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Pacific Northwest Skiing at its Best at Mt. Hood Meadows

by Nick Anis

United Shuttle's low-cost, 7-day and 21-day advance purchase fares from Los Angeles $72/86 each way or Ontario $79/99 each way to Portland, $20 discount lift tickets and inexpensive lodging (from a dozen participating hotels) averaging $40 a night turn a visit to nearby Mount Hood into a real vacation bargain. The Alpine and Nordic skiing there is quite good, but that's not all the area offers. Located about an hour and a half drive from Portland Oregon, the Mt. Hood surroundings are equally known to outdoors enthusiasts for scenic beauty, local folklore, and year-round outdoor recreational activities.

Mt. Hood itself is a dormant volcano rising 11,235 feet, in the Cascade Mountain Range. According to Native American legend, Mount Hood was a brave warrior named Wy'east who fell in love with another mountain -- Mount St. Helens, a beautiful Indian maiden. (Until it blew its top in May 1980 Mount St. Helens was one of the world's most symmetrically beautiful mountains, in a league with Japan's Mt. Fuji.)

In the legend, Wy'east vied with nearby Mount Adams for the maiden's attentions. Unable to decide between the two braves, Mount St. Helens indulged in occasional venting of steam out of pure frustration. No one would blame either brave for not courting her after really showing her temper in the 1980 eruption.

Today, the Mount Hood is known for ski resorts such as SkiBowl, Timberline, and Mount Hood Meadows. SkiBowl is best known for its expansive night skiing. Timberline serves as a summer Olympic ski training site, and from 1978 until recently had the distinction of being one of the few places in North America to offer summer skiing. Mt. Hood Meadows is Mt. Hood's largest ski area, with the most varied and advanced terrain.

Last year, for the first time and to the delight of die hards and beginners in bathing suits, Mt. Hood Meadows offered summer skiing.

People are now flocking to Mt. Hood during the summer months in record numbers, according to the locals. They report that summer skiing has given rise to summer ski race and snowboard camps that have turned an otherwise sleepy place nearby Mt. Hood called Government Camp that ordinarily attracts mostly serious skiers into a bustling summer recreation area.

Hood River, is a somewhat more diverse village is 35 miles away from Mt. Hood Meadows. Hood River has more restaurants and its inns attract a greater variety of people, including families and tourists. Hood River has been germinating a bustling summer season because of the growing interest in the world-class wind surfing on the Columbia River. It has long been popular for hiking, climbing, hunting, golfing, horse-backing riding, mountain biking, rafting, and fishing. Now it can also add summer skiing to its repartee. Nearby, the Canada-to-Mexico Pacific Crest Trail runs through the Mount Hood Forest and is very popular for hiking and camping. Lost Lake and Crystal Lake are also nearby, beckoning campers and fishermen.

Opened in 1968 on the mountain's eastern slope, Mt. Hood Meadows has a top elevation of 7,700 and features varied runs for all levels of skiers. It's the mountain's largest ski area, and is the second largest in Oregon (Bachelor is the largest). While Bachelor seems to have a lock on the "destination" market for now, but recent upgrades of three lifts to high speed quads gives Meadows to ability to move more skiers -- up to 14,950 per hour. Meadows also offers a wider variety of terrain with more advanced runs.

The Portland area is well known for rain. At Hood's higher elevation, average snowfall is 430-inches. Its season, like California's Mammoth, normally through November April but is known to extend into July. The Meadows entire area boasts 82 marked ski trails, of which 15% are rated for beginners, 50% are intermediate, 20% advanced and 15% are for experts. There are 2,150 skiable acres including 142 acres of night skiing, serviced by 3 high speed quads, 1 quad, 5 doubles, 1 pony tow, and 1 rope tow. Six of the chairlifts are lighted. Complimenting all these trails and lifts are eight slopeside restaurants and bars, two brown bag areas, two base area lodges, and a ski school with over 150 qualified instructors and video analysis. It's a skier's delight.

