Leavenworth has terrific snow sports for families

  • By Sharon Wootton Herald Columnist
  • Friday, January 9, 2009 1:37pm
  • Life

If you want a slew of downhill options, stop at Stevens Pass Ski Area. If you want an eclectic mix of snow sports, head to Leavenworth.

The Leavenworth Winter Sports Club handles most of the winter opportunities in the area, something it has done since 1928. These are family-friendly outings: no strenuous climbs, no black diamonds.

Ski Hill is the focal point, the base of operations, as it were, just 1 1/2 miles north of town on Wenatchee National Forest land. Options include two rope tows, a fairly new Nordic jumping hill, a tubing hill, two groomed downhill trails, and 8 km of Nordic ski trails (5 km lit at night).

The Lt. Michael Adams Tubing Park was named in honor of a West Point graduate who died in Iraq in 2004. His parents run Northwest Photography Gallery in Leavenworth.

The hills are groomed specifically for tubing, which helps build up those thrilling speeds.

The log-cabin-style Ski Hill Lodge provides a place to warm up and grab a snack. It was built in the 1930s as a Civil Conservation Corps project.

The club also maintains 26 km of cross-country ski trails, including a trail along the Icicle River.

And where there’s snow, there are snowshoers. One plus about snowshoeing is that the gear cost is minimal compared to downhill skiing. If you’re new to the experience, take advantage of a four-hour window of snowshoe demonstrations starting at 10 a.m. Jan. 18 at Ski Hill.

Snowshoes will be available for demonstration by instructors on a snowshoe trail. Be sure to ask about the bonfire.

The Ski Hill’s singular experience, however, is flying off the 27-meter jump on D Hill. Volunteers help develop experienced skiers and introduce newcomers to the thrill.

“They can jump up to 100 feet,” said ski jumping program’s Kjeil Bakke. A 15-meter jump is ideal for beginners.

Ski Hill was once famous for its 90-meter ski jump, once the only ski jump west of the Rocky Mountains. In the mid-20th century, the highlight each winter was the ski-jumping tournament. Large crowds would hop a train from Seattle and Spokane to see the event and party at night.

No one jumps off the 90-meter runway anymore.

“Not since the ’70s,” Bakke said. “It doesn’t meet today’s technical standards anymore, like when I was jumping in the ’30s and ’40s. The hill’s outdated, and it would be dangerous for the young people. It’s more gymnastics now. It’s a different sport.”

But don’t rush off for jumping. The recent snows were mostly powder, great for downhill but not for ski jumping.

“We couldn’t get the track hard enough,” Bakke said.

This week’s hard rains did not help either, so check first.

Other adventures are found nearby. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are designed for family fun; snowcat adventures can lead to as many as 10,000 vertical feet per day of downhill skiing,

For information on the options, see www.skileavenworth.com or call the chamber, 509-548-5807. The town’s visitor center is located at 940 U.S. 2.

Avalanche smarts: Free (so there’s no excuse for backcountry skiers) ­avalanche-awareness classes and clinics are offered by Ridge Explorations.

REI Seattle hosts one of the free clinics at 7 p.m. Jan. 15 to whet your appetite (for more information, call 206-223-1944) and a class (six hours lecture, one field trip, $205) starting Jan. 28 (register online at www.ridgeexplorations.com).

World Cup: World Cups don’t come closer to Snohomish County than this. The Cross-County Skiing World Cup and the Nordic Combined World Cup (with ski jumping) will be held Jan. 16-18 at Whistler’s Olympic Park.

If you can’t afford or can’t score tickets to the Olympics, this is the next best thing — and it’s free.

For more information, go to www.whistler.com/world_cups, where you’ll learn about other world cups on the schedule: bobsleigh ($5), bobsleigh and skeleton ($5), luge ($5), cross-country skiing and biathlon (free), alpine skiing (free) and biathlon (free).

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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