Where the Crowds Aren’t: Mission Ridge and White Pass

Mission Ridge
Skiers pat the lucky wing on Bomber Bowl at Mission Ridge.

Some ski areas in the Washington Cascades get huge crowds on big days.

Not so at Mission Ridge and White Pass, two off-the-radar resorts that offer exceptional skiing without the lift lines.

“Mission has some great, silky snow,” says avid Seattle skier Larry Schick, a meteorologist who tracks Pacific storms for onthesnow.com and his own website, powderpoobah.com. “And there’s no people over there.”

“(White Pass) is beautiful and uncrowded,” says Bill Weigand, who started skiing at White in 1955. “During midweek, it’s like having your own private ski area.”

These quiet resorts also offer great terrain, challenging enough to have nurtured some of America’s most famous Olympic racers. White Pass gave rise to Phil and Steve Mahre, who went on to win gold and silver; Mission Ridge was the stomping ground of the late Bill Johnson, won downhill gold.

Skiers shred fresh snow on Chair 3 at Mission Ridge.

Mission: ‘No better snow’

Mission Ridge is located just 12 miles southwest of Wenatchee. It offers 2,000 acres of terrain and 2,250 feet of vertical from the ridgetop at 6,820 feet. Four chairlifts serve the bowl-shaped Squilchuck Basin, with the best skiing off a high-speed quad called the Liberator Express, named after a B-24 Liberator bomber that crashed during a training mission in 1944.

The wing from the airplane is on display at the entrance of the popular Bomber Bowl run. Rub the wing, the legend goes, and you’ll bring fresh powder, and locals religiously stop by to work the mojo during storms.

“On powder days, there’s no better snow in the state,” says Tony Hickok, Mission’s marketing director.

Skiers and boarders like the snow, but they also love the mountain.

“The upper mountain has fabulous steep terrain, glades and bowls,” says Mike Rolfs, a regular who lift-skied 69 days last winter at Mission.

The Liberator Express delivers skiers to the top of the ridge and provides access to traverses and short climbs to powder drops that stay fresh for days after storms.

“With 2,000 skiable acres, we have the best acre-per-skier ratio in the state,” Hickok says. “The snow just doesn’t get tracked out.”

Mission also has a robust snow-making operation, which helps Mother Nature cover groomed runs and lower slopes.

“The groomers (at Mission) are the best anywhere,” says Jeff Ostenson, another regular.

Ostenson, executive producer of North 40 Productions in Wenatchee, has created two new films that feature Mission: “Lifted,” about small-town mountains, and “MR50,” celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the ski area this year.

Many Wenatchee residents take advantage of the short drive to Mission for a few runs on particularly good days, then head into work afterwards, Ostenson says.

“The proximity to town is fantastic,” he says.

A skier tracks the fresh snow off the Couloir Express at White Pass.

White Pass: “Never crowded”

White Pass feels like two mountains on its 1,500 acres of terrain. Located about 50 miles west of Yakima on U.S. Highway 12, the original mountain, built in the 1950s, features the area’s steeps. White Pass added nearly 800 acres in 2010 when it expanded behind its front-side mountain into Paradise Basin, which offers primarily intermediate skiing on its higher-elevation slopes.

White Pass has six chairlifts, with two being high speed quads that do most of the people moving. In all, White has 2,000 feet of vertical, rising to 6,550 feet at its highest point.

The steeps on the front side are challenging on north-facing drops off the Great White Express. The Paradise Basin runs are open and gladed, served by the Couloir Express. Among the best runs in Paradise Basin are off of West Ridge, a traverse that brings skiers into lovely glades and trees that routinely deliver fresh tracks on powder days.

“You can spend all day out there and have a great time,” says Kevin McCarthy, general manager of White Pass, about Paradise Basin.

In fact, many people choose to do just that, using the popular mid-mountain High Camp Lodge as a stopping place, only to return to the front side base area at the end of the day.

Best of all, White Pass has no lift lines.

“You’re not ever going to feel crowded here,” McCarthy says. “The beauty of White Pass is that we’re not near a major metropolitan area. …You can do a third more skiing here because it’s never crowded.”

Like Mission, White Pass gets an Eastern Washington influence in its snowpack, with cool air mixing with the warmer, moister air to the west. The result is “very nice snow,” McCarthy says.

And like Mission Ridge, robust snow-making operations help cover the lower mountain and groomed runs.

“White Pass is as good a place to ski as there is,” says Dave Joynt, a regular at the ski area. Joynt, 78, has been skiing at White Pass for 38 years. He likes “the homey atmosphere. It’s friendly and never crowded. And the snow is good.”

Joynt and several friends take advantage of White Pass’ “super senior” policy of offering free skiing to those 73 and older. After years of paying to ski, they now shred the slopes of Paradise Basin in the morning for free, then go play golf in afternoon in Yakima.

“What’s not to like about that?” says Joynt playfully.

A skier rides the ridge on the Roller run at White Pass.

Editor’s note: This story was first published by The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, WA.