Want a New Family Ski Destination? Try the Pacific Northwest

Skiing in the Cascades
Skiing in the Cascades

The Pacific Northwest is a wonderful region to ski with the kids: resorts tend to be less crowded and less expensive than in the Rockies or Wasatch; ski towns are authentic and sometimes downright rustic; and families are the recipients of that typical Northwestern casual atmosphere. The snowpack in the region tends to be wetter and heavier (hey, that’s why we have such green forests, right?), which means kids who learn here become excellent powder skiers with strong legs to boot. Here’s where to go and stay on your next Pacific Northwest ski trip:

Pacific Northwest Ski Destinations
Skiing in the Cascades makes for a wonderfully laid-back winter family vacation

Best Pacific Northwest Ski Areas with Kids

Central Oregon

Central Oregon is by far my favorite Northwestern ski destination. The towns of Bend and Sisters offer a home base hopping (no pun intended) with brewpubs for mom and dad, upscale bistros and casual cuisine for the kids and the sunniest weather in Oregon, with an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. The snow in this part of the Cascades is some of the most predictable in the state, meaning families can book that ski vacation and know the snow will arrive in time.

Where to ski: The easy pick is Mt. Bachelor Ski Area, by far the largest in the region. Mt. Bachelor certainly has something for everyone, from wide groomers on the front side to a challenging summit and back bowl glade skiing. The recently expanded Cloud Chaser area and lift is a must for kids, with narrow, twisting runs filled with fun bumps and turns. Honorable mention: families who prefer a smaller resort with a more hometown vibe should head to Hoodoo Resort, located outside Sisters. This is the type of place where skiers still pack a sack lunch, let their kids loose on the mountain, and enjoy bonfires by the back deck.

Where to stay: Neither Central Oregon resort offers onsite lodging, a bummer in my book. If skiing at Mt. Bachelor, stay just down the mountain from the resort at Sunriver, renting a house or condo and enjoying the bike trails, SHARQ water park, and gym and spa during your downtime. If skiing Hoodoo, opt for Black Butte Ranch, with a similar setup but located outside of Sisters.

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Mt. Hood

Perhaps Oregon’s most iconic peak, Mt. Hood towers majestically over Portland, beckoning to skiers ready to enjoy this winter playground. Three ski resorts are located here: Timberline, Mt. Hood Meadows, and Ski Bowl. The quaint ski town of Government Camp anchors them all, with plenty of additional winter recreation nearby in the form of sno-parks for those who prefer to cross-country ski or snowshoe (rentals available in town).

Where to ski: The answer to this question depends on your ski style and level. If you’re here for the ambiance, the views and long, steep runs, head to Timberline. If you have advanced skiers or riders who want the most terrain possible, Mt. Hood Meadows awaits. Beginners and those who may not want to ski a full day will do well at smaller Ski Bowl. All are within minutes of one another.

Where to stay: For a dose of mountain charm and history, stay at Timberline Lodge (provided you’re skiing this mountain, as package deals are the best way to save). Timberline was built as a CCC project during the Great Depression, and remains one of the most beautiful historic lodges in the west. Plus, their buffet-style breakfast is not to be missed (ditto for their nightly cocktails on offer). Otherwise, basic ski cabins can be had in Government Camp, where families have room to spread out (but be prepared to shovel your own driveway and get your own groceries).

Washington Cascades

The Washington Cascade range is home to several quality ski resorts, which have the added benefit of onsite lodging. From Mt. Baker, with some of the most challenging terrain and biggest powder in the west, to Steven’s Pass and Crystal Mountain, with something for everyone, there’s a wide variety of small and medium-size resorts at families’ disposal, all within driving distance of Seattle.

Where to ski: We love Steven’s Pass for its proximity to the charming Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth. There are quality snow and runs for beginners to experts here, and great dining and shopping options for evenings in town. Crystal Mountain offers a bit more (in my opinion) in terms of terrain variety and onsite dining, and is in the Mt. Baker national forest, which tends to have more reliable snowpack.

Where to stay: Get a Leavenworth lodging package in conjunction with Steven’s Pass. Near Crystal Mountain, stay at the Alta Crystal Resort, the ski area’s only on-mountain option (still not ski-in/ski-out, however). Alta Crystal boasts chalets with fireplaces, a hot tub and heated pool and a fun game room for the kids.

Relevant Links:

Browse all tips and ideas for family ski vacations on Ciao Bambino

How to choose the perfect family ski resort

10 tips for a successful ski vacation with teens

Cozy Winter Ambience and Snow-Covered Fun at Sunriver Resort in Oregon

An insider’s guide to Lake Tahoe ski resorts with kids

Editor’s Note: Photos by Amy Whitley.

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