

Crystal Mountain

Easily one of the most underrated mountains in North America. For a mountain so accessible from the city, Crystal truly has it all: glades, steep bowls, narrow shoots, wide open cruisers. Crowds can be a problem, especially near the base, but a new six-person high-speed quad should reduce lines. New owners are trying to make Crystal a destination resort (they've paved the parking lot!), but the best thing about skiing here is that you can get back home in time for dinner.

Best mountain tip: Crystal features two excellent, in-bounds backcountry areas to the north and south of the main lift-serviced area. Head left off the High Campbell chair, admire the stunning view of Mount Rainier, and traverse (it's a bit of a hike) to the South Basin. Or, take a right off the Green Valley chair and keep left into northern Paradise Bowl. Depending on where you exit, you may need to hitchhike back to the main lodge. Experts only.

How to get there: I-5 south to State Route 18 near Auburn. Take18 east, then SR 164 through Enumclaw, and on to SR 410. Follow 410 for 33 miles to Crystal Mountain Boulevard on your left. It's 6 more miles up to the lifts (80 miles, two hours). Info: 360-663-2265. Tickets: $35.

 
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