Ski Washington With Your Kids

Ski as a family this winter. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

This story originally appeared in the Alaska Dispatch News on November 7, 2017.

Alaskans have an interesting relationship with Washington state.

Even though the two states are separated by some 1,450 miles of real estate, Washington is often viewed as Alaska’s cosmopolitan cousin, a place for shopping, airport layovers and the occasional football or baseball game.

Come winter, Alaskans are in and out on their way to somewhere else (usually someplace warm). But the Evergreen State boasts a wealth of family-friendly snow sport options, easily accessed and full of fun, and I’m a firm believer in the idea that Alaska kids should explore beyond the reach of their own snowy environments.

I grew up skiing and snowshoeing around Washington, from one side of the Cascade mountains to the other. My immediate family still lives there and enjoys a full winter of schussing and gliding along favorite trails and runs of the state’s most popular winter playgrounds.

Snow is already falling across the Cascades, and all of these areas are expecting a late-November opening. If your family is wishing and waiting for the same here in Alaska, let this be a temptation for Washington ski holiday this winter.

Located 90 minutes from Bellingham and 2.5 hours from Seattle, Mount Baker attracts Alaskans for its small-area feel and deep, dry snow.

 It receives an annual snowfall of more than 600 inches and features eight quad chairs to take skiers and snowboarders to the steeps and two tows for youngsters new to the sport.

Kids 6 and under ski free. Another bonus is delightfully uncrowded slopes even though many Bellingham residents consider the area their “home hill.”

Rentals and lessons are available. Fly to Seattle and then catch a shuttle flight to Bellingham, a delightful Pacific Northwest city.

Considered by many on both sides of the Cascade range to be the best skiing in Washington, Stevens Pass has 52 runs of alpine trails and a diverse nordic trail system that rivals many Alaska parks.

While Seattle and Everett residents often make day trips to Stevens Pass, the Bavarian-style town of Leavenworth is worth consideration for a multiday trip. The ski area offers rentals, lessons and an excellent “first-timers” guide for those new to the area.

Kids 6 and under ski free.

The closest ski area to Seattle, this is my turf, the place where I first strapped on skis in the early 1970s and where, years later, I led tiny little ones around the slopes as an instructor.

What used to be four singular ski areas has conglomerated into a family-friendly system, each area focusing on a different aspect of snow sporting adventure.

Advanced and expert skiers will savor the steeps of Alpental, where some of the highest, craggiest runs await adrenaline junkies. Central is the place for terrain park fans and where a fast tubing park awaits the apres-ski crowd. Summit West is the location for new skiers, with kids finding legions of like-minded peers for ski school or the chance to free ski with friends. Nordic skiers will enjoy Summit East, snaking through the fir forests to scenic vistas.

Summit at Snoqualmie is also an excellent place for night skiing, and thanks to convenient access from Seattle, you can enjoy other activities in the city before heading up for a few hours of well-lit skiing or riding. It is, quite simply, the easiest one-stop shop for families with skiers of multiple ages and abilities.

Located on the flanks of mighty Mount Rainier, Crystal Mountain Resort has evolved from a day-use area to a full-fledged resort community thanks to years of popularity among Washingtonians who recognize the value of this large, diverse property.

Two hours southeast of Seattle and about 90 minutes from Tacoma, Crystal features nearly 500 inches of snowfall and exceptional skiing over the spread of the area’s 57 runs.

Adding to the area’s appeal are six gondolas that whisk skiers and riders to the top of an expansive trail system and outstanding views below of both Rainier and Puget Sound. It is visually and physically stunning.

For non-skiers, Crystal Mountain provides guided snowshoe tours and gondola rides to the top. A helpful bonus is Crystal’s attention to families, with up to two kids through age 10 skiing free (additional kids are only $10) and a convenient family gear-and-passenger drop zone at the entrance. It also has a ton of overnight options.

Everything takes a little more time with kids, even skiing, but the rewards are worth the effort. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Finally, if your family prefers to travel with your own ski gear instead of renting, read carefully your airline’s guidelines to make the process smoother, since schlepping kids and gear is always an adventure in patience.

 NOTE: Crystal Mountain announced yesterday that they are opening on a limited basis this weekend! 
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