Meadows has two outstanding three-mile runs. The premier expert terrain, Heather Canyon which is serviced by the Cascade Express high speed quad descends 2,800 vertical feet. It takes three high speed quads in succession (5 minutes each) to return to the top but its a thrilling back country deep powder type experience. For expansive wide open ridgeline type skiing with gladed terrain between developed ski runs try Shooting Star, on the right side of the mountain which descends 1,100 vertical feet. When conditions provide the right combination of freeze and thaw, for an extra $12 expert skiers can ride snow cats up additional 1,020 vertical feet and ski the "experts only black diamond" Superbowl run.

Meadows snow is said to be amount the driest on the Mountain. According to self-described "die hard skier" John Harris, during the winter season conditions at Meadows are "very similar to the Tahoe area." Harris, a computer aided design lab manager at Portland State University, has skied Meadows for 28 years and knows the area well. He adds: "You can expect warm and wet or cold and snowy anytime of the year. Oftentimes spring skiers in April get some awesome power days. Last year it rained all of January, but this year was Nirvana, with seven to eight feet of powder in 2 weeks...go figure."

The roads to Mt. Hood remain passable most of the year, although snow chains may be required and there are sometimes road closings once or twice a season, according to Harris, whose passion for skiing and mountain biking has led him to maintain the Oregon Ski Areas page at: http://www.eas.pdx.edu/~johnh/orresorts.html.

After a day's skiing at Meadows, a good choice for lodging and dining is the historic Hood River Hotel, with its fine northern Italian restaurant, Pasquale's - call 800-386-1859 for reservations. The Hood River Hotel is actually the brick "annex" of a woodframe hotel, built in 1913 that met the wrecking ball. The current owner saved the annex from demolition and restored it. As Hood River's oldest hotel, located in the center of town, it is now listed in the national register of historic places. Each of its unique 41 rooms (8 of them suites) are individually appointed with antique reproductions due to the efforts of owner-manager, Pasquale Barone. In his "other life," Mr. Barone is an area "developer" who belied his occupation's negative connotation by actually saving and restoring the historic building.

Rooms there range from $49 to $65 for a single and $59 to $75 for doubles. Suites range from $75 to $130. Guests and dinners are greeted with fresh flowers, pleasant surroundings, comfortable fireside seating, and a very gracious staff. The food at Pasquale's is spectacularly good. The head chef, Jim Barbara, has spent the last 2 years perfecting the menu and wine list. You can select from a wide assortment of entrees including pasta, chicken, pork, veal, beef, lamb, salmon, halibut, prawns, scampi, and even some wild game. Barbara also comes up with creative holiday specials and surprises, according to the locals. Appetizers include whole roasted garlic served with extra virgin olive oil, fresh pacific oysters, chicken and beef pate, calamari, shrimp scampi, and the bistro's popular and huge Antipasto Misto plate.

Incidentally, their fresh baked Italian bread is the best this side Newark, and is delicious with the home made soups, fresh mixed salads which are complemented with home made dressings. The pastas are shipped in freshly made from San Francisco and New Jersey.

Lunch entrees range from $4.95 to $9.95 and dinner entrees from $9.75 to 15.95. An assortment of wines ranges from $10 to $30 a bottle, and the tempting desert menu includes Amaretto Flan, Semifreddo cake, sour cream cheese cake, and the house specialty Chocolate Decadence - a Chocolate tart with a dense mousse center, covered with Chocolate ganache.

Don't worry about the calories. You can always hit the slopes or climb on the mountain bike and work off a pound or two the next morning.

For more information on Mount Hood and Oregon, call the Oregon Tourism Division at 800-547-7842 or the Mt. Hood Travel Association at 503-622-4822. For easier reservations, try Mt. Hood Meadows Lodging Reservation Service, featuring one-call booking for all Hood River lodging and lift ticket packages. Phone: 800-9292-SKI. 

The Mt. Hood Meadows web site is http://www.aminews.com/mhmeadows

The reservations line for the Hood Rover Hotel and Pasquale's is 800-386-1859. United Shuttle’s reservations number is 800-SHUTTLE.

Mt. Hood Meadows Lodging Reservations Service
Mt. Hood Meadows
P.O. Box 470, Mt. Hood, Oregon 97041

Information:

Phone: 503-337-2222, 503-246-SKIS, 503-BUS-LIFT
Office: 503-246-1348
Snow Phone: 503-227-SNOW
503-337-2222 - Ski Area
800-929-2SKI - Reservations

 

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