Seventh Heaven from the base area
Base area from Seventh Heaven
Stevens Pass is a day area located on U.S. Highway 2 between Everett and Wenatchee, WA. It serves skiers from both sides of the Cascade Mountains, but most come from the Seattle area. The ski area is excellent for families and mixed ability groups since there is every type of terrain for every type of skier: from excellent teaching slopes, well groomed runs and a big terrain park, to super steep, tight trees, cliff drops, and other crazy-type terrain. What follows is a description of the ski area and a guide to help you get started.
CAUTION!!! Stevens can be unbelievably crowded on weekends in January and February. On good days (sunshine, and/or powder) the parking lots fill to capacity before 10:00 am. You might be turned back and never be allowed to park anywhere. You cannot park on the highway without being ticketed and towed. You're just plain out of luck. Come on any weekday, or on weekends before Christmas or from March 1 on and it's not a problem.
Stevens Pass is built on two mountains. To the west is Cowboy Mountain, and Big Chief Mountain is to the east. There is skiing on the front side of both mountains and on the back of Big Chief. There is one base area located next to the highway which has three day-lodges offering food, rentals, lessons, and ski shops. There is no lodging at the pass (except as noted in "Amenities" below) and no retail other than the ski shops.
THE FRONT SIDE
One strength of Stevens Pass is that it has very extensive skiing after dark. The entire front side of the mountain, except for Double Diamond and 7th Heaven, is lit up at night. There is good skiing for all ability levels and there are no lines. For visitors to Seattle on business it is an option for some turns after the big meeting. For Seattle area skiers it offers an evening of great skiing and home to bed at a reasonable hour.
Cowboy Mountain. From right to left: Brooks, Skyline, 7th Heaven (top of Mountain), Hogsback, and Daisy. Picture taken from Showcase on Kehr's Chair.
Brooks Chair and the terrain park:
Brooks chair is a fixed grip double that serves the very large Top Phlight Terrain Park. Jumps, rails, you name it, this park has it. The park and half-pipe are fenced off from the general ski slopes. The entire chair lift and all of its slopes are dedicated to this terrain park. It is very impressive.
Glacier Peak, a volcano and namesake of the Glacier Peak Wilderness from the top of Skyline Express
Skyline is a high-speed quad that runs from the base area up Cowboy Mtn. This chair is great when you have skiers of differing abilities who want to stay together. It is a chair serving mostly blue terrain but there are several places where, by dropping off the groomed run, you can get in a few challenging turns. It's a good spot for high speed cruising as well. This was the first area on Cowboy Mountain that was lift served, first by a T-bar, next by a fixed grip double, and finally by a high speed quad. Make sure to take a gander at the historic photos of the area on display in the Granite Peaks lodge.
Cowboy Ridge. 7th Heaven off load is on the upper right. The open area going diagonally from right to left is Rock Garden, Cloud Nine is the narrower run straight down the middle, and Meadows is on the right.
Seventh Heaven's elevation and aspect keeps snow good for a long time. When everything else is junk, check out the Heaven, you may find some goodies.
The ride up the 7th Heaven Chair is steep, but short.
Loading for Seventh Heaven is located right next to the off-load area for Skyline. This chair is shown on the map as serving all double diamond terrain. Take that with a grain of salt. The terrain is fun, and can be challenging, but most of it is not super steep, just steep. However, it is never groomed, the bumps can be big, there is no easy way down, and there are some possibilities for a true double diamond experience if you look around a bit.
When you get to the top of the chair there is not much room to hang out, so move onto the slope to clear things out for the persons behind you. Right at the top there is the possibility to climb up and back a bit to a harrowing traverse that leads you to Bobby, Nancy, and Outback chutes. These take you right back down to the loading area for Seventh Heaven. All other ways down require you to ski to the bottom of Skyline to return to the top. The main runs indicated on the map are Cloud Nine which is steep, but with benches along the way so faces are short, and Rock Garden (Don't worry about rocks, the run is a rock slide but there is always plenty of snow to cover it) which is usually bumped up. If you’re looking for steep stuff and you're on Rock Garden, veer left onto Little Tree near the bottom.
Looking down Rock Garden from the unloading zone on 7th Heaven. Cloud 9 and Meadows are left of the frame.
