Get Your Ski Legs in Seven Days

Seven days, seven mountain experiences.

SkiZer just spent a week skiing, hitting the slopes at Snoqualmie Pass, Schweitzer Mountain, Mt. Spokane, Lookout Pass and Silver Mountain. It was fun to stack up seven days straight — and interesting to see how an aging body reacts.

The first couple of days, SkiZer was feeling very sore. But after a few days in, SkiZer’s legs were coming around and he was feeling a much better slope rhythm.

Which can only mean one thing: SkiZer needs more slope days!

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Willy Bartlett shreds at Silver Mountain.

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Steep turns at Lookout Pass.
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SkiZer turns on the backside at Mt. Spokane.
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SkiZer on the Nordic trails at Mount Spokane State Park.

Day 10: Mount Spokane Nordic

  • Distance skied: 28k
  • Distance for the year: 57K

Day 11: Mt. Spokane Alpine

  • Vertical: 18,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 131,000 feet

Day 12: Lookout Pass

  • Vertical: 20,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 151,000 feet

Day 13: Silver Mountain

  • Vertical: 25,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 176,000 feet

Which Ski Resort is the Best in the Northwest? It Might be Schweitzer

Some ski resorts just feel like home. For the SkiZer, Schweitzer Mountain is one of those places.

Back in another lifetime, SkiZer put in hundreds of days on the slopes of this North Idaho resort. Even after moving away, SkiZer still pined for Schweitzer’s big drops, wide-open bowls and empty slopes.

So it felt very familiar when the SkiZer pulled into the parking lot of Schweitzer. Did it match all the expectations? Yes, and more.

Which got SkiZer thinking: Is Schweitzer the best resort in the Pacific Northwest?

Maybe. If you call the Pacific Northwest Idaho, Washington and Oregon, Schweitzer is certainly in the top two.

The biggest, Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, doesn’t have nearly as good terrain as Schweitzer. Washington’s Crystal Mountain, does have better terrain, but can’t match Schweitzer’s amenities. And in snow quality, Schweitzer beats them both.

SkiZer loves Crystal Mountain on a powder day. But the crowds can be a buzz-kill, and Schweitzer’s remains pretty quiet most of the year.

All good reasons to vote for Schweitzer as the best in the Northwest.

Days 8 and 9: Schweitzer Mountain

  • Vertical: 53,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 113,000 feet
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Dropping into Big Timber on the back side at Schweitzer.

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The village at Schweitzer.
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Taking in the view from the T-bar.
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Matt Folwell shreds the powder in the Outback Bowl.
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Dramatic skies loom above Schweitzer as a storm approaches.

Remember When Tickets Were $1.50 at Hyak?

Some ski days take you back into the past.

That was the case recently when SkiZer climbed the old ski area we used to call Hyak. It’s now part of the Summit at Snoqualmie complex about an hour’s drive from Seattle on I-90, known today as Summit East. Often during weekdays, it remains closed, so it’s a perfect quick fix for a workout climb.

The skiing was just OK. But the trudge up the hill sparked some memories from SkiZer’s childhood when he spent many a night doing some cheap skiing on the same slopes.

Back in SkiZer’s long-ago childhood, Hyak had some bargain prices. Seattle’s old Ernst Hardware stores had Hyak coupons for $1.50, and if you could find a semi-responsible cousin to drive you, it was an amazingly fun night.

There were some memorable times. During one stormy night, lightning hit the chairlift. Nobody seemed too worried — the chairlift kept spinning and the seventh-grade SkiZer happily rode up into the tempest along with everyone else. It was a powder night, afterall.

Here’s to appreciating the old days at ski areas like Hyak, when skiing was for the masses — not just the rich.

Day 7: Hyak Climb

  • Vertical: 2,000
  • Vertical for the season: 60,000
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This old photo from 1940s shows the base area of Hyak. (This predates even the ancient SkiZer.)
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SkiZer takes off the skins at the top of Hyak.
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The destinctive Olympia-beer inspired water tower at Summit East dates back to the Hyak days.
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Empty slopes near the top of Summit East.
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The view of Summit East hill from the base area.

