There are few ski areas in the world where winter visitors are greeted with off-season lodging rates. But then there are very few ski areas in the world like Mount Hood. At 11,235 feet, Hood is Oregon's highest peak, the queen of the Cascade mountain range. It's also an active volcano, one whose previous major eruptions have been tied to those of—gulp—Mount Saint Helens.
These are quiet days on the mountain, though, and the only thing visitors should plan on being buried in is powder. Mount Hood's superlative snow conditions and five resorts make it a winter sport enthusiast's dream: 30 lifts, 191 runs, and miles and miles of groomed trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
The historic Timberline Lodge—instantly recognizable to scary movie fans from its cameo in The Shining—allows guests to ski out the front door directly onto the lifts. And Timberline's enormous Palmer snowfield allows snow bunnies to keep hitting the slopes even in late August.
The wise traveler, though, won't wait for shorts weather before heading up to the mountain. Mount Hood is at its finest (and least crowded) when the snows are still falling. It also affords visitors a romantic, wintry getaway unlike any other in the Pacific Northwest.
Mount Hood's ferocious downhills were well known more than 150 years ago, thanks to explorer and shrewd businessman Sam Barlow. Barlow knew there would be big money waiting for anyone who could guide Oregon Trail pioneers to the Willamette Valley without subjecting them to the harrowing white-water rafting trip through the Columbia River Gorge.
The trail Barlow blazed along Mount Hood's south side definitely kept pioneers' feet dry. But the precipitous descent at Laurel Hill, just west of Government Camp, left more than one settler wishing they'd taken their chances on the river. Happily for today's visitors, skis, snowboards, and snowshoes have replaced oxen and prairie schooners as the area's transport du jour. Absolute beginners should investigate the green runs at Summit Ski Area in Government Camp or Cooper Spur, off Highway 35.
The real action on Mount Hood, though, takes place at its three largest resorts—Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt. Hood Skibowl, and Timberline.
Of the three, Mt. Hood Meadows boasts the deepest powder, the greatest number of runs (87), and a prime location on the mountain's sheltered eastern side. Snowboarders will have a blast—the black diamond Heather Canyon runs are known as the most gnarly in the state—and cross-country skiers can explore Meadows' 15 miles of groomed trails.
Speed freaks can try the double black diamond runs at Skibowl, while beginners seek shelter (and hot drinks) at the midrun warming huts. Skibowl is also famous for its night skiing and snowboarding—34 of the resort's 65 runs stay open late for Portland ski bums who drive out for some after-work thrills and spills.
The only resort that keeps its lifts running through the summer, though, is Timberline. In operation since 1937, Timberline is home to the famous Palmer Lift, which shuttles skiers and snowboarders up to 8,500 feet and the training grounds of the U.S. ski team. You needn't be an Olympic athlete to enjoy the slopes, however; most of the resort's runs are aimed at intermediate skiers and snowboarders, and the instructional staff here is second to none.
If you don't measure your fun in sheer vertical drop, you can enjoy the gentler pleasures of a sleigh ride around Skibowl or sledding at Summit. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers will find a wealth of trails for exploration. Pick up a map and a Sno-Park permit at the Mount Hood Visitors Information Center, and head out to the trails around Trillium Lake. Or pack a lunch and try one of the longer routes around historic Barlow Pass.
The drive along Highway 26 will quickly acquaint visitors with the array of local dining options. For casual pub fare, try the Mt. Hood Brewing Company, where seasonal brews complement a menu of tasty burgers, ribs, and pasta dishes. The Zig Zag Inn (which has been the last word on antler-based interior decoration since 1927) serves the best pizza in the county.
For something a little more substantial, try the Rendezvous Grill, where chef Kathryn Bliss uses fresh, locally grown produce to turn out masterpieces like chicken rigatoni with toasted almonds and her heavenly caramelized pecan chocolate mousse tart. Timberline's Cascade Dining Room is the other real culinary treat in the area. The omelettes here are one of best-kept secrets on the mountain—the perfect fortification for a day on the slopes.