Another run that is not indicated on the map but is well known to all locals is Meadows. To find it, ski the first face off the chair toward Cloud Nine and Rock Garden. When you reach the first bench head hard left. You will pass through a big gap in the trees and enter Meadows, an area that is not particularly steep but often has great snow on a powder day and rarely has much in the way of bumps. Stay right when you get into Meadows and watch for the exit sign. If you go past it you will end up on top of a cliff that has a chute that is passable in good snow years, but that is often not skiable early in the season. Hanging a hard right at the sign will bring you to the bottom of Cloud Nine and thus out to Hogsback. All of these runs are natural, not trails cut from the forest. There are lots of various ways down so that you can spend a good part of your day exploring the permutations.
Two hints: 1. When you get off of the chair the first thing you'll see is a lot of really huge bumps. If you don't care for this type of skiing, don't despair! Just traverse out onto the slope. The farther you traverse the smaller the bumps get. 2. Stevens Pass is well known for its cloud bank that often covers the top of Cowboy Mountain. If it's in place and looks thick, don't go to Seventh Heaven. There are few trees up there and it's difficult to impossible to see anything in the whiteout. You would not have much fun.
Hogsback chair is a high speed quad that services almost exclusively blue terrain. It is very popular with the intermediate crowd as it has interesting groomed runs. It is, however, short. If you're looking to blast a groomed run at mach speeds you'll be done almost before you start. The terrain is fun, but the chair ride can get boring when you ski like that for more than a run or two.
When the fog bank is in, though, you can get some good tree runs and you can find a couple of short steep chutes. Mucking around in the trees off Hogsback is a favorite on powder days as well.
Looking up the Hogsback
This is a very slow, gentle fixed grip triple chair that serves the beginner area. This is great learning terrain and is right in the center of the base area activity. If you have a beginner in your group you can easily work it so that other group members can ski Hogsback or Seventh Heaven and check in with them at the end of every run.
Tye Mill Pass and Tye Bowl from Seventh Heaven, with Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the background.
This fixed grip triple chair does not start from the base area. You must take either Hogsback or Seventh Heaven to access it. Tye takes you to the top of Tye Mill Pass, the low spot between Cowboy and Big Chief Mountains and one gateway to the back side.
The main runs on this chair are blue groomers and for most people it works as a transit area to move to and from the back side. There are, however, several very interesting runs that this chair serves. Explanations about access would be too wordy, but a favorite route down this chair is Tye Bowl, a large open area to your left as you ride up the chair. The access requires bump skiing and finding your way through a confusing mess of trees and intersecting runs with hills and gullies, but when you find it the powder skiing can be outstanding.
Big Chief Mountain with Showcase on the left. Double Diamond run and Wild Katz (that thin break in the trees) coming off the top. Picture taken from Cloud Nine on 7th Heaven.
Big Chief Mountain from the base area. Kehr's chair is in the middle with Showcase on the left and Double Diamond run from the top of the mountain, center right.
Kehr's Chair (formerly Big Chief):
Kehr's ("cares") Chair was recently renamed from Big Chief in honor of the founder of Stevens Pass. Locals are having a hard time spitting out the new name, so you should know both. The chair itself is a fixed grip double that loads faster than any other chair in this writer's experience. Be ready to move when it's your turn and expect the chair to pick you up right away. The thing moves fast!
The apparent main run down is Showcase, it is well groomed and has a consistently steeper pitch than most blues. It runs directly down to the base area and is the first part of the ski area you see when approaching on the highway from the west. In the distant past it was a monster bump run, but now it's kept as smooth as a baby's behind.
Other than Showcase there are a couple of great ways down that can keep you happy for quite a while. I-5 is the run under the chair. It is steep on top, and bumped all the way down. Snow quality is often iffy here due to icing, but sometimes it can be great.
The other way to go is head to skiers' right of Showcase into the trees which are well spaced and make a great place to hide from the fog bank when it's in. This is sometimes the best skiing in the ski area. Watch for the area boundary signs and keep left when you get near them. If you ignore them you'll end up on top of a very tall snow bank above the RV parking lot with no good way down and a slog to get out.
Upper Showcase and Big Chief Bowl
This is a fixed grip triple that loads from the top of Kehr's Chair. It is an up-and-over chair that gives access to the back side. The lift services a front side run of the same name that is long, steep, and well bumped. It also serves Big Chief Bowl, the access to which you will see on the chair ride up. Getting into the bowl is fairly simple but be careful when you reach the drop in point. There are many rocks hiding there that are kept at or near the surface by the wind coming up over the ridge. You might end up very unhappy if you hit one of these and ding your ski base. Watch out for wind lips near the bottom of the bowl just above the line of trees, you can get around these by going either right or left. If it's a cloudy day, be suspect of areas that are conspicuously track free, the flat light can hide the lip and the people before you might have been avoiding it.
A piece of Big Chief Bowl. Notice the wind lip.
