Home > Trip Reports > April 28, 2003, Snoqualmie Pass Trifecta

April 28, 2003, Snoqualmie Pass Trifecta

WA Snoqualmie Pass
Posted by markharf on 4/27/03 9:15pm
I drove up late on Sunday to take a look at some of the skiable terrain rumored to exist around Snoqualmie Pass, an area I'd never skied in-bounds or out.  Unfortunately, two o'clock in the afternoon on a warm day following recent snowfall is not the ideal time to be rampaging around unfamiliar backcountry alone, so off I went in search of avalanche-safe slopes suitable for turns in the heat.

First stop was Alpental, where I climbed to the top station and took just one run down.  This was a place which actually looked far better than it skied.  Up high (5400 feet), the snow was largely unconsolidated mush over a good base, with some fresh wet slab unimpressively bonded to the old corn in places.  Lower, the mush got more corn-like, but increasingly gluey in the heat.  Although the runs are still reasonably covered, they're also generally cluttered with moguls, which does not suit my purposes.  There were lots of other skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers, plus a friendly Mountaineers group practicing snow skills (recognizable by the fact that they were all still wearing their helmets while walking across the dry, flat pedestrian bridge to the parking lot).  I was disappointed with the skiing, but impressed with the terrain, and with the views up into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  

Having found nothing at Alpental worth another run, I thought I'd look at the Summit ski areas, which have long held a secret fascination for me, always looking so otherworldly when I drive by late at night in the wintertime.  I parked at Summit West, where at 3000 feet there's only about a foot of snow left, with bare patches, undercut streambeds and mountains of trash strewn everywhere.   I went charging up what the trail map identified as a blue run (almost dead flat, about a half-mile wide, with a perfect, even pitch from top to bottom), then cut over onto one of the several little black diamonds.  Huh.  This one was marginally steeper than the blue, but I never even had to cut a switchback; I just blasted straight to the top.  I have never seen a ski area so bereft of actual terrain features or other interest, but€”being prone to innocent, childlike wonder and bewilderment€”I managed to entertain myself by studying the way these slopes are graded and prepared for the very minimal snowpack.  Unlike Mt. Baker, where stumps and trees less than two stories high are generally left right in the middle of named runs€”the presumption being that they'll all soon be deeply buried€”Summit West seemed to have graded its terrain to mega-mall parking lot standards, sawing trees perfectly flush with the ground and removing any rocks larger than pebbles.  I'm pretty sure they even cut the grass before the first snowfall.

I took the crossover trail to Summit Central in search of the thrills I was sure I'd find there.  Sure enough, there were a couple of steeper blacks with names like Nose Dive, Parachute and Plummet-to-Certain-Death-or-Dismemberment, and I bounded down one of these, dodging dirt piles and saplings in the thin spots.  This was great fun for the 45 seconds or so it took to reach the bottom€”these are not massive slopes.  I climbed back up and found the opposing crossover back to Summit West, skied the steepest of its diminutive black diamonds to the base, then climbed up for one last run off the quote summit unquote.  Of course, by now it was getting late, and what had been perfectly good corn was refreezing rapidly as I climbed.  Fighting the crust on the way down provided just the right measure of humiliation to temper my tendency to sneer.  

Oddly enough, the best snow of the day had been right there on the Summit West blues, where (before it re-froze) I found a couple of inches of perfectly good corn over a solid base on slopes that might as well have been groomed just a few days ago.  The snow at Alpental and Summit Central was less-consolidated, more cut up and substantially stickier.  All in all, this trip made me appreciate my usual (Mt. Baker-ish) stomping grounds, where coverage is still about 10 feet at the upper parking lot.  


It's a tough comparison - Snoqualmie verus the Noocksack area. It's a rare day when Snoqualmie will win that battle, but the Summit ski areas are a great alternative to stairsteppers as an exercise regimen after work when the lifts are running (50-60 minutes from my office even in rush hour). And once you learn where to go, there is some fine skiing mid-winter (especially in non-drought years where we're doing better than 70% of normal snowpack) when the snow level drops to 2000 or below.

So I can only imagine you were in the area for some other reason - I can't imagine you drove all the way from Bellingham just to ski these closed lift areas...

No, certainly not.  I went up there for just the reason that you describe; I was in Seattle until 1:00, and wanted something nearby on which to tire myself.  It looked like there would be lots of nice terrain around for anyone who 1) had some concept of where to go, or 2) arrived five or six hours earlier than I did.

Reply to this TR

2003-04-28 04:15:14