Why Winter is Special at Crater Lake

Crater Lake is one of those places that makes your jaw drop at any time of year. But visiting in winter makes it even more special to the SkiZer.

The hordes of camera-totin’ tourists are long gone, and in their place, a gorgeous coat of snow makes this spectacular place even more beautiful. Heavy snow closes the Rim Road and it becomes a trail for Nordic skiers and snowshoers.

In other words this wild place just gets wilder, and you know how much SkiZer likes it when that happens.

SkiZer spent the day skiing eight miles along the Rim Road, taking in the ever-present views of the lake. It was warm — temps were in the upper 40s — and the skiing was fantastic.

What a great way to start the Nordic ski season.

Day 4: Crater Lake

  • Distance skied: 15K
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Doug Orr passes a group of snowshoers.
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SkjZer and Doug Orr ski along the Crater Lake Rim.
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Doug Orr and the SkiZer pose above the lake.
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Doug Orr skis a meadow on the return to Rim Village.
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Wizard Island looks great covered in snow.

Day 5: Crater Lake Backcountry

  • Distance: 15K
  • Distance for season: 29K
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Doug Orr climbs on the Rim Road
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SkiZer ascends the path through a glade.
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The view from the south rim.

 

Who Has the Best Rides in Seattle’s Bike Share Battle?

Suddenly, Seattle has 9,000 bike share rides parked everywhere you look around the city.

Ever wonder how well they work?

So did I. Last month, over the course of about 10 days, I tested the bikes offered by Spin, ofo and LimeBike, and came away with a favorite.

Spin, you work the best.

Read my entire story here at Crosscut.com.

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Riding the LimeBike near the Seattle waterfront.
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A lineup of ofo bikes in front of the Gates Foundation.
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Passed by a faster bike on the Elliott Bay Trail. 
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The Spin bike at Seattle Center.
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LimeBike’s handy phone holder.
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And the winner! Spin has the fastest bike.

It’s a Brave New World of Snowmaking at Crystal

With sunny skies returning to the Pacific Northwest after weeks of rain, SkiZer felt like taking a mental health day in the mountains.

It was a quick trip to Crystal Mountain for day 3 of the season. The weather was great, and it gave SkiZer the chance to see Crystal’s new $5 million snowmaking system in action.

Clearly it’s working. Coverage is sketchy at most Northwest resorts after torrential rains washed away the snowpack at Thanksgiving. But the lower slopes at Crystal are covered and looking good.

SkiZer wrote about the snowmaking system earlier this fall for Crosscut.com in this story.

As for the day, it was fun. Much of the mountain was closed as Crystal waits for more snow. But what was open was skiing very well, and SkiZer’s mental health has been successfully restored.

Day 3: Crystal Mountain

  • Vertical: 27,000
  • Vertical for the season: 57,000
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A snowboarder waits to drop in on Green Valley at Crystal Mountain.
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Mount Rainier makes a welcome appearance after weeks of stormy weather.
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The top of the Rainier Express, with dramatic skies.
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Powder Bowl on Silver Queen Peak was closed, but looked inviting.
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A skier rides through snowmaking mist near the bottom of the Forrest Queen lift.

Hot on the Trail of Lewis and Clark

When you follow the trail of explorers, you might as well follow the best.

SkiZer recently got the chance to hit the road from Clarkston to Cape Disappointment, hot on the trail of Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery.

Well, not exactly hot on their trail. The explorers, you’ll remember, traveled across Washington state in 1805 at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson, who wanted them to find some kind of cross-continent waterway. After leaving Missouri in May of 1804, the Corps spent 18 months traveling more than 4,000 miles over unknown mountain ranges and running rapids on unknown rivers.

When they hit Washington state, they were in a hurry to get to the coast. Winter was about to close in and they hoped to reach the mouth of the Columbia before they were trapped in snow and ice.

The only problem was negotiating the rapids on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Their journal accounts are filled with harrowing adventures on the difficult waterways.

Today, their route remains fascinating and wild in many places. SkiZer camped and made like a Corps of Discovery member in their wake.

To follow their route offers a great opportunity to try to imagine what they saw with fresh eyes.

