Winter fun where the Olympians train

Methow Valley, Washington, is where many an Olympic hopeful trains. Nordic skier and local Sadie Bjornsen takes us on an insider’s tour
Jenny Cunningham

When most other kids were choking down their Wheaties and just dreaming of being Olympic athletes, 11-year-old Sadie Bjornsen was setting her mind to it. That’s the age she was when she decided she wanted to compete in the 2010 Winter Games in Whistler, British Columbia.

Nine years later, this 5-foot-8, 145-pound Nordic racer wakes in the wee hours to wax her skis and hit the trails as an Olympic hopeful.

Ask Sadie the key to her success, and she replies with two words: “Methow Valley.” Here in eastern Washington, 124 miles of dedicated cross-country trails wind across the valley, home to the three tiny burgs of Twisp, Winthrop, and Mazama. One of her favorites is Bob Trail.

“It’s designed for ski racers,’’ she warns. “It has extreme inclines that kick your butt. But when you come flying down and catch air on the bump at the bottom, all that work is worth it.”

If you’ve given up the dream of earning a gold medal, Sadie has other workouts and hangouts for you to try in her hometown.

Info: To ski Bob Trail, park at Brown’s Farm (887 Wolf Creek Rd., 5 miles east of Mazama), and ski 1.2 miles on the Community Trail (see more info at right), toward Winthrop to Bob Trail.

Methow Valley: Follow in Sadie’s tracks

Where beginners ski: Winthrop’s Community Trail glides through open meadows for views of the Methow River and Cascade peaks. When the trail branches, go straight toward the WolfRidge Resort for a reward: hot chocolate inside a warming hut.

Park in the ski area lot next to Winthrop Physical Therapy, 202 White Ave.; the 6.2-mile (one way) trail to the hut starts at nearby Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink, which sells passes. Trail day pass $20, $10 ages 13–17; 509/ 996-3287.

Where to gear up: Rent at Winthrop Mountain Sports, where the local pros go. Or have your cross-country skis “ground” (smoothed and pat­­terned) by Nordic Ultratune’s Mark Waechter. “It’s not just for racers,” says Sadie. “It helps anyone’s skis run better.”

Winthrop Mountain Sports: Ski rental $17; 257 Riverside Ave., Winthrop; 509/996-2886. Nordic Ultratune: Closed Tue–Wed; grinding from $60 per pair; 134 Riverside.

The ultimate adventure: Sadie says the five ski-in-only Rendezvous Huts are worth the 6-mile-minimum kick-and-glide climb over Rendezvous Pass for their woodstoves, full kitchens, and views of Gardner Mountain. “You cook dinner, play cards, and bundle up in blankets. Best of all, the next day, you get to ski down what you skied up!” $175 exclusive use, $35-per-person shared use; 800/422-3048.

For off-trail fun … 

Ice-skating under the sky: Methow Valley has a zillion pretty ponds that ice over in winter. But the new outdoor Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink is especially “romantic at night,” Sadie says, with white lights shining down and stars twinkling above. Check website for public sessions; day pass $4, $3 ages 6–18; rental $3; 208 White Ave. (at State 20), Winthrop; 509/996-3287.

The local hangout: At the Mazama Store, old-time ranchers and new age vegetarians rub shoulders. It’s an old-fashioned general store: Everything you need is under one roof. 50 Lost River Rd., Mazama; 509/­996-2855.

Après-ski spa: Sadie gets her much-needed weekly rub from sports massage therapist Alison Hanks. For an indulgent spa day, try the Sun Mountain Lodge. Hanks: By appointment, $60 for an hour; alisonhankslmp.blogspot.com or 509/996-3222. Sun Mountain: Massages from $65 for a half-hour; 604 Patterson Lake Rd., Winthrop; 800/572-0493.

Next: Methow Valley hotels and restaurants, and how to get there

 

Where to eat …

Breakfast: Wheaties, shmeaties. Sadie craves a three-egg omelet packed with cheese, spinach, olives, and mushrooms from the Duck Brand Cantina. The blueberry pancakes come in a close second. Calories? Carbs? Whatever, you’re in training. $; 248 Riverside Ave., Winthrop; 509/996-2192.

Lunch: Twisp River Pub, a family-friendly hangout and small-batch brewery, is Sadie’s stop for a veggie burger (the beer will have to wait another year until she’s 21) and live rock or reggae on Friday and Saturday nights. $, cover charge from $5; closed Mon–Tue; 201 State 20, Twisp.

Dinner: After a day outdoors, it’s okay to eat like an Olympic contender. Sadie splurges with a creamy arugula pesto pasta, enjoyed fireside at Freestone Inn. The finish? The bittersweet chocolate truffle torte. “Irresistible.” $$$; closed Tue–Wed; 31 Early Winters Dr., Mazama; 800/639-3809.

Getting to Methow Valley:

State 20 is closed in winter over the passes separating Methow Valley from western Washington. Give yourself 51/2 hours to drive the long way: From I-405 outside Seattle, take State 522 to U.S. 2 over Stevens Pass to Wenatchee, then head north on U.S. 97 and State 153 to Twisp.

Where to stay:

At the Freestone Inn in Mazama, choose a lodge room with a stone fireplace or one of five new condos with kitchens. Rooms from $140, including breakfast; condos from $195; 800/639-3809.

If you want the whole shebang (spa, ski lessons, gourmet suppers, and stunning views), book a room at Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop. Sadie likes to stay in the freestanding cabins, where she’s spent many birthdays sledding down the hill out back. Rooms from $160, including breakfast; cabins from $265; 800/572-0493.

The tiny Owl’s Nest Cabin at Winthrop’s Spring Creek Ranch has it all―if all you need is a cute, dog-friendly bolt-hole with kitchen, bedroom, and easy access to Methow’s main ski trails. From $100; two-night minimum; 509/996-2495.

More: Great snowy getaways in the West

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