In Baker City, there are feet of fresh powder, a village-free vibe, and seriously retro prices
Any real skier will tell you: Mountains soaring to 9,000 feet in a high desert usually mean deep, dry “pow-pow.” In layperson terms, that translates to snow—lots of it. Anthony Lakes Ski Area, three hours from Boise (five from Portland), in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon, has the highest base elevation of any ski resort in the Northwest. Its snow is so light, fluffy, and plentiful that Anthony Lakes is up there with Utah’s famed Alta as another quiet, peaceful, heaven-on-earth for powder-hounds. No Chanel goggles or knee-high Uggs or black Hummers in sight. It may be a bit of a drive from civilization—the home base for skiers, in fact, is the tiny town of Baker City, about 45 minutes away. But those fresh tracks—and rock-bottom lift-ticket prices—make Anthony Lakes worth the trip.
Yes, that’s the adult rate. Any day. Even over MLK weekend, President’s Day, and whatever other peak time other resorts like to hike up their rates. The only catch? There’s only one lift. A good ol’ triple bench seat. But! There’s rarely a line. It takes 7 minutes to zip to the 8,000-foot summit and drops you at the cross-valley views toward the craggy mountains of Eagle Cap Wilderness, with 21 runs to choose from. It’s easy to get into a rhythm of blues and blacks and a couple greens. If you want to mix it up, go nordic ($13). A few hundred yards from the base are 30 blissful kilometers of groomed cross-country trails that wrap around Anthony Lake and Lily Pad Lake.
If you’re looking for an après-ski scene, Anthony Lakes is most certainly not the place. Out here, it’s all about beers and burgers and not much else—besides the rustic Starbottle Saloon ($), on the ski lodge’s lower level. A massive stone fireplace and pints of Tumble Off Pale Ale warm you up after a day on the slopes. Some local will definitely tell you that the sign hanging over the mantel came from Clint Eastwood’s Paint Your Wagon, partially filmed at Anthony Lakes. Act surprised. Don’t expect an eager, fresh-faced waitstaff. Just order your $4-something beer or, even better, a pitcher for less than $12. And don’t forget the nachos.
Head into Baker City for better-than-decent pub food (and the gold medal–winning Hot Blonde chile ale) at Barley Brown’s Brew Pub ($$; 2190 Main St.; 541/523-4266). Then saunter over to the Geiser Grand Hotel (30 rooms from $99; geisergrand.com). After an ongoing renovation, the historic hotel and its oversize rooms remain low-key and ridiculously affordable. Friday evenings are especially fun, with horse-drawn sleigh rides and a crackling bonfire by the rushing Powder River, with hot cider and s’mores to boot.
Then: Consider the original skiers at Anthony Lakes in the 1930s: a hardy group who gathered in search of snow. They strapped a
socklike sack on the backs of their skis for grip and then trekked 10 miles to the base of the undeveloped slopes, where they
stayed in cabins and repeatedly skinned up the mountain—only to ski down again.
Now: Other than a plowed road, a bare-bones lodge, and the occasional plaid-clad snowboarder, not much has changed. Like their founding skiers before them, locals still hike up the slopes whenever the chair’s not running (Monday through Wednesday), then fly down.