The mountains are calling and your family must go … play in the snow.
Portlanders dream of powder. That’s why we may smile, or even dance, at the winter rains. In town, we get drenched, yes, but at higher elevations, those same rains paint our mountains white. Whether your family gets its snowy kicks on skis, snowshoes, sleds or from hurling snowballs, the Pacific Northwest has a dizzying number of winter wonderlands from which to choose. Here’s our guide to the best kid-friendly snowy day trips, overnights and longer getaways the region has to offer.
Your family can easily get knee deep in powder, with an hour or two drive — just don’t forget to buy an Oregon or Washington Sno-park permit or you may end up with a ticket. Go mid-week if you can to beat the weekend crowds.
If you seek no-frills, no-fee sledding or tubing, or simply want to enjoy the snowy scenery, try Mount Hood’s perennial favorites (and sometimes overrun on holidays, Saturdays and Sundays) White River West Sno-Park, Little John Sno-Park, Multorpor Sno-Park (part of Ski Bowl East) and Snow Bunny Sledding Area, which is at a relatively low elevation so best later in a year with lots of snow. In Southwest Washington, check out the Oldman Pass Loop in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
For high-octane tubing, you’ll pay to play, but get amenities like a lodge with hot chocolate and snacks, organized runs, a kiddie play area and a conveyor belt to lug the tubes back up the slope at Skibowl East. Thousands of bright, colored and black lights, and hopping music turn Skibowl’s dedicated slopes into Cosmic Tubing — a regular weekend night-tubing party. Summit Ski Area also has groomed tubing runs, as does Cooper Spur Snow Tubing Park, which boasts a free Snow Carousel for children 42 inches and under.
Majestic snowshoeing and cross country skiing trails can be found at Trillium Lake, Pocket Creek, White River, Bennet Pass and Cooper Spur. Twelve miles of prime cross-country-only terrain are found at Teacup Lake Sno-Park. Teacup Nordic offers the excellent Youth Nordic Skiing Education Program for youth age 8 and up. Mount Hood Meadows also accommodates snowshoeing excursions as well.
For close-to-the-city downhill skiing and snowboarding, take your pick of Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood Meadows, Cooper Spur, Mount Hood Ski Bowl and Summit Ski Area. All offer lessons, gear rental, a range of terrain, and proximity to Portland.
New this winter, as added incentive to avoid peak times, Mount Hood Meadows has implemented dynamic pricing, which ups the price for any given date as more tickets are purchased. The expected range starts at $49 for quieter midweek days to upwards of $99 or higher for prime holidays and weekends.
Summit, the second oldest ski resort in the nation, which is now owned by Timberline, and Cooper Spur, on the north side of the mountain, particularly cater to beginners and families. Both tend to have a more relaxed energy, lower prices and smaller crowds.
Officials at Timberline say they’ll maintain Summit’s focus on terrain for beginning skiers and snowboarders and, in an effort to address winter sport affordability and accessibility, ticket prices will stay low. This season, Summit visitors can enjoy expanded food and beverage options as well as cosmetic upgrades to the lodge building.
Timberline, Meadows and Ski Bowl offer a faster pace, a greater variety of runs and more frills — think terrain parks, numerous top of the line, multi-person lifts, night skiing, more types of runs, (particularly more challenging ones), expert instructors for group or individual lessons, and more special events.
In an effort to make its terrain more exciting for beginners, this season Meadows has launched “The New Vista Experience,” a dedicated, more substantial pathway with exceptional views, from the top of the Vista lift that feeds into the complex of beginner terrain below. Another fun perk for families at Meadows this winter is a fireside breakfast with Santa, available December 22 and 23.
A Night or Two Away
All the above Mount Hood ski areas are worthy of an overnight or two for multi-day visits. When you’ve got sleepy and/or antsy young kids in the backseat, cutting out the early am commute up the mountain, which gets more congested with each push of the snooze button, makes an overnight well worth it. Plus practicing snow sports back-to-back days definitely boosts ability.
Meadows has an excellent child care facility that can handle babies on up, with the option for children 3 and older to add in a partial day ski lesson. There is ample space for sledding on the Cooper Spur resort grounds and lots of board games to play in front of the fire while sipping hot chocolate to round out your snowy getaway. Visit Timberline Lodge on December 14 at 6 pm to watch the lighting of their 30-foot tree, then help decorate, or stay over on Christmas Eve to see Santa come down the chimney, followed by carol singing with Saint Nick.
Other outstanding family snow fun destinations are Hoodoo Ski Area and Mount Bachelor. Just under 2½ hours away, Hoodoo sports 34 runs, five lifts and one of the largest tubing parks in the West. New this season, Hoodoo has expanded its night-skiing capability to 23 runs and over 500 acres of terrain and added operation to three nights (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) per week starting mid-December. Mount Bachelor, that beacon of dry powder, is another hour’s drive, but offers a deluxe resort with all the amenities and tons of bonus activities, from snowshoe tours and dog-sled rides to skiing with a ranger or taking a helicopter tour of the frozen Cascade range.
