The sun was just coming up bright orange over Yakima, Washington, when my friends and I packed up the car and headed out for a day of skiing at one of the region’s most beautiful and lesser-known destinations—the White Pass Ski Area. And while prestige ski meccas such as Aspen, Park City and Vail offer heated high-speed gondolas and slope-side elegant dining, White Pass is a place where skiing is the way it used to be — for the pure fun of it.
Skiing here is economical, too. While a walk-up all-day lift ticket at Vail will set you back $225, White Pass, with its twin mountains and multitude of runs, only costs $80, $5 for kids (8 and under) and seniors (73 and over).
When I was a kid growing up in sunny Southern California, skis were made of wood, poles were bamboo and lace-up boots locked into cable bindings. It was my father and mother and their friends (to whom I am forever grateful) who introduced me to the sport and their love of the mountains. Now, as we wove our way up State Highway 12 and approached the White Pass Ski Area, a lifetime’s worth of skiing memories came rushing back, along with—I must admit—a sense of apprehension. It had been a long time since I last skied. Would it come back? Was I about to do something I would soon regret?
The main lodge at White Pass is pleasantly old-fashioned with just a hint of Swiss chalet. After getting fitted out, we made our way to the ski school.
Arriving early, I decided to take the “ski carpet” up the bunny hill to see what would happen. It felt like driving a truck. Awkward is putting it mildly. Two runs later, feeling a tad more confident, I was introduced to my instructor, Roger.
“You’ve got this,” he said encouragingly.
I was still skeptical. Two bunny runs later, he said I was ready to explore what the mountain had to offer, and we headed for the lift. After feeling like the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” in need of an oil can, my rusty technique began to come back. The turns began to connect. I began to relax. The joy came back.
For the next three hours we explored miles of groomed trails connected by one lift ride after another. Skiing on a Friday meant the crowds were light and we rarely waited more than a minute for the next chair. Skiing at a comfortable pace allowed time to appreciate the beauty of row upon row of snow-laden pines, the passing clouds and a brief wisp of fresh snow, all with the majesty of Mount Rainier off in the distance.
White Pass may not have fancy high-speed quad-lifts and gondolas, but it does offer ideal skiing and snowboarding for every skill level. It is an ideal family destination with classes for youngsters, a well-equipped rental facility and several eateries located both on the mountain and inside the main lodge. An adjacent ski area features groomed tracks for cross-country skiing and ample trails for snowshoeing.
The 50-mile drive from Yakima is exceedingly scenic through a rugged realm of steep volcanic basalt canyons and a rushing creek below a vast frozen lake. The drive is easily done in a day from Yakima, which makes it ideal as a basecamp. But if you want more immediate access to the mountain, the White Pass Village Inn (just across the parking lot from the ski area) offers a wide variety of rental condos. Each of these privately owned units has its own floor plan that includes a kitchenette, television and a small deck ideal for sitting and sipping after a day on the hill.
As my day at White Pass came to an end, I took extra time on the final run to drink in the beauty of my surroundings and thank the generations of my family and friends who had brought me to this moment. I was sorry we weren’t staying longer.
When You Go
White Pass Ski Area: www.skiwhitepass.com
White Pass Condo Rentals: www.staywhitepass.com/rental-condo-overview.htm