Europe suffered a patchy start to to the ski season so is it time to look further afield? Catherine Scott visits the little known resort of Oregon’s Mt Hood Territory.
Standing on the south slope of Mt Hood at an elevation of 6,000ft above sea level, Timberline Lodge is one of Oregon’s most popular tourist attractions, drawing nearly two million visitors each year.
This impressive National Historic Landmark, dedicated in 1937 by President Franklin D Roosevelt, is still being used for its original intent – a magnificent ski lodge and mountain retreat for all to enjoy.
It offers the longest ski season in North America and is the only true ski-in, ski-out lodge in Oregon – it is also where the Jack Nicholson horror film The Shining was shot. This aside, the lodge is a must place to visit for anyone brave enough to head up to the Mt Hood Territory ski area two days after Christmas as we did. Visiting relatives in Portland for the festive season, who couldn’t resist the lure of the snow- covered volcano which can be seen clearly from the city?
Only an hour and a half out of Portland, it is more than possible to just nip up for the day if the weather looks good – just don’t forget your snow chains! We decided to stay in Sandy at the foothills of Mt Hood in order to get a good start in the morning. We stayed at the very comfortable Best Western Sandy, which has a good-sized swimming pool and Jacuzzi to ease away aching limbs after a day’s skiing.
Staying in Sandy was the right decision. Two feet of fresh snow the day before had made the interesting drive quite hairy, but all that is forgotten when you see the breathtaking views of Mt Hood round virtually every bend.
Mt Hood is the second most climbed volcano after Mt Fuji in Japan. Having borrowed my brother’s Jeep, we managed to get up to Timberline without having to waste time stopping to put on the snow chains, but others were not quite so lucky. If you don’t want to drive then you can get the Mt Hood Express which offers access to major attractions, including Timberline Lodge and Mt Hood Skibowl, with stops as far down the mountain as Sandy.
In addition to offering the longest ski season in North America, thanks to Palmer Snowfield, Timberline has 3,690 vertical feet – more than anyone else in the US Pacific Northwest. They’re located near the top of the 11,245ft volcano – the tallest mountain in all of Oregon. With 41 trails – 25 per cent beginner, 50 per cent intermediate and 25 per cent advanced – there’s something for everyone.
I have always rolled my eyes when friends eulogise about having skied the more well-known American resorts of Aspen, Breckenridge and Jackson Hole.
But I now know what they are talking about. There is something about the blue skies, well below freezing temperatures and powder snow which just doesn’t compare with what we have been having in Europe in recent years.
“This is the best snow ever!” exclaimed my kids as soon as they managed to ram their feet into their ski boots, hired from the Timberline Lodge rental shop. And having skied only in the Alps and often late in the season, it was clear to see why they were so impressed. There isn’t the variety or extent of runs that we are probably used to in some of the bigger European resorts but what there is is exceptional. Although we were in the busiest holiday season and accommodation was entirely booked out, the slopes felt incredibly empty with hardly a lift queue in sight.
Long challenging runs which end in the trees – what is there to complain about? Once you have had enough of Timberline and its exceptional beauty, there is more to choose from in the Mt Hood Territory.
And if you haven’t had enough of the slopes during the day, this gem of a ski area really comes into its own at night. Mt Hood Skibowl not only has the best night skiing in Oregon it has the largest night skiing terrain in America.
All lifts have lighting, providing 34 illuminated runs to enjoy. So you can watch the sun set on the beautiful Mt Hood while you get in a few more runs long after nearly all the other mountains close.
When most ski resorts are closing their lifts, getting the piste bashers out and skiers are preparing for well-earned apres ski, Skibowl is just getting going. Skiing at night is quite a strange feeling but for those wanting to get in the ski miles it is a gift.
For those who haven’t had enough adrenalin with skiing at night there is always cosmic tubing. A conveyor belt takes you up to the top of the main hill in something which resembles a massive rubber ring. You are then launched down the slope in a heart-pounding ride to the bottom – not for the faint-hearted but great family fun.
Government Camp is Mt Hood’s alpine village. For more than 100 years “Govy” has been base camp for year-round outdoor recreation. Hotels, motels, condos, vacation rentals and remote cabins offer overnight options. Its Cascadian streetscape – featuring black iron art – is the backdrop for dining, shopping, taverns and the historic museum/visitor centre.
Skiing in the US is an experience that all skiers should try, but with a flight time of around 13 hours from Leeds/Bradford to Portland via Amsterdam (KLM/Delta), it’s probably not a trip you’d consider in half term.
However, coupled with a stay in the historic and vibrant city of Portland, it could well be the trip of a lifetime.
Catherine Scott stayed at the Best Western Sandy (bestwestern.com)
For full details of skiing and accommodation options in the area go to MtHoodTerritory.com
Mt. Hood Skibowl – www.skibowl.com
Timberline Lodge & Ski Area – www.timberlinelodge.com