Over the past few weeks, my social media feeds have been lousy with ads for last-minute ski pass deals. I've come close to pulling the trigger a few times too, dreaming of mornings where I simply cruise into a parking lot, slip into my Technicas and hop right on a lift. It's a tantalizing fantasy, one that reminds me of how I used to roll in high school and college.
I haven't bought one, though. Heck, I haven't owned a season pass in more than a decade. And I know exactly how most readers will react to that statement. Like so many fellow die-hard skiers I run into on the slopes or at the breweries, they'll arch an eyebrow, exhale with a bit of force, and shake their heads. How could anyone make it through a season without that slip of laminated paper that tells the liftie, "Yo, I'm here, and I'm all paid up"?
Let me be clear: I'm not judging anyone who buys a season pass. It's a savvy, money-saving move with the added edge of inspiring people to get out and fill their days. But I have a tendency to approach winter the same way I do a Thanksgiving meal. A bit of turkey, a bit of mashed potatoes, a bit of stuffing, a lot of gravy. When you live two hours away from four different ski areas, and four hours away from several more, there's a strategy to filling your plate with modest portions of everything.
A few seasons back, I had the great fortune to make turns on seven mountains in a single winter. Some were local stomping grounds like Snowbowl above Missoula, which I can see from my apartment, and Lost Trail, where I know I can find powder even days after a storm. Others were delightful one-off trips: Great Divide outside Helena, tiny Maverick Mountain in southwest Montana's Grasshopper Valley, Colorado's fabled Aspen Snowmass. Each had its own special sauce, a mix of unique runs and distinctive après-ski atmosphere that made me want to stick around longer. Variety, as my mom is fond of saying, is the spice of life, and that season proved her right beyond all doubt.
The Northwest is about as diverse as it gets skiing-wise. Those spaces on the map between larger resorts like Whistler, Kicking Horse and Mount Hood Meadows are full of mom-and-pop mountains that cut straight to the fireside heart and soul of what we all love about winter. Some of the Spokane area's best offerings — Mt. Spokane, Schweitzer, 49 Degrees North — have been on my to-ski list for years, and I'm hoping this will finally be the season I check one or two of them off.
I'm also aware that there will be days when the snow is deepest in my backyard. It's nice to have a homebase. For some, that might mean a single mountain that's as familiar as the creases and follicles on the back of their hands. For me, homebase is a bit bigger, that's all. It's western Montana. It's a slice or two of Idaho. It's a scattered collection of powder stashes and a clutch of ski buddies who know them as well as I do. If there was a season pass for that, you better believe I'd be first in line. ♦