Cross-country skiing in Washington’s Methow Valley
Wilderness notwithstanding, the Methow has some stunning accommodation. Indeed, one of its premier draws is that you can slide between a varied stash of upscale hotels and basic cabins without having to take your skis off. At the luxury end of the scale is the intentionally rustic Sun Mountain Lodge, which sits atop a hill 10 miles west of Winthrop. Equipped with a ski shop, spa, restaurant and possibly the US’ most spectacular outdoor hot tub perched above the gorgeous valley, the lodge is both gloriously located and handily self-contained. Stick to the ski-trail network on the adjacent hilltop, or try the tricky six mile descent into Winthrop, best done early in the morning to allow time for a fortifying breakfast of omelette and oatmeal at the village’s Duck Brand Cantina before branching onto the flatter Methow Community Trail for some wildlife-spotting along the Methow River (everything from wolves to cougars prowl the valley). The 17-room Freestone Inn, a deluxe log cabin with wi-fi, fireplaces and fluffy bathrobes, lies a skiable 14 miles west of Winthrop. The Mazama Country Inn nearby is another pretty lodge in the eponymous village. For a true backcountry experience, spend a few nights skiing between the Rendezvous Huts, five simple cabins that dot an interconnected group of much steeper trails on the Methow’s northern slopes. Not far to the west, the North Cascade Mountains, immortalized by Jack Kerouac in his book Desolation Angels and speckled with such spine-tingling behemoths as the 8,151ft-high Mount Terror and the 7,296ft Mount Despair, remind you that raw wilderness is never far away.
If a trip to the Methow pricks your interest in cross-country skiing, or if you would prefer to nurture your fitness at a smaller venue first, there are plenty of other options in the Pacific Northwest region. Family-friendly Leavenworth, designed in the style of a Bavarian village, 115 miles southwest of the Methow, has a small network of community-run trails, high-quality hotels and a diminutive, easy-to-master “ski hill” that will give you a brief taste of downhill skiing. Across the border in Canada, Whistler’s Olympic Park, 78 miles north of Vancouver was a venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics and has 32 miles of cross-country trails in a dedicated park. Stevens Pass, 80 miles east of Seattle, has a cross-country skiing park and downhill area.