Highway 26 is also where price-conscious travelers will find places to spend the night. The motels and inns include everything from no-frills options like the Shamrock Forest Inn to the no-holds-barred pampering of the Resort at the Mountain. If you wish to be closer to the resorts, try the Mt. Hood Inn. The clean, modern, and somewhat generic rooms come with kitchenettes and are a short walk from Skibowl. Up Government Camp Loop, the Huckleberry Inn has simpler and more affordable accommodations. For something more intimate, try the Falcon's Crest Inn, where the charismatic duo of Bob and Melody Johnson run their chalet-style bed-and-breakfast with warmth and style.
Those looking for the classic Mount Hood experience won't want to pass up the venerable Timberline Lodge. Built during the height of the Great Depression, the three-story lodge took more than two years and 500 local builders and craftsmen to complete. Filled with fascinating examples of Depression-era ingenuity (try to spot the recycled telephone poles and 1930s tire chains), Timberline is a comforting marvel from another time. Enjoy a mug of hot chocolate in the mezzanine bar, or curl up on a handmade couch by the crackling fire. It's so cozy that you'll be praying to the winter gods to keep you snowbound. At least for another day or two.
Planning Your Trip
All phone numbers are area code 503 unless noted. Pick up AAA's Oregon/Washington TourBook and map. The Mt. Hood Information Center, 65000 E. Highway 26 in Welches, is a good resource for outdoor activities and accommodations. Contact it at 622-4822, (888) 622-4822, www.mthood.org. For road conditions, phone (800) 977-6368.
WHERE TO STAY
Shamrock Forest Inn, 59550 E. Highway 26. 622-4911. Twenty rooms from $60 to $125.
Huckleberry Inn, 88611 E. Government Camp Loop, Government Camp. 272-3325. Seventeen rooms from $63 to $159.
The Resort at the Mountain, 68010 E. Fairway Avenue, Welches. 622-3101, www.theresort.com. One hundred sixty rooms from $99 to $199.
Timberline Lodge, 27500 E. Timberline Road. 272-3311, (800) 547-1406, www.timberlinelodge.com. Seventy rooms from $75 to $200.
Falcon's Crest Inn, 87287 E. Government Camp Loop, Government Camp. 272-3403, (800) 624-7384, www.falconcrest.com. Five rooms from $105 to $179.
Mt. Hood Inn, 87450 E. Government Camp Loop, Government Camp. 272-3205, (800) 443-7777, www.mthoodinn.com. Fifty-five rooms from $149 to $169.
WHERE TO EAT
Cascade Dining Room, Timberline Lodge. 622-0700.
Mt. Hood Brewing Company, 87304 E. Government Camp Loop, Government Camp. 622-0724.
Rendezvous Grill, 67149 E. Highway 26, Welches. 622-6837.
Zig Zag Inn, 70162 E. Highway 26, Zigzag. 622-4779.
WHAT TO DO
Ski and snowboard rentals are available at all resorts. Sno-Park permits are required for parking.
Cooper Spur, Cooper Spur Road, off Highway 35. (541) 352-7803, www.cooperspur.com. Lift tickets $10-$15. Cross-country, tubing, snowshoeing.
Summit Ski Area, Government Camp. 272-0256, www.summitskiarea.com. Lift tickets $13-$20. Cross-country, tubing, sledding, snowshoeing.
Mt. Hood Skibowl, Highway 26 near Government Camp. 222-2695, (800) 754-2695, www.skibowl.com. Lift tickets $15-$30. Sleigh rides, cross-country.
Mt. Hood Meadows, Highway 35. 227-7669, (800) 754-4663, www.skihood.com. Lift tickets $25-$43. Skiboarding, cross-country.
Timberline, off Highway 26. 222-2211, (877) 754-6734, www.timberlinelodge.com. Lift tickets $30-$37. Cross-country, snowshoeing.
Photography by Larry Ulrich and illustration by Dave Stevenson
This article was first published in January 2001. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.