Sun Valley is Idaho’s classic, upscale ski resort oasis, drawing winter sport enthusiasts from across the West Coast. There you’ll find all the expected basics dialed in, from stunning scenery to awesome runs groomed to perfection, family-friendly amenities and a totally walkable village. On-site activities include horse-drawn sleigh rides, an ice rink and fat biking, which uses wide tires on designated groomed Nordic trails and along the Wood River Bike Path to let participants (from beginners on up) experience the thrill of biking through the snowy landscape. The resort’s much lauded SnowSport School will work with students of all ages and abilities, including those with disabilities. Extensive recent and ongoing terrain upgrades and expansion to Cold Springs Canyon increases skiable area by 380 acres and this winter “Experience Cold Springs Canyon” tours will be available for advanced skiers.
Another can’t-go-wrong winter sport destination is Whistler Blackcomb, located in Canada, about an eight hour drive due north from Portland, which consistently wows with its beauty, European ambiance, snow conditions, top-notch facilities and runs that last for days. New this season, enjoy major lift upgrades, including faster lift speeds, a new high-speed six-person chair servicing the resort’s Family SkiZone and a new 10-person gondola. Kids will also love exploring the snowy play structures of the Magic Castle on Blackcomb Mountain in the Children’s Adventure Park and the Treefort on Whistler Mountain.
Montana’s Whitefish Mountain Resort is also fantastic for families. Much of the terrain has been organized and groomed with families in mind, so that beginner, intermediate and expert options are all closely accessible together with easy starting and meet-up points. Proximity to the gorgeous, and not to be missed, Glacier National Park is another plus.
Where to Stay and Eat
If you are looking to stay overnight at a Mount Hood ski resort, Cooper Spur and Timberline Lodge both have well-appointed, family-friendly accommodations and restaurants onsite. At Cooper Spur, choose from lodge rooms, condos or homes and dine at The Crooked Tree Restaurant and Tavern which specializes in home cooking and locally sourced ingredients. The iconic Timberline Lodge has multiple dining options, from gourmet to casual, including the Cascade Dining Room and the Ram’s Head Bar and Restaurant, an outdoor hot tub, and an impressive variety of sleeping arrangements (with or without private bath), from twins to queens to bunks.
Pro tip: Keep an eye out for online deals that combine free lift tickets with your room price. On your way up the mountain be sure to stop in Sandy at the red and white checkered doughnut landmark Joe’s Donut Shop.
Or, stay at Collins Lake Resort in Government Camp in multi-bedroom chalets that will comfortably fit a family or two and take a dip in the steamy, well-heated outdoor pool and hot tubs. For a quick bite in Government Camp, try the Mount Hood Brewing Company, a family friendly brew pub serving pizzas, burgers, salads and more, which opened in 1991. (If you want to revisit your meal off the mountain, check out its new sister location at Tilikum Station on Southeast Caruthers in Portland, which just opened earlier this year.)
When skiing on Mount Bachelor, stay at the Mount Bachelor Village Resort, which is 20 miles from the slopes, has rates starting under $200 per night for two bedrooms and boasts indoor and outdoor hot tubs, an indoor pool and fitness facilities. Venture a little farther to stay at Sunriver Resort, the ever-popular planned resort community offering both hotel and home rental stays, with multiple shopping villages, restaurants, pools, tennis courts, and miles of paved bike and walking paths through picturesque forest at the base of the Cascade Mountains. Or book a room at one of the many hotels in Bend, such as Riverhouse on the Deschutes, a pet-friendly hotel located right on the river with one-bedroom suites that easily accommodate six. When in Bend, try the Boise pizza transplant, Flatbread Pizza, where kids can make their own pizza at the table and McKay Cottage for creative comfort food. Then, indulge in yummy treats at Goody’s Soda Fountain & Candy Store. Base your visit to Hoodoo Ski Area from a home rental at Black Butte Ranch or a room at The Suttle Lake Lodge and Boathouse. Head to Sisters for grub at the Cottonwood Cafe and Sisters Meat and Smokehouse.
Sun Valley boasts a range of accommodations from the luxe condos and rooms in the historic lodge to charming cottages. Recent guest room and fitness center remodels as well as the re-building and expansion of the Warm Springs Day Lodge (which burned down last season), two heated outdoor pools, a bowling alley and local movie theater all add to Sun Valley’s appeal. Ski on over or take the gondola up to enjoy fondue or a handmade Bavarian pretzel and the majestic winter wonderland view at Averell’s from its mid-mountain, slopeside perch.
Whistler Blackcomb offers every type of lodging you can imagine (from house rentals and condos to five-star hotels) scattered over the base of the mountains in several villages, most easily accessible to whichever snowy activity your family desires. Check their website for great family deals, which often loop in lift tickets. You’ll be floored by the range of Whistler Blackcomb dining options; standouts include the Garibaldi Lift Company Bar and Grill for family-friendly aprés ski dining on the slopes and delicious barbecue at Dusty’s Bar and Grill.
Whitefish Mountain Resort also has numerous mountainside lodging choices, from townhouses to cozy cabins, which put guests steps away from the slopes. Refuel with your crew after a few hours on the snow at the newly remodeled Ed and Mully’s Bar and Grill, conveniently located near the bottom of the terrain park and intermediate
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