Contributing Editor for The Master Skier
Jonathan Wiesel is a writer, ski area planner and ski/snowshoe guide in the Rockies. Visit his website at www.JonathanWiesel.com
Washingtonís Methow Valley is one of the great nordic destinations in North America.
Itís huge, with 200 interconnected kilometers. Itís probably the second biggest network in the U.S. after Royal Gorge. And thereís no altitude problem since the highest point on the system is around 4,000, though nearby peaks rise almost another mile.
Snowís very reliable, there are all kinds of places to stay right on the trails and the natives are friendly (after all, a lot of them moved here to ski).
This year Mukilteo Coffee, whose president is a local homeowner, has a special blend for sale in the valley, with a portion of sales going to the trails.
The Methow is a skierís paradise, so itís astounding how few skiers know about it.
Weíre going to remedy that, starting right now. The major reason the Methow isnít tip-to-tail with skiers is location. Itís in northwestern Washington, on the east side of the Cascades (which means the snow is dry).
Itís a five-hour drive from Seattle, or two hours if you fly into Wenatchee. Nope, not entirely convenient. The solution is to stay a week, so you can get a taste of all the trail systems and maybe try heli-skiing too.
The northern Cascades are spectacularly rugged, carved by millennia of glaciation. The Methow (population 6,000) is a narrow valley with the high end to the northwest, following the course of the Methow River 60 or so miles to the southeast.
Three communities dot its course: tiny Mazama upriver, the western-themed town of Winthrop 14 miles downstream and finally Twisp.
Figure on no crowds, even on holidays.
Now we come to the matter of trail scale. Jay Lucas, Executive Director of the non-profit Methow Valley Sport Trails Association, the guy responsible for trail development and maintenance in all seasons, says, 'Please, we donít need more trail! 200 kilometers is quite enough to keep us busy.' (Incidentally, grooming is very good indeed.)
Despite those words, this year MVSTA has added a scenic three-kilometer route near Winthrop.
Thereís also a new training trail near Mazama designed by coaches of the Methow Valley Nordic Ski Team. Itís a one-way loop, and Jay tells me itís the toughest skiing in the valley, with lots of short climbs and drops.
There are three trail networks, each with its own character and all linked by the Methow Valley Community Trail (which runs from Winthrop to Mazama).
The high-country Sun Mountain system has stunning views, a lot of flowing beginner and intermediate routes and significant downhill on Winthrop Trail and Powerís Plunge leading to the valley.
The elongated Mazama complex to the northwest is mostly gentle, running through meadows and conifer forest.
The more difficult Rendezvous Trails north of the river are home to a hut system. They have long uphills and swooping descents.
Another thing I love about the Methow is ski-in/ski-out lodging all over the valley.
The two kingpins are Sun Mountain Lodge, with its own trail system, while the Mazama end is anchored by the Freestone Inn. Both have fine dining plus ski schools and rentals. Iíve seen at least a half-dozen other places right on the trails.
Former PSIA Nordic Demo Team member Don Portman runs three ski schools in the valley. Mealtime doesnít come often enough each day; and my favorite restaurant in the valley is Duck Brand in Winthrop with fish, steak, pasta and great fresh-baked pastries.
If youíd like to combine a visit with competitive events, Race of the Methow runs January 4-5 with distances up to 10 kms; the Methow Pursuit is set for January 25-26 (15 km classic or 30 km skate); or if you like hills, thereís the challenging 30 k Rendezvous Mountain Tour on February 8.
(509) 996-3287; www.mvsta.com and email@example.com
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