As a California transplant living in the PNW for less than a decade, I’ve been overjoyed by the plethora of resort options we’ve got to choose from, at such a short driving distance. My closest, and personal favorite mountain, Mt Hood Meadows has been a convenient 1.5-hour drive with over 2000 acres of terrain to explore, making it an excellent day trip. To compare to my hometown of Los Angeles, CA we had Big Bear mountain. At around 2.5 hours by car, it had a measly 750 acres of terrain. Hardly day trip worthy, with poor snow conditions most weekends.
What I’m getting at, is that we’ve got things pretty well up here! As a lifetime travel resort skier, I’ve gotten most of my turns in by aircraft, on planned trips with family and friends. Now that I’ve gotten my fair share of PNW pow, I’ve been itching for a bit more. The legs are stable, the jumps have been attempted (mostly unsuccessfully) and I’ve been scouting for a ski vacation.
The two issues you consistently run into with PNW skiing is the snow quality, and consistent crowds all weekend. A well-timed pow day is possible, but warm temps keep the good stuff limited, often creating a wet, thick sludge that the PNW is infamously known for. Depending on your work schedule, crowds can be quite a concern as well. Most weekend days starting in January will have filled parking lots by 10, and the two-lane highway often tacks on an extra 45 minutes to the drive. I often leave my North East Portland home at 6 am to guarantee I’m on the slopes by 9. That’s 3 hours! Ouch! The crowds, of course, carry onto the lifts as well. I won’t get into that.
So, where do you go?
The world is your oyster, which ski resort do you choose for that big vacation? I’ve heard people name drop countless world-class resorts they’ve visited, all with a grand experience. Being the research nerd I am, I wanted to explore what the optimal destinations were, specifically coming from the PNW. In order to figure this out, I had some personal criteria that I think most readers will align with. Firstly, I wanted to choose resorts with the most snow. Any ski trip I plan by air travel has usually been at least a month out. At that time interval, you’ve got zero clue what level of snowfall a resort will get when you’re making plans. The bigger the chance of a pow day, the better! To make that decision, I used zrankings.com which I found to be the more systematic and consistent measurement of mountain stats across the globe. If you’ve never been before, I highly recommend checking out the site. They provide detailed statistics of all ski resorts, easily comparable to any other resort you’re considering, in a side by side design. I was also able to derive some other great info from z rankings, like most vertical and skiable acres. After narrowing down resorts by their snow and mountain terrain, I looked at ease of access. I wanted to pick resort towns that easy access to an airport terminal, ideally 30 minutes or less to the slopes. Lastly was the distance of the resorts from the PNW. Using the Pilatus PC-12 for reference, I hoped to cap out at 3 hours of flight time each way. Much more than that gets to be a bit much for a weekend trip from a time, cost and convenience perspective. Considering that Utah and Colorado both fit into that criteria, it seemed like a good place to start.
Personally, I decided on Jackson Hole, WY for my big ski vacation this winter. With a “True Snow Score” 368” per year, it’s impressively high with a strong guarantee of a pow day upon arrival. Travel time is approximately 2.5 hours each way, which makes it easy to catch a few turns even on a travel day. The biggest downfall out of my criteria was the distance from the airport to slopes, landing at 35 minutes. While not awful, it does start to eat at overall transportation costs and friction, especially if you’re taking all your ski gear in an Uber upon arrival. For those looking at commercial flights, I still highly recommend Jackson Hole. Although, you’re guaranteed a flight connection off route, at least for those departing from PDX.
As KinectAir’s Concierge, feel free to contact me for your travel needs.