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Looking down on the Palouse River in the Snake River Country.
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A dawn visit to the Listening Circle at Chief Timothy Park near Clarkston.
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A train travels over the Snake River on a high trestle.
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SkiZer checks out a dugout canoe at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco. 
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SkiZer walks the hills high above the Columbia near The Dalles, Ore.
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The Stonehenge World War I Memorial at Maryhill.
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Hiking at Beacon Rock State Park in the Columbia Gorge.
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Finally — on the Pacific Coast at Cape Disappointment State Park.
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Checking out “Clark’s Tree” on the Long Beach Peninsula.

With the Clock Ticking, A Quick Run to Rainier

SkiZer usually makes it up to Mount Rainier several times a year.

Not this year. No hikes at Sunrise, one of the SkiZer’s favorite places on Earth. Not Mowich either, which is now closed after tons of snow fell last weekend. The SkiZer gazed longingly at the big mountain, wondering if he’d miss out completely.

Then, after some lovely fall weather returned to Puget Sound, SkiZer decided to go for it.

The road to White River Campground remains open, but will close any day now. SkiZer gunned the engine out of Seattle and two hours later hit the trail for one last quick romp to Glacier Basin.

The hike is a straightforward 6.2 miles roundtrip into a beautiful alpine basin. With temps warming up into the 50s and lots of sun, it was a fantastic day — one last chance to see Mount Rainier’s dramatic northeast side before the roads close for good.

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Little Tahoma looms above the lower Glacier Basin trail.
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About 18 inches of snow was on the trail at Glacier Basin.
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Lunch break overlooking the Inter Fork River at Glacier Basin.
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Lots of snow and warm temperatures brought some energy back to the creeks on Mount Rainier.

What’s With the Name? Cape Disappointment Delivers

SkiZer hit the beach in October and found some nice surprises.

It was perfect timing to visit the Long Beach Peninsula in Southwest Washington. The hiking and cycling proved to be excellent and the early October weather was warm and friendly.

Now, for the surprises.

Camping — yes, you can camp year-round at Cape Disappointment State Park —  is fantastic. Within the park, you’ll find miles of hiking trails, several gorgeous beaches and two scenic lighthouses.

The SkiZer explored the North Jetty in the park, which juts out into the Pacific at the mouth of the Columbia River. The jetty is used by fishermen — this time of year, they were going for crab — but it’s also a great place to see wildlife. As the SkiZer stood there thinking deep thoughts and gazing at the water, a humpback whale surfaced nearby.

The scenic Discovery Trail is surely one of the best recreation paths in the state. It winds from the cape into the dunes of the Long Beach Peninsula and offers some fantastic riding for cyclists.

At the tip of the peninsula, Leadbetter Point State Park was another surprise: The mile-long hike thinned crowds and offered views from a remote and wild beach.

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The Discovery Trail dips and winds through the dunes.
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Views from the jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River. Moments later, a whale surfaced.
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A fisherman hauls in a crab from the jetty.
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The scenic Cape Disappointment Lighthouse stands above the Columbia River.
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A short hike delivers hikers to a remote beach at Leadbetter Point State Park.
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Rainforest-like surroundings are part of the hike at Leadbetter Point State Park.
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Walkers take in North Head Lighthouse from Benson Beach at Cape Disappointment State Park.

With Great Fall Weather, Let’s Keep Hiking

Early October and the weather was fine. The SkiZer said to himself, “Why not squeeze in one more backpacking trip?”

Great decision. Six hours later, the SkiZer hit the Ozette Triangle trail to the Washington Coast. The 9-mile loop is popular in summer, but in fall, it’s empty. The wilderness coast once again becomes truly wild.

Streams start flowing again. The rainforest comes back to life after the dry days of summer. Seals outnumber hikers by at least 20 to one.

It was an incredible trip. SkiZer even squeezed in a day hike north to the Ozette River, where things feel even more remote. Not a soul was to be seen on a stunning beach that felt warm and friendly in 65-degree sun.

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The boardwalk trail to Sandpoint.
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On the coast north of Sandpoint.
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Sunset, first day, at Sandpoint.
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Fording the Ozette River north of Cape Alava.
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Campsite at Cape Alava.
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The sun sets behind Ozette Island off the Washington Coast.