On track in the Methow Valley

In Washington's North Cascades, cross-country skiers have the run of the hills

North Cascades view

Paul Schofield

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High on a hill above the Methow Valley's Sun Mountain Lodge, I stopped to watch three deer bounding across the snow. The air was icy, the sky a shade of blue unimaginable on a winter day in western Washington.

Here on the eastern slopes of the North Cascades, the hills were bathed in sunshine, and powdery snow was strewn with sparkling prisms of light. The ski trail stretched ahead into the distance, a ribbon of corduroy.

At that moment I realized why people are willing to spend four hours or more driving here from Seattle. From where I stood, it seemed I could see the entire valley, which encompasses no less than 120 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, all waiting to be explored.

At many Northwest ski areas, cross-country skiers get the short end of the ski pole. Not so in the Methow (pronounced met-how) Valley. "We have enough terrain so that if you wanted to spend five days here, you wouldn't have to ski the same trail twice," says Jay Lucas, executive director of the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA), which maintains the trails.

Options for everyone

The valley's network of ski trails is divided into three distinct systems linked by the 19-mile Methow Community Trail. At the southern end of the valley is the Sun Mountain system, offering the greatest variety of terrain. Here you'll find unforgettable views and trails for skiers of all abilities. Nearby is Sun Mountain Lodge, the valley's most luxurious lodging.

The Mazama area at the northwestern end of the valley has the flattest, easiest trails and gorgeous scenery. Looming above the snow-covered meadows is the Goat Wall, a long cliff that in winter is draped with frozen waterfalls and giant icicles. This area is also home to the Freestone Inn, a deluxe contemporary log lodge.

Intermediate or advanced skiers may want to consider exploring the challenging trails of the Rendezvous system, whose small cabins provide a comfortable backcountry experience.

Even if you're not an avid nordic skier, you'll find plenty to keep you busy on winter weekends. In addition to more than 12 miles of snowshoe trails, the valley offers the only heli-skiing in the state. There are also dogsled tours and even hot-air balloon tours of the valley. Balloons depart from Winthrop, a Wild West town with an interesting selection of shops and cafes; other dining options can be found in Mazama and in the little town of Twisp.

But these other activities are really only distractions from the important business of a winter's day in the Methow Valley. Kicking and gliding under clear skies--that's why people make tracks each winter to this remote corner of Washington's North Cascades.

The Methow Valley is roughly 250 miles northeast of Seattle. Take I-90 or U.S. 2 east to U.S. 97, then drive north to State 153 west.

For general information, contact the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce (888/463-8469 or www.winthropwashington.com). For shuttle service within the valley on holidays and weekends, contact Mountain Transporter (509/996-8294). Area code is 509 unless noted.

 

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