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I downhill (or alpine or nordic or whatever you choose to call it) skied incessantly during my adolescent days in Colorado, culminating in racing during my junior year in high school. I was on the ski team for Loveland Ski Area, which is one of the highest ski areas in Colorado and has some of the best powder around. Other great areas are Vail, Copper Mountain, Winter Park/Mary Jane, and Aspen. Most of these areas are within a couple hours drive of Denver and are therefore accessible as a day-trip from Denver. Some trail maps and webcams for these areas can be found below.

Web Sites, Trail Maps, and Live Pictures for Great Colorado Ski Areas
Area Maps Cameras
Aspen/Snowmass 1, 2, 3, 4
Copper Mountain
Vail (Site 1, Site 2) Front,
Back Bowls
Vail Mountain, Mid-Vail, Spruce Saddle
Winter Park/Mary Jane

Colorado skiing is widely known as some of the best skiing in the world. The snow is generally plentiful and light and the ski areas tend to be large and well-kept with large vertical drops, long runs, and a very wide variety of terrain. Many of Colorado's ski areas also offer a full range of services and amenities. Also, the proximity of the ski areas to Denver allows visitors to take advantage of everything that a moderate-sized American city has to offer.

I've skied most of the ski areas in Colorado but have only participated in this flavor of skiing a few times in the Northwest. One relatively good area in the Northwest is Crystal Mountain which is located near the base of Mount Rainier. The ski areas closest to Seattle are Stevens Pass and the Alpental, Snowqualmie, Ski Acres, and Hyak ski areas, all of which are located approximately an hour east of Seattle. Another popular northwest ski area which I have visited is Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort near Bend in central Oregon.

All of these areas are small compared to the scale of ski areas in Colorado and the snow in the northwest tends to be wetter and denser than the snow of the Rockies. This is just as you'd expect from the closer proximity of these areas to the Pacific Ocean. One unpleasant consequence of the nearness of the ocean is the possibility of freezing rain. As you might imagine, rain can make skiing a miserable experience.

Despite these shortcomings, northwest ski areas tend to offer reasonably steep slopes, decent moguls, and rugged terrain for the more advanced skier and are more than adequate for beginning or intermediate skiers. They also tend to have the advantage of smaller crowds and less expensive ticket prices.

Also, rumor has it that Whistler-Blackcomb near Vancouver, British Columbia is an excellent ski resort, on the same scale and of the same caliber as Vail in Colorado. Unfortunately, I have not been able to verify this for myself. Whistler is very popular, requiring reservations reasonably far in advance, and the price of staying nearby is on a par with the larger Colorado resorts. It is also too far away from Seattle for a day-trip. The table below contains links to trail maps and webcams for the northwest ski areas mentioned above, where available.

Web Sites, Trail Maps, and Live Pictures for Northwest Ski Areas
Area Maps Cameras
Crystal Mountain
Stevens Pass
Mt Bachelor
Whistler-Blackcomb on website

Cross-country skiing and telemarking seem to be more popular here and I've dabbled a little in the former. Seattle sits between two mountain ranges, the Cascades to the east and the Olympics to the west, both of which provide ample challenging terrain for all skill levels. Due to it's higher lattitude, the northwest provides opportunities to experience large scale glaciers, something completely lacking in Colorado mountaineering. Skiing is one way to travel near and, to some extent, on glaciers. (Glacier travel should only be undertaken with the utmost respect and caution and only with appropriate guidance or experience. Crevasses are a hazard that can easily become fatal.)

These types of skiing involve much more work than the alpine variety but can be even more rewarding. Most backpackers would readily replace a long slog down a mountainside with a shorter and more exhilarating ski run. (Although skiing with a large backpack can be quite a challenge too.) These forms of skiing make the mountains accessible many more months of the year and allow people to experience the incredible beauty of the mountain backcountry in winter.

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Mark A. Martin <mark@mark-a-martin.us>

Last modified: Tue Jul 25 17:22:23 CDT 2000