Details, Details

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Details, Details
By Ron C. Judd

Place to have your head accidentally flash-frozen like Green Giant broccoli: Sun Valley, Idaho
Thanks — or no thanks — to Sun Valley's dry winters, the resort's entire "Baldy" section is now equipped with powerful snow cannons, most of which aim, head high, toward the middle of major runs. Skiers whose noggins are in the line of fire when the computer- controlled howitzers kick into gear gain a new appreciation for the word "whiteout."

What's New: Mt. Hood Meadows, a cruiser's haven on the (drier) east slope of Mount Hood, is finally coming up for air after a four-lift building spree capped by the recent addition of the new Heather Chairlift out of Heather Canyon, where snowcat skiing is available.

Where to Bunk: There's no slopeside lodging, but ample options are available in Hood River, 40 minutes north. Try the standard-issue Best Western Hood River Inn (doubles, $60-$70; 800-828-7873) or the cozier, Victorian-but-not-stuffy Inn of the White Salmon (doubles, $89, but ask about 2-for-1 discounts; 800-972-5226), across the bridge on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. The latter has adjoining rooms — a plus for groups — and access to cross-country skiing on nearby Mount Adams.

Closer to the mountain, a good family option is the Inn at Cooper Spur (541-352-6692), where rooms for two to four people are $65-$75 a night, but you can stick up to eight people in a two-bedroom suite or log cabin for $119-$179. Guests at participating Hood River accommodations get discount lift tickets, and shuttle service is available on weekends and holidays. Call 800-754-4663 to get more information about packages and participating hotels.

Local Wisdom: Most of Mt. Hood Meadows's business is from Portland-area commuters, who cluster in on weekends. Ski it midweek, and you might have entire runs to yourself.

What's New: This notoriously laid-back mountain on the cusp of Glacier National Park is bulking up its already user-friendly lift system with $4 million worth of new gear, including a new express quad on the cruiser-friendly north side of the mountain and a fixed-grip triple in recently opened Hellroaring Basin.

Where to Bunk: At the base area, the inviting, European-style Kandahar Lodge (doubles, $139-$151; 406-862-6098) has 48 rooms with ski-in/ski-out access. Rooms at the nearby, ski-in/ski-out Alpinglow Inn (doubles $116-$128; 800-754-6760) are being remodeled to be ready by December.

Local Wisdom: Staying in nearby Whitefish is a hoot, but the access road to the mountain — a half-hour drive under the best conditions — often is not. If you value macro-turns above micro-brews, you should stay up at the mountain.

What's New: Big Sky, formerly a sleepy haunt of mostly migratory Northwestern and Midwestern skiers, now draws steep freaks from all over North America thanks to the bragging rights that came with installation of a tram to the top of Lone Mountain. Access to white-knuckle runs such as Thunder, located off the Lone Peak Tram — and to more user-friendly terrain off the Shedhorn lift on the south side — is easier now, thanks to last year's replacement of a clunky old base gondola with an express quad. This season, Gondola One, the other base-to-mid-mountain gondola, will be relocated to a higher spot on the mountain.

Where to Bunk: At the base area, the stately Huntley Lodge and Shoshone Condominiums (doubles, $155-$210; one-bedroom condos, $256-$377; 800-548-4486) offer the best ski-in/ski-out lodgings. A more economical alternative is the Best Western Buck's T-4 Lodge (doubles $124-$191 per night, lift ticket included; 800-822-4484). An added bonus: Buck's is a 20-minute drive down the mountain, but it's only 48 miles from West Yellowstone, where winter park tours (cold but awesome) are available.

Local Wisdom: On brutally cold winter days, cruisers should head for the little-used but sunny Southern Comfort area on the backside of Andesite Mountain. Take the RamCharger lift, ski straight ahead, and hang on tight. Stir and repeat.

What's New: Heavenly, known for its spacious, Lake-Tahoe-view cruiser runs and recently opened expert terrain, apparently is just close enough to Reno and Las Vegas to catch mondo-hotel fever. A new project will drop a big gondola from the mountaintop right into a 34-acre South Lake Tahoe resort development by 2000. In the short term, the mountain's 700,000 annual visitors will have to settle for a new six-passenger lift, the Tamarack Express, which opens new terrain near the California-Nevada border.

Where to Bunk: From casino kitsch to faux Western ranch to plain old Motel 6, the full mix of bunkage is available here. For the total glitter treatment, proceed directly to sprawling South Lake Tahoe casinos like Caesar's Tahoe (doubles, $85-$275; 800-648-3353). Or swap the sequins for Polarfleece at any of a number of more G-rated venues, such as the California-side Best Western Timber Cove Lodge (doubles, $65-$175; 800-528-1234), which sits right on the lake in South Lake Tahoe. Call 800-243-2836 for the full list of accommodations; remember to ask for ski packages.

Local Wisdom: An overwhelming majority of Heavenly skiers still form giant, slowly moving lemming clumps on the California side. The Stagecoach and Bolder Lodge base areas on the Nevada side are less crowded, and more fun for cruisers.

What's New: Bachelor, already one of the West's great cruiser haunts, opened up its cold, deep-snow-covered northwest shoulder last season with the addition of the Northwest Express high-speed quad, making it possible to ski virtually all sides of the dry, 9,065-foot cinder cone. This season, they'll replace the triple chair to the summit with another high-speed express quad.

Where to Bunk: There's no slopeside lodging at Mt. Bachelor, but nearby burgeoning Bend has a full range of sleep options. The closest lodge to the mountain — located seven miles from the downtown hubbub — is the Inn of the Seventh Mountain, about 25 minutes from the base. The Inn (doubles, $59-$149; 800-452-6810) has an outdoor heated pool, three hot tubs, and an ice-skating rink. Another great alternative to Bend lodging is the resort community of Sunriver (30 minutes from the mountain), which offers a wide range of rooms, condos, and homes. Standard doubles and suites run $99-$199, but cost less with ski packages; call 800-547-3922.

Local Wisdom: The summit lift looks extreme, and sometimes it is — too much so. The lift is often closed during windy weather or whiteouts. On those days, Bachelor becomes a mostly intermediate mountain; a dream for cruisers, but frustrating for thin-air junkies. Smart skiers know the midmountain runs have less-crusty snow, anyway.

What's New: "The heart of American skiing," as Park City likes to call itself, is finally safe for snowboarding — a commitment the mountain takes seriously, based on its addition of a lighted terrain park. That's either good news or bad depending on the width of your board(s). But sliders of all persuasions should find the mountain known for its convenient access even more handy this fall: The clumsy gondola from the base area is no more; a pair of new six-passenger express lifts will zip you to the summit.

Where to Bunk: For reasonable rates, good location, and just the right touch of Western kitsch, try the cozy Old Miners Lodge B&B, near the Town Lift (doubles, $95-$245; 800-648-8068). At the base village, the most popular haunt is the modern, ski-in/ski-out The Lodge at Resort Center (doubles, $80-$235; one-bedroom suites, $225-$450; 800-443-1045).

Local Wisdom: If you're parked at Park City for a week, you can buy the Multi-Day Mountain Member Pass (three, four, or six days), which offers skiers discounted tickets that will be good through the 1988-99 ski season. If you don't use up all your lift tickets, you can use them again next year.

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Filed To: Snow Sports

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