The other major run, much more of a double diamond than Double Diamond, is Wild Katz. The run is narrow, heavily treed, long, and steep. When you want to do it for the first time find a local to guide you in.
Below you will find a video of Wild Katz. It's spelled wrong on the video, and while it's on the same mountain, it's not "off" of Double Diamond run, but can be accessed from Double Diamond chair and Southern Cross. Not elegant but you can get the idea of the lay of the run. I just found this on the internet. It's not me!
THE BACK SIDE
This area offers incredibly wonderful terrain. There is everything except for beginner slopes. Trees, meadows, open faces, bowls, steep, easy, bumps, groomers, powder, you name it, it has it. The view is beautiful over the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. What could be better? The aspect.
Unfortunately the back side faces south and gets quite a lot of solar radiation, even on cloudy days, which softens the snow in the afternoon and leaves it rock hard for the next morning. The best times to ski here are early in the day during a storm cycle and in the morning on a sunny spring skiing day. The back side will often have icy hard or slushy snow when Seventh Heaven has light, powdery stuff. However, if you catch it at the right time on the right day the back side can have some of the best skiing anywhere.
This is the side of the mountain where you need to be extra wary of tree wells since the trees are smaller here than on the front side. Use caution if it's been snowing a bunch lately and make sure you have a buddy or two. Otherwise, stay out in the open areas.
Back Side View
When you get off of Double Diamond chair you notice that folks are coming up the other side of the mountain on the same up-and-over chairlift, the alter-ego of Double Diamond, Southern Cross. This chair serves the most advanced terrain on the back side.
Pegasus Gulch with a bit of Aquarius Face at the top
The main run down is Orion, which is sometimes groomed but mostly not. There is a great deal of terrain to skiers' left off of Orion. Veer off at almost any point and experiment. Pegasus Gulch is often pretty sweet.
If you like open slope skiing, follow the ridge cat track (South Divide) west from the off-load point to Aquarius Face on your left.
Aquarius Face (it's bigger than it looks here)
This is a big open face that, at times, has some incredible powder skiing. It also can be pretty iffy when the wind blows the new snow off of the slope and you are left dealing with dust on death cookie crust. First, carefully pick your way onto the face, looking for rocks hiding on the rim near the cat track. You're home free after you've cleared the upper edge. If the skiing is good, just keep on heading down the fall line, through the glades, and eventually to the groomed runs below. If it's not so great, you can bail out to the groomer to your right, Aquarius.
This high speed quad serves mostly intermediate terrain (with exceptions noted below) and has some nice groomed runs. The off-load area is right next to the Tye Mill off-load making it easy to access both sides of the mountain.
Aquarius is the more advanced of the groomed runs and is accessed by following the cat track east along the ridge toward Southern Cross. Gemini is the easier of the two and makes a big sweep through the valley. Access it by heading the opposite direction (to the left as you get off Jupiter chair) and bearing left when you have a choice. All runs meet at the bottom and begin to funnel together, so watch out for heavy traffic as you approach the loading zone for both back side chairlifts.
Peek-A-Boo view of Corona Bowl
There are two areas off of Jupiter that are more challenging. One is Corona Bowl, shown as a double diamond run on the trail map, though it is really not so tough after the first 50 feet. Look for the entry sign to your left near the top as you head toward Gemini.
A portion of Waybacks
The other is Waybacks, which is a steep gladed tree run directly down the fall line from the unloading zone of Jupiter and Tye Mill. Both Corona Bowl and Waybacks empty out onto a groomed cat track that takes you out of the trees and back to the main run, Aquarius.
There are three lodges at the base area. Each one has a restaurant/bar and a cafeteria. There are two ski shops and a large rental facility.
Stevens Pass is a day area only. There are no public lodgings at the Pass except for the Mountaineers' Lodge which is very basic, akin to a hostel, and there is RV parking and hookups ($40/night). There are no no services outside those in the base of the ski area. The nearest services are in Skykomish, 16 miles west of the pass which has a gas station, a liquor store, a bar, and food and lodging at the Cascadia Inn. Other lodging is available through private cabin owners in the area. To the east 35 miles is Leavenworth, a faux Alpine town that caters to tourists and which has nearly every kind of service including lots of lodging.
For a National Weather Service forecast for Stevens Pass Ski Area, click HERE.
For a short, independent video from On The Snow about Stevens, go HERE.
For a longer video about Stevens with some good shots of the local terrain click HERE
For the official Stevens Pass web site, click HERE
-by Posaune, EpicSki's Ambassador for Stevens Pass