Pros: steep & varied terrain, good for all levels, not crowded, easy access, ski school
Cons: short runs, low elevation, some crowded spots on weekends
Yes, at first glance Summit West/Central/East may look like your typical mid-atlantic ski hill, but go up and explore a bit and you'll be surprised what you find. And Alpental is nothing like your typical mid-atlantic ski hill.
If you live in Seattle, this is a great place to go. If you are visiting the area, it's worth the day trip(s). If you're choosing between spending spring break here or Vail, well, I don't know what to say...
First let me talk about some of the common criticisms of the area.
- There's no nightlife, the lodge isn't fancy, etc. Well that's fair, but I come to ski, not to hang out in the lodge. If I wan't nightlife I'd try Seattle. As for the less-than-glitzy lodge it is still warm and dry, and and you'll feel comfortable leaving your brown-bag lunch tucked under a bench while you're skiing.
- It's crowded. Anybody who says this has never been to Hunter Mountain. Or Big Bear. I bet most places at Tahoe even have longer line waits on a holiday weekend. I've almost never had to wait more than 15 minutes for a chair (and that was Alpental chair 2 on a sunny powder day). On weekdays you'll walk right up to the lift. Even on crowded weekends you'll probably find that the chutes off of Triple 60 are all yours. Just stay away from Central express and Alpine Bowl when the "crowds" are there and you'll be fine.
- It's a small mountain. This is true. The runs are pretty short and at Summit they usually end with a long cruise down easy terrain to get back to the lift. You can easily ski all of the named runs at Alpental in a day. I'd love to have more, longer runs. But I certainly have fun here and for me it isn't worth schlepping the kids to Crystal or Stevens in search of something better.
Now let me talk about some of the things that are great about these mountains.
Great for families. This is a great place to learn, with a nice gradual progression of terrain (at Summit, not Alpental). The consecutive week lessons at the Summit Learning Center have done wonders for my kids (ages 4,6, and 8) -- they are all comfortable on advanced terrain and have a good idea how they should be working to improve their technique. Now we can ski all over the mountain as a family and everyone is having fun.
Terrain. I've already mentioned the terrain, and plenty of people rave about Alpental. Often overlooked are the short but steep runs off of the Triple 60 chair at Summit Central -- Freefall is my favorite, and Ripcord has some fun trees -- so many "good skiers" bypass Summit for Alpental, leaving this all for you. They are also a great way to introduce kids to steeper terrain. Summit East (only open weekends and some powder days) has an 1100 vertical foot unbroken black run (Hyak face) with bumpier alternatives on either side. It also has some fun glades and a great maze of beginner/intermediate trails.
Value. If you are going to come regularly, the season pass is a great value. The season rental pass is also very convenient and a great value for beginning or intermediate skiers. What makes it a better value is the fact that it is so easy to get to from the Seattle area. I'd rather be skiing at a fun small mountain than sitting at home because I don't want to deal with the long drive to a big mountain.
Here's a little look at what this area has in store for you (I'll try to get some good pics of the beginner/intermediate areas next year):
The 8-year-old taking the Easiest Way Down from Chair 2 at Alpental. I love it up there.
The runs off of the Triple 60 chair at summit central are short but steep. This is "Revenge"
Edelweiss Bowl is wide open, but everyone bumps out the first line skiers left. If the visibility is good, explore a little more!