When I Go to Winthrop…

Posted on January 19, 2012


Skate Skiers in Methow Valley

Juneau is still clear and sunny and I plan on getting out on my classical skis for a good stride while the snow is cold and the kick is good, but I have been looking into what a winter trip to the Methow Valley would be like. I first heard about the area when I was living and working in Seattle at the Patagonia retail store. I had a vague sense of the area from doing a little camping in the North Cascades years prior out of Mazama, but at that time I had no idea that a world-class Nordic center was emerging. One of my co-workers described the trail system that is uninterrupted due to winter road closures and the numerous lodging options that stood directly on the edge of the trails. It sounded wonderful, but my pregnant state and full time hours left me with only enough energy to use one of my days off for play in Snoqualmie pass and the other for nesting at home. Permanent return to Alaska kept the trip from ever materializing.

Launching out of Seattle by car requires a roughly 200-mile drive. The North Cascade Scenic Highway, Highway 20 East, is not an option in the winter so when you are mapping your route be sure not to go through Burlington on I-5. Choose between crossing Stevens Pass or Snoqualmie Pass, both of which offer some amazing downhill opportunities by the way. If you would like to fly a little closer, Wenatchee will get you to within 100 miles of Winthrop and you may want to check out Mission Ridge while you are there. To cut out the drive all together, you can charter Catlin Flying Service and land in the neighboring town of Twisp.

When it comes to accommodations, it appears that almost every lodging option offers either centrally located rooms or stand alone cabins. Some offer three meals a day in conjunction with the room rate and if you choose to rent a cabin, the meals are optional. Generally the cabin rates are more affordable because the rate is flat for 4 occupants with a $20 surcharge per person if you exceed four people. Across the board you will find that weekday rates are less than weekend rates and weekends require a minimum two-night stay. Also, holidays are charged a higher rate.

Here are a few places that you may want to consider because of how they cater to Nordic skiers and their ideal proximity to the 200 km trail system. The Winthrop Inn is the most reasonably priced with rooms ranging from $75-$85 per night.  Other options in Winthrop include the Methow River Lodge and Cabins, Hotel Rio Vista and Sun Mountain Lodge. In Mazama, a few miles to the west, are the North Cascades Basecamp, Mazama Country Inn, and Freestone Inn.

The MVSTA website is your best guide to the 200 km trail system that is completely interconnected. Within the trail system there are four subsystems that include the Methow Community Trail, Sun Mountain Trails, Mazama Trails, and Rendevous Trails. The Methow and Mazama trails are the most gentle for beginners and the Rendevous Trails provide the most challenge for seasoned skiers with trails that reach 4000 feet in elevation. These trails provide access to the five Rendevous Huts that are designed to sleep 8-10 people and can be booked for exclusive use with rates not exceeding $200 per night. Freight hauls for $85 are another option. Trail passes can be purchased for an afternoon, day, three days, or a season. Children under 12 ski free and an adult one-day pass is $20. There are plenty of rental and lesson options, but if you want to bring your own skis and are adept at skating and classical techniques, conditions look like they would be good for both. Chances are that you will have sun due to the 300 sunny day per year trend.

While there, why not experience some Washington wines? There are a few restaurants in the area whose sample menus look very enticing. Two are lodge restaurants that are open to the public and one an independent restaurant. The Arrowleaf Bistro is located in Winthrop and has a wine bar and the Freestone Inn in Mazama boasts featuring Washington wines in their list, but neither restaurant posted their lists online. The Sun Mountain Lodge has an impressively extensive list with a wide range of wines to include many great examples of Washington wines. This wine program has received the Outstanding Northwest Wine List award. The list features Betz Family Winery selections, Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, and Charles Smith’s K Vintners. For some more affordable Washington wine options one can also turn to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Willamette Valley wines are also very well represented. My only criticism is that the mark-up does not seem particularly fair. Well over two times retail cost and up to three times in some cases seems to be their standard. I was not able to find information about wine shops in the Methow that make these wines available for retail, but there are plenty of towns and cities along the way where you may want to seek out them out in shops to avoid the restaurant mark-up.

I feel as if I am doing backwards travel writing because I have not yet gone on this trip. If you go to the Methow Valley or have already, please share your experiences in the forum below. Now, time for that ski.


Methow Valley Ski Hut

Posted in: Ski Travel