Steeps, Snow and Sun: A Post-Christmas Ski Day at Mission Ridge

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Item: Mission Ridge 12/26/2012
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The Pacific Northwest is infamous for its never-ending storms and copious amounts of snow—much of which come in between 28-35 degrees, earning the nickname “Cascade concrete.” Sun, however, the PNW is not known for.

Mission Ridge, nestled in the mountains above Wenatchee, WA, is the exception. While the western half of the state is one of the wettest areas in the US, just a few miles east of the Cascade crest the average temperatures and precip levels plummet. The heavy ranks of Seattle clouds break just down from Stevens Pass, and soon cedars give way to ponderosa pines and ferns to sagebrush. Mission Ridge lies amidst these arid and airy mountains, as one of the highest, sunniest and most vertically-gifted resorts in the state.

It had snowed three inches at Mission Christmas night, and we decided to make the short drive up from Wenatchee to the resort to get some holiday sun and a little Yule-tide snow. I learned to ski at Mission, but had not visited in nearly a decade, so I was excited and curious to see how the resort would look with my greater age and the mountain’s second-deepest end-of-December base ever (a 60-inch base up top). The entire mountain was open, but Chair One and the base area were shrouded in fog. As we loaded up I couldn’t see much of anything.

In usual Mission fashion, that quickly ended as soon as we made our way up on the Liberator, the mountain’s high-speed quad. Popping above the clouds, we were greeted by sunny views of impressive and intriguing terrain such as Castle Rock and Bomber Cliffs and Chutes. The tracks were few and there were fresh turns to be had, and we spent the day working the ridges and chutes in the sun, from the perfectly-spaced ponderosa pines of Central Park to the pinner lines through Bomber Cliffs to the steep shots off of Windy Ridge. As much as sun, Mission has variety, and we tried for a taste of it all.

Steep and deep is fun, but there is also something to be said for fast and cruiser. Although the mountain was doing well for snow, the base was a little thinner than what we were used to up at Mt. Baker, so after some light-footed lines with the occasional shark tooth we made the move back to Mission’s famous groomers. Mission is a family resort, the perfect place for kids to learn while Mom and Dad enjoy the sun and meticulously maintained runs, but it also has a strong racing history, and there are few places in Washington where you can truly open things up to the point of fear. We mashed hot lap after hot lap, our powder boards flopping as we made our best attempts at Super G turns. Going fast is one of the funnest parts of skiing, and at Mission you can go very, very fast.

The sun was setting and we were tired—bell-to-bell days at the mountain usually equal impressive amounts of vertical—so after one more burner lap under the Liberator we headed into the cozy Hampton Lodge for some food (they make a mean poutine) and warmth. Headlights and ski school buses battled the coming darkness as we walked through the parking lot towards the car. Watching the last hints of light dip behind the ridge after nearly a decade away, I was reminded that while hairy lines and big days can be incredible, sunny days with friends can be even better.


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