"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

White Pass on the cheap

By on January 28, 2019 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments
It’s not always white at White Pass. Every now and then there are blue skies to match blue helmets. Photo by Jason Hummel
A skier enjoying powder turns in the Expansion Area (aka Paradise Basin).

by Andy Dappen

Most journalists are not well paid. I, for example, benefit from rummaging through trash bins looking for aluminum cans whose shiny metals can double my earnings.

My skinny wallet existence means vacations are a challenge. A typical pitch to my wife is whether she wants to visit Othello or Prosser this year. Recently a friend mentioned that he had skied White Pass, on the cheap, thanks to the three “free” days of skiing allowed there if you’re a Mission Ridge Season’s Pass holder.

That had my antenna up. “Free” lift tickets at a different ski area registered high on the affordability scale of an outdoor writer. 

Before my wife could suggest a really expensive early-February mini-holiday to an exotic destination like the Tri Cities, I made a tactical first strike. “Why don’t we celebrate your birthday by skiing White Pass for a few days?”

Jan was delighted to do something new and White Pass sounded like Europe compared to the options I normally pitch. A week later we drove a few hours to Yakima and then most of the way to the pass where I had booked an inexpensive room just east of the ski area at the Silver Beach Motel. 

We planned to ski the area on a Friday and Saturday, because the outdoor writer wanted a Jekyll-and-Hyde look at the mountain on a weekday and weekend.

Our Friday visit coincided with four inches of new snow. Despite being a powder day on the mountain, the crowds were light and visitations may not have covered the ski area’s bills for the day. 

This tragedy for the resort was good news for us as we enjoyed run after run down the Expansion Area on the backside of the mountain in Paradise Basin.

As a tree-hugger, I’m often chagrined that Western ski resorts create their runs by clear-cutting wide swaths of trees down their mountains. The result is a mountain that looks to be under siege by a colossal white octopus whose boneless arms sprawl downward from the summit. 

Eastern resorts often employ a more sensitive approach by thinning rather than extensively logging many of their ski runs.

White Pass adopted the Eastern approach in the Expansion Area. Some trees had been removed to open up the canopy and to keep skiers from becoming hospital patients, and yet the conifers here have been treated like valued elders of the hill.

The ski runs in the Expansion Area were of modest steepness yet the sensation of carving smooth powder turns around the trunks of hemlocks and canopies of spruce was serious fun. 

Run after run our route through the forest would differ slightly, but each time threads of fresh snow revealed themselves to us.

After hours of this, Jan’s legs wobbled. We broke for a late lunch (a sack lunch, of course) and then Jan opted to read her book in the day lodge beside the fireplace where trophies honoring the past winners of the Mahre Cup adorned the mantle. White Pass was the home hill of the Mahre twins, two of the winningest ski racers in American history, so why not soak in their aura awhile?

I headed out to sample the steeper lines on the “old” side of the mountain. 

As a college student I skied this hill occasionally and I wanted to reacquaint myself with Mach V, Execution, Hour Glass, Chair Run and Roller Cliff.

Even though aging is a game of loss — lost strength, lost power, lost speed — it was rewarding to see better technique compensating for these losses. 

Long ago during my Golden Years, I skied these lines faster and more aggressively, yet here I was during the Gray Years skiing these same runs more gracefully than before. 

That added a glow to the day — not everything about the years sliding by was pointed downhill.

+++

Saturday brought an altogether different energy to the mountain. 

A good chunk of Olympia, Tacoma and Yakima had arrived to ski yet another four inches of snow that had fallen overnight. The lodge and lifts all bulged.

Jan and I quickly left the crowded front side of the mountain looking for serenity back in the Expansion Area. Serenity was not to be found on the Couloir Express Chair we had spent hours skiing the day before.

This high-speed quad had sprouted 15-minute lines for a ride that lasted several minutes and a descent requiring seven minutes to complete. 

We called that lousy math and went looking for better numbers.

The nearby Basin Chair serviced some of Expansion Area’s terrain, but because this fixed-grip chair felt painfully slow compared to the nearby express chair, the crowds ignored it. 

The chair’s slow speed proved to be more illusion than reality. With no line, the six-minute ride to the top constituted good math. Furthermore the powder fields that the chair serviced had fewer skiers exploring them.

Once again, even though the pitch of the terrain was modest, the exhilaration of skiing powder through the trees was not. 

We finished every run itching to reload the chair and get back to the top.

By lunch, Jan’s thighs were shot, so she took to her book again while I took to the steep runs serviced by Chair 4, an ancient contraption installed during the resort’s Paleozoic Age. 

Again, because impatient skiers were unwilling to suffer a slow chair, there were no lines and few skiers enjoying the adjacent terrain.

I took four laps through the trees, finding abundant fresh turns on every lap. 

Others had found some of the same powdery bounty, but in the forest I kept happening upon sheets of untouched snow where I could scratch my signature.

Later that day, we made the three-hour drive back to Wenatchee and compared notes. “Those were two really fun days of skiing,” I noted, “but I’m glad Mission Ridge is our home hill — it’s bigger and more diverse.”

Jan agreed. “Still, I sure loved skiing something new,” she emphasized. “Where are we going next?”

“Next?”

Panic seized me. How could the skinny wallet of my profession afford the decadence of more travel before the decade ended?

Then I remembered another perk and another ski hill connected to the Mission Ridge Season’s Pass. 

“You know a little mini-vacation to the east side of state might be nice. I’ve heard the skiing at 49 Degrees North is way better than anything Switzerland has to offer.”

Andy Dappen is a local outdoor journalist who founded the WenatcheeOutdoors.org website. Prior to this he was a contributing editor to Powder Magazine for more than a decade. He has also been a frequent contributor to both Skiing Magazine  and to SKI. 

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