Take advantage of early snows at Hurricane Ridge, Paradise
Seabury Blair Jr. Mr. Outdoors
Opportunities abound for West Sound snowshoe hikers and cross-country skiers looking for the wild side of winter.
Those who seek the silence of the season will find at least as many backcountry destination choices as downhill skiers and snowboarders find when seeking developed wintersports areas.
If wild, ungroomed snow appeals to you this winter, check out these backcountry opportunities:
Hurricane, about 18 miles south of Port Angeles and a mile above sea level, provides the most convenient backcountry skiing and snowshoeing for West Sound residents.
For most, it's a 2-1/2 -hour drive to the ridge; only the final 15 miles or so are usually snow-covered. Follow Highway 104 across Hood Canal Bridge to Highway 101, drive north through Sequim to Port Angeles, and turn left on Race Street. Follow it past the Olympic National Park Visitor Center to the Hurricane Ridge Road, and follow that to the ridge. Expect to pay a $10 entrance fee good for seven days at Heart O' the Hills, about 6 miles up the road.
The paved road is steep and winding, but well-maintained by park crews. Although chains are not often required, park officials recommend all motorists carry them. If this year's practice is the same as previous winters, the road will be open Friday through Monday and other weekdays as winter snows permit.
Once at the ridge, you'll find a small area for downhill skiers and snowboarders served by two rope tows and a Poma lift. The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center provides a snack bar and rents snowshoes, cross-country skis and snowriding gear.
Two innertube chutes one for youngsters and one for big kids are built at the ridge once snow depths are adequate. Trails for backcountry skiers and snowshoers lead to awesome vistas and more wild snow than you could trash in a month.
Two routes are most popular: the 2-mile closed road leading from the Hurricane Ridge lodge and visitor center to Hurricane Hill and the 8-mile closed road leading from the lodge to Obstruction Point.
Backcountry areas around both roads offer everything from frightening steeps for telemark skiers and backcountry snow-boarders to flat, open meadows for snowshoe wandering.
Beginning around Thanks-giving and continuing through the winter, park rangers conduct guided snowshoe walks from the lodge. Snowshoes are furnished and a modest donation is requested for equipment maintenance.
For information about Hurricane Ridge, and for a recorded message on winter weather at the ridge, call (360) 565-3000, and follow recorded instructions.
This aptly named area provides cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing at Mount Rainier National Park that can best be described as, well, heavenly.
West Sound residents can expect about a 3-hour drive to Paradise, located more than a mile above sea level on the sunny south side of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier.
The fastest way to get there is to follow I-5 south from Tacoma, then take Highway 512 east to the first exit at Steele Street. Turn left at Steele Street and follow it and Spanaway Loop Road to Highway 7 and turn south on Highway 7. Follow Highway 7 to Elbe and take Highway 706 through Ashford to the Nisqually Entrance of the park, where you'll be asked to pay a $10-per-carload entrance fee.
Drive about 18 miles from the entrance past Longmire to Paradise and the large parking area about 0.2 miles east of the Paradise Visitor Center. Much of the time, the only snow you'll encounter is on the final 18 miles of road, open daily and well-maintained by park crews. Carry chains, although they aren't often required.
Besides excellent backcountry snowriding and snowshoeing, families will find two long innnertube chutes have been packed into the snow once snow depth is adequate, usually by Thanksgiving.
Most popular snowshoe and cross-country ski routes at Paradise include the closed Stevens Canyon Road leading down into the Paradise River valley and the Barn Flats area just below Paradise. Families headed to Paradise will find large, heated restrooms at the parking area east of the Paradise Visitor Center, which is open in the winter with a brown-bag lunchroom and snack bar.
For information about Paradise, call (360) 569-2211, and follow recorded instructions.
Every wintersports area within 3 hours of West Sound Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass and Crystal Mountain provides access to backcountry snowriding or snowshoe hiking. In all three cases, those seeking wild snow need only cross the road from the developed area to find miles of it.
But because it is wild snow, you must be an experienced backcountry winter traveler, prepared to meet the challenges and dangers you won't encounter on the groomed slopes of developed snowsports areas.
For descriptions of backcountry ski, snowboard and snowshoe routes, check out my book, "Backcountry Ski! Washington" (Sasquatch Books, $15.95); or Dan A. Nelson's excellent guide, "Snowshoe Routes, Washington" (The Mountaineers, $16.95) Published in The Sun: 11/04/2001