Mount Hood Guide: The Powder Report

A Guide to Mount Hood's Ski Resorts

Think Timberline and Meadows are your only options? Strap in.

By Benjamin Tepler November 20, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Cooper Spur Mountain Resort

“Mountain Resort” is a bit of an overstatement; it’s more a mom-and-pop sprawl of cabins, with a small ski area and four miles of Nordic trails. Perched on the quiet northeast side of the mountain, and an extra 30 minutes away (without traffic) from Portland, Cooper Spur runs a secluded operation—a total steal for little kids, beginners, and intermediate skiers and snowboarders content with a totally vanilla shred. (Most trails are blue.)

A mile and half down the mountain from the ski area, Cooper Spur rents out seven log cabins of various sizes, from an ancient, underwhelming “Homestead Cabin” for two to a 12-person barracks complete with a hot tub and serious views. The lodge itself houses six rooms—an odd chimera of low-ceilinged motel and timber-clad A-frame. Despite interior-facing windows and close neighbors, it’s just the spot for dark, cozy hibernation.

Down the road, the Crooked Tree Grill is one of the best, no-frills dinners on the mountain. Tucked away by the stone furnace amid Pendleton-clad armchairs and antique toboggans, two people can get a square meal for under $50, including a top-notch blackened Columbia River steelhead burger with pickled pineapple slaw and chipotle aioli. You’ll need all the sustenance you can get before snowshoeing 1,900 feet to the Tilly Jane A-frame, just past the ski area (p. 52).

By the numbers: 2 greens, 6 blues, 1 black
Best for: Kids, families, very casual skiers
How Much: $39 adults, $32 seniors/juniors, $10 kids 6 and under

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Summit Ski Area

Think of Summit as the aging, friendly grandparent on Hood. At the second-oldest continuously operating ski area in the country, the 38-year-old lift is glacially slow, and the gentle, half-mile run absolutely loves kids.

Established in 1927, the 4,000-foot-elevation ski area is basically a giant bunny hill. That’s key for young and inexperienced skiers who need room to tumble. Like Cooper Spur, Summit is also dramatically cheaper and less busy than neighboring operations, even on weekends.

Summit Lodge is a 1980s, Better Off Dead–style blast from the past. Old VCRs buzz in the background, retro skis hang from the ceiling, and a poster diagramming the physics of wormholes hangs on the wall. The “grill” serves gas station food, a step below budget cafeteria fare. Freezer-burnt chicken strips and off-white french fries are the jam here; eat at your own risk.

Two miles east of the lodge on Highway 26 is Summit’s real draw: Snow Bunny Snow Play area. On weekends only, the powdery, tree-shrouded hills make for some of the best tubing on the mountain, with scores of kids twirling down in Summit’s mandatory old-fashioned tire tubes (p. 52).

By the numbers: 1 green, 1 blue, and 1 sledding area
Best for: Small children and absolute beginners
How Much: $35 adults, $25 juniors, free for ages 5 and under or 70+

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A Mount Hood icon, Timberline Lodge was a feat of Depression-era engineering, funded by Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and completed in 1937. If you’ve never visited, make it a priority to join the two million snow seekers who flock every year—it ranks with state treasures like Crater Lake and the Painted Hills. The 55,000-square-foot mass of lumber and iron is a veritable snow fortress. There’s nothing quite like coming in from a blizzard through Timberline’s snow tunnel and straight up to the massive, two-story stone furnace, like the hearth at a Sasquatch family reunion.

Although it’s marketed (and costs as much) as a luxury resort, the ancient stronghold has its shortcomings: drafty windows, paper-thin walls, and mini, airline-size bathrooms. What’s good to eat? Check out our Timberline Dining Guide on p. 50 for the full scoop.

Timberline is the only true ski-in, ski-out resort on the mountain. The landscape is tamer than at Skibowl and Meadows, but still nicely varied, with an impressive freestyle terrain park for hardcore shredders. Best of all? In winter, it’s almost always snowing at Timberline’s 6,000-foot elevation, even if it’s raining at Skibowl. That means guaranteed pow for the mountain’s longest run: 3,690 vertical feet from Palmer Glacier to the bottom of Still Creek Basin.

By the numbers: 9 greens, 18 blues, 13 blacks
Best for: Tourists, powder chasers
How much: $71 adults, $47 juniors, free for ages 6 and under (with a paying adult) or 71+

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Hood veterans know this adage well: Skibowl is steep and cheap. With 1,500 feet of vertical drop and the most abundant collection of black diamonds in the state, this is the place to spend the season if you’re a serious local. The downside? Runs tend to be shorter than at Meadows or Timberline. But we’ll take those quick thrills any day, especially when it means no lines at Upper Bowl (even on weekends), close proximity to Portland, and some of the best night skiing (and cosmic black light tubing) in the country: 34 well-lit runs that glide until 10 or 11 p.m., with front-row seats to the always-stunning alpenglow sunset.

When the sun goes down, Skibowl is positively frigid. Enter the 82-year-old Warming Hut, 400-square-feet of Czech pilsners and goulash, plopped midmountain. No matter how many times you hunker down here, the jovial, wood-fired glow feels like a total miracle in the unforgiving deep freeze.

By the numbers: 11 greens, 5 blues, 36 blacks, 6 double blacks
Best for: Devoted regulars, bang-for-buck skiers looking for big mountain runs
How much: $53 for most of the day for adults, $35 kids, $39 night pass, free for ages 6 and under or 71

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Meadows is Hood’s Disneyland: huge (2,150 skiable acres), mobbed, and expensive. Positioned on the southeast side of the mountain, it’s farther from Portland, and often mired in intense storms. Gusty winds, ice, and lack of visibility often shut down Heather Canyon and the S&R Cliffs, some of the resort’s steepest, most adrenaline-pumping terrain. Even if the area is open, you still need to haul all the way back down to the base of HERM (the Hood River Express chair), where you’ll join the masses for waits of up to 30 minutes on busy weekends.

Still, Meadows is a beast of a resort, with six high-speed quads, a three-mile-long run, and 2,777 feet of vertical drop. If big-is-better is your philosophy, Meadows is for you.

By the numbers: 14 greens, 38 blues, 23 blacks, 10 double blacks
Best for: The youth
How much: $82 for adults for 7 hours, $49
juniors (all day), $12 kids 6 and under, free for ages 75

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