It Doesn’t Have To End: Summer Skiing Adventures in North America
by Chris Weiss
Photo: Red Lodge International Ski & Snowboard Camp
Winter 2011-12 was one to forget for skiers and snowboarders in most of North America. The record-warm temperatures and under-average snow totals let down both locals and travelers in places like Colorado, Utah and Lake Tahoe. Thankfully, it’s all over, and summer is just about here. While you could use the summer months to replace memories of poor snow conditions with biking, boating and boozing, you could also redeem the poor ski season by taking the summer ski trip you’ve been putting off for years. While it was a rough year throughout many ski towns, traditional summer skiing venues like the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia handily surpassed averages. What could possibly turn a poor winter around better than hitting rewind in the summer?
Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood
The only ski resort in the United States that offers lift served skiing all summer, Timberline Lodge keeps Magic Mile and Palmer lifts running into September. It’s able to host teams, camps and public skiing thanks to the glacier that sits at the top of the resort. Summer season offers up to 1,600 vertical feet.
Visitors should note that Palmer snowfield in summer resembles a lap pool more than it does the open, freeform skiing you’re used to in winter – the popularity of training camps means that the public may only be afforded a single lane to ski on. But, it’s the middle of July; you’re out on an iconic volcanic peak; and there’s at least one lane open for public skiing – not a lot to complain about.
Timberline’s season is true summer skiing, running Memorial Day through Labor Day. Daily tickets for 2012 cost $58, and lifts run 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The season has seen 550 inches of snow, so there should be plenty left into the dog days.
Whistler Blackcomb is the other brand name in North American summer skiing. The Horstman Glacier on Blackcomb Mountain hosts skiing for about a month between late June and late July. A total of 93 acres is divided among various types of terrain, including mogul lanes, groomers and a terrain park. For 2012, Whistler is adding new features like a toblerone box and elbow rail to its public park. The resort reports that it received close to 550 inches (average is 410) of snow this year and the base is still over 100 inches.
Whistler summer day tickets (12 p.m. to 3 p.m.) are $57, and summer passes start around $370. You’ll want to get started early to pack the most skiing in, because it’s a 45-minute trip just to get to the skiable terrain. Loading begins at 11 a.m., and you’ll take the Wizard Express and Solar Coaster Express to the Rendezvous Lodge, where a shuttle will carry you to 7th Heaven Express up to the glacier. The Horstman and Showcase T bars provide service once on the glacier.
Red Lodge International Ski and Snowboard Camp
While “Mt. Hood” and “Whistler” are the two most common answers to the question of where to ski during North American summers, there are other answers. One of the more unique ski outfits on the map, Red Lodge International Ski and Snowboard Camp is essentially a pair of Poma lifts strung up on north-facing terrain on Beartooth Pass, just over the Wyoming border from Red Lodge, Montana. While the lifts are affixed permanently, they only run during the short window between April and July, after plowing crews cut through the dense walls of snow that bury US Highway 212 from October through April. It’s a mobile resort (tickets are sold out of vehicles) for summer turns.
Started as a racing training camp in the 1960s, Red Lodge has since broadened its focus and become a destination for all kinds of camps and general population skiers. The camp’s 600 acres of terrain top out at 10,900 feet and drop close to 1,000 vertical feet. One lift is dedicated to intermediate-level terrain and one services more advanced steeps, chutes and cliffs with pitches up to 50 degrees.
RLISSC plans to open on May 25 for the 2012 season and anticipates operating into late June or early July. Lifts typically run between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. As with any summer skiing outfit, Mother Nature has the last say in terms of dates and times, so things are subject to change. Day tickets cost $45, cash or check only, and Red Lodge recommends skiing for advanced intermediates and above.
Cast and Carve In Alaska
You’ve probably been drooling over Alaska all winter…more so than usual. While many of the Lower 48 trudged through a near-snowless winter, Alaska reveled in one of its best seasons in years. The winter also saw the birth of a semi-new heli operation in Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. The lodge ended its lease agreement with Epic Quest/Chugach Powder Guides in April and struck out to explore the mountains on its own under the guidance of owners Greg Harms, Tommy Moe and Mike Overcast.
One of the things that TML is doing its own way is the “Cast and Carve” trip. Essentially the same trip as the “Kings and Corn” trip that Chugach Powder Guides ran for 15 years under Overcast and Moe (and still lists on its website for this year), Cast and Carve combines two Alaskan staples: early summer corn snow and king salmon fishing. Enjoy views of powerful glaciers, chiseled cirques and a little peak called Mt. McKinley while munching on corn snow. When it’s time for a full meal, your guides will transport you to the pristine, little fished waters that stretch and snake below the mountains, where you’ll have a go at the salmon and trout populations. Sound tiring? Come back to base camp and enjoy the amenities of the lodge while the staff transforms fresh, local ingredients into a lavish dinner.
Unfortunately, Tordrillo does not have any spots left for this year’s Cast and Carve dates, but it is currently taking reservations for next summer (and winter). The trip will cost close to five figures, but Alaska’s midnight summer sun is there to ensure you get every last penny’s worth.