Hidden Northwest Ski Hills

Underrated snow-season destinations

Every skier and snowboarder knows the biggies like Whistler, Big Sky and Bachelor and most of us know the middies such as Big White, Schweitzer and Crystal. As great as these resorts can be, there’s another type of ski hill in the Pacific Northwest that may not be a household name but receives tons of love from those in the know.

Call it the “secret” ski hill, a destination where white fluffy snow makes up for white linen tablecloths, where you ski lines rather than wait in them. Visit one of these cherished areas and you’ll want to shout from the mountaintop, though we’d prefer you keep your enthusiasm to a whisper.

A skier lauching off a tree at Whitewater Ski Resort
Whitewater Ski Resort, British Columbia (Photo courtesy Whitewater Ski Resort)

Whitewater Ski Resort, B.C.

WhiteH2O regulars — who once excused the resort’s slow chairlifts as the only way to catch their breath before dropping in for another long run into the powder — had reason to raise their ski tips when this venerable area added a faster quad chair a few years ago. Located near Nelson, the grooviest mountain town in B.C., Whitewater carries a cultural cachet all its own, like the bestselling cookbook series that’s evolved from its casual day lodge dining. Back on the hill, you’ll find 40 annual feet of dry, fluffy reasons why Whitewater will never add snowmaking.

Castle Mountain, Alberta (Photo by Paul White / Alamy)

Castle Mountain, Alberta

Often a stopover afterthought for skiers heading from the Calgary airport to B.C. resorts, Castle Mountain’s draws are waist-high powder and wide-open terrain with not a lift line in sight. Castle also boasts the most snow in Alberta, a serious distinction given that a couple of North America’s top resorts reside within the same province. Unlike at those peers, you won’t find fine dining at Castle (except the three nights each year when the Moonlit Snowshoe & Fine Dining Experience is offered), but decent pizza and a cool bar round out an evening best spent recuperating for the next massive pow-playday.

Mount Washington Alpine Resort, British Columbia (Photo by Design Pics Inc. / Alamy)

Mount Washington Alpine Resort, B.C.

We all hear about how Mount Baker gets the most snow in the U.S., averaging more than 55 feet per year. But Mount Washington on Vancouver Island averages close to 40 feet every season, and you can ski in the morning and surf that afternoon in Tofino (plan for a four-hour drive in winter weather). The backside of Mount Washington carries you through the trees and into the forest on several blissfully long glade runs.

White Pass Ski Area, Washington (Photo by George Ostertag / Alamy)

White Pass Ski Area, Washington

You would think the home of the Mahre brothers, the most decorated siblings in U.S. ski history, would get more cred from the discerning Pacific Northwest crowd. Not so, which is why White Pass remains one of the best places to explore on and off the piste. Tucked in north of the Goat Rocks Wilderness, White Pass tempts us with tight chutes above the village, then yawns outward to encompass simply spectacular intermediate terrain.

49° North Ski and Snowboard Resort, Washington (Photo courtesy 49° North Ski and Snowboard Resort)

49° North Ski and Snowboard Resort, Washington

The name alone lets you know you’re in the mountains, but this Eastern Washington resort also adds reliable sunshine most days and oh-so-plentiful dry powder that is best experienced within 170 acres of expertly thinned glade runs. Though rarely mentioned among the better known Pacific Northwest ski destinations, 49° North boasts 2,325 skiable acres, which is to say: a lot.

Skiers and a snowcat mountain climbing vehicle at Mount Bailey in Oregon
Skiers and a snowcat at Mount Bailey in Oregon (Photo courtesy Cat Ski Mount Bailey)

Cat Ski Mount Bailey, Oregon

OK, while not technically a ski resort, Cat Ski Mount Bailey is the best place to jump on the growing cat skiing trend. Their Cascades offer miles of untouched backcountry snow to explore via relatively affordable cat skiing without breaking the bank in a helicopter. Mount Bailey’s 6,000 acres just north of Crater Lake National Park puts it squarely in play with most heli-ski operations.

A couple rides the mountain coaster rail ride at Bogus Basin
The mountain coaster rail ride at Bogus Basin Mountain, Idaho (Photo courtesy of Bogus Basin)

Bogus Basin Mountain, Idaho

Ever have your flight to cloudy Ketchum diverted to Boise? Fear not: Bogus Basin to the rescue. Located just 16 miles outside of town, this 2,600-acre area is the largest nonprofit recreation area in the U.S., so we can promise you’ll be skiing sooner and paying less here: way sooner and way less.

Bridger Bowl Ski Area, Montana (Photo courtesy of Bridger Bowl Ski Area)

Bridger Bowl Ski Area, Montana

Bridger Bowl is another of those nonprofit areas, but this one is conveniently near Bozeman and has tremendous snow and terrain, a student vibe from all those Montana State University Bobcats, and is completely overlooked due to the glitzy Big Sky Resort located 90 minutes away.

Mission Ridge, Washington

While not exactly a secret, it’s easy to overlook this 2,000-acre area. No “Cascade Cement” here, Mission Ridge reliably offers the driest snow in Washington state, as well as sublime intermediate and expert terrain. In short, when Mission Ridge is good, it is very good.

–Written by Crai Bower

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2020 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.

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