Skiing, boarding, sledding or snowshoeing with kids — we’ve got a plan for that.
Portlanders may not like driving in snow, but we sure get excited about playing in it. Whether your family wants to ski, shred, snowshoe or sled, we’ve got you covered. We’ve even got a few suggestions for cozying up to a warm fire while the white stuff falls. So this winter break, plan a quick jaunt to Hood or road trip a little farther to enjoy winter sports as a family.
Note for 2020-2021: Due to pandemic restrictions and closures, be sure to confirm the latest openings and policies before you head out. We’ve made every attempt to capture the latest information, but there may be changes at any time.
You heard it here first: If you want your kids to learn to ski, start them young. At 3 and 4 years old, they’ve got no fear of falling — and if they do fall, they are only about a foot from the ground. You can try to teach them yourself, putting your skis in a perma-wedge and sticking them in between your legs for a slow cruise down the bunny slope, or you can outsource the job at one of the area’s kid-friendly beginner resorts.
For newbie skiers, many local families swear by Cooper Spur Mountain Resort, located on the northwest side of Mount Hood in Parkdale, just about an hour-and-a-half outside of Portland.
The ski area only has a single lift to serve its 10 runs, but is pretty much ideal for beginners and families with kids. There’s a gentle bunny slope and some wide-open intermediate terrain with plenty of room to practice your turns without worrying that you’ll annoy speed demons — try Skip’s Run for emerging blue-square skiers.
One caveat: There’s no magic carpet, just a rope tow, for the bunny slope. That can be tricky for younger kids to manage, so make sure they’ve got a good pair of gloves or risk rope burn. When they are ready, take them up the lift and ski down Fir Street, an easy top-to-bottom green run.
If you want kids younger than 6 to be in a ski school group lesson, try Summit Ski Area, at the base of Government Camp. Ski lessons start as young as age 4, and are just $30 per kid. (Note for 2020/2021: Currently only private lessons are listed on their website, at $80 per person.)
In a snow-heavy year, it’s hard to beat the ease of Summit — it’s closer than Timberline or Mount Hood Meadows, and the base of the lift is just a couple dozen steps from the parking lot (which means a lot less time hauling kids plus gear for you). There’s only one single, showing-its-age lift, leading to the bunny hill — but it’s a nice, long hill, giving your kids a good chance to get into the rhythm of skiing before it’s time to wait for the lift again.
Once your kids are more confident skiers — or if you’ve got a mix of abilities in your family — make your way to either Timberline or Mount Hood Meadows, the metro area’s two largest ski resorts. They both have their strong points: Timberline’s old-school WPA-era lodge is incredibly inviting with its three large fireplaces built into the base of a 90-foot chimney, and kids will love the imaginative jumps and snow-park play features built into the area around the Stormin’ Norman chairlift. Meadows has the most terrain of all the resorts, and is a good bet on a windy day because of its location on the more sheltered flank of the mountain. Try the runs off the Shooting Star Express lift for kids who are working on higher-level skills and want to practice bumps and bowl skiing.
Pro tip: Consider renting your kids’ gear before you get to the mountain. You’ll save time and money (though you will have to haul them across the parking lot). Down in Portland, we like the Mountain Shop at 1510 NE 37th Avenue.
Snowshoeing has a whole different vibe than skiing — here you’re going for tranquility rather than adrenaline. The barrier to entry is also much lower: it’s cheaper and easier to pick up, making it a great family activity if you’re not ready to commit to a day on the slopes. Fortunately, opportunities abound. Almost every ski area has “Nordic” ski areas, with groomed trails ideal for snowshoeing — or strike out on your own on one of these great trails:
The Tilly Jane trail on the northeast side of Mount Hood, which according to Vince Schreck, editor of Portland Family Adventures, is not traveled nearly as much as nearby snow parks. The beginner trail is six miles, out and back, and takes about three hours total, but because it’s not a loop you can head back whenever you’re snowshoed out.
Mirror Lake has views as beautiful as the name suggests. The three-mile loop is perfect for beginners, and is close enough to Government Camp that you are within a few minutes of a hot chocolate and fire as soon as your trek is over.
Twin Lake is a three-mile round trip out-and-back trail, which offers gorgeous views of lower Twin Lake. Don’t be deterred by the snowmobiles in the Frog Lake Sno-Park; once you start snowshoeing you leave them behind pretty quickly. Hardy ‘shoers can venture onwards to Upper Twin Lake, which is about a mile farther.
Break away from the Mount Hood crowds and head to June Lake in southwest Washington, in the shadow of Mount Saint Helens. Park at the Marble Mountain Sno-Park and head up the Pine Marten trail, then cut up toward June Lake, leaving snowmobile sounds in the dust. It’s about five miles round trip, but the elevation gain is an easy-peasy 500 feet — and you’re rewarded with a 40-foot winter waterfall and a frozen lake.
Sled up a storm
We’re lucky to live so close to so many “sno parks,” which are free, with a parking permit (available at many outlets; search oregon.gov for a list). There’s no lift, and it can be a free-for-all, but bring your own ride, some hill-climbing stamina and get ready to act like a kid again.
Two longtime, well-known favorites are White River West Sno-Park, at White River on Highway 35 about four miles north of the Highway 26/Highway 35 Junction; and Little John Snow Play Area, located 11 miles north of the junction (note: this one allows tubes and discs only, no sleds or toboggans).
Both of these areas feature long, not-too-steep ridges that dump into forests; stake out your spot and let ‘er fly. (Got thrill-seekers in your party? Hike a bit further up the ridge at White River to find a steeper slope, perhaps 10 minutes walk in.) Those who get tired of sledding (or more likely, of dragging the sled back up the hill) can build snowmen or make snow angels at the bottom. There’s usually a porta-potty or two set up in the parking lot and plenty of other families around to lend a hand if you’ve forgotten Band-Aids or wet wipes. Bonus: On a sunny day, the views of Mount Hood can’t be beat.
For more off-the-beaten path sledding, drive a little further to Oldman Pass Sno-Park in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, north of Carson, Wash. The parking lot is close to the sledding hill (but not within eyeshot, so it feels remote) and the sledding hill is generous and just long enough for a good ride (but not so long that your kid will be miserable about clambering back up).
For a more organized adventure, check out Skibowl East just south of Government Camp. Two-hour cosmic tubing passes are $19 for juniors; $25 for adults and include a tube conveyor belt, the kiddie hill (tubes included!) and the Extreme Tube Hill for the super adventurous in your group. If one of your bunnies isn’t into snow, there’s also an indoor play zone.
Let’s say your little one is leaning toward skiing’s hipper, brasher little cousin, snowboarding. To get them up on the board for the first time, we recommend heading straight to Mount Hood Skibowl, which has more frills than Cooper Spur and Summit but isn’t quite as sprawling as Timberline and Meadows.
Skibowl has really gone all in on their terrain parks, installing jumps, fences and rail yards at strategic spots all over the mountain. The runs off the Multorpor chair are particularly boarder friendly. Cruise down the Broadway run to the progressive Govyville terrain park — more advanced skiers can try the steeps on Mount Hood Lane. These north-facing runs are usually the first to open of the season, and are well protected from wind by large stands of trees in between the runs.
But first, they’ve got to learn — check out the resort’s Olympic Kids Club, If your kid gets the basics down and catches the boarding bug, they can extend their time at Skibowl with lighted night skiing and boarding on 34 runs.
Other options up on Mount Hood for budding boarders: Kids love The Zoo off the Easy Rider lift at Meadows, which is a mini-terrain park perfect for catching first air; the Schoolyard terrain park off the Pucci lift at Timberline is another favorite.