The best places to hit the slopes

One of the toughest things about leaving the West side of the state to live in Pullman was, for me, abandoning the mountains.

I absolutely love the mountains. There is nothing that can clear my mind and reset my soul better than a day in the mountains, particularly if there’s snow involved. I love to ski – I’m a powder skier, but I also enjoy downhill, and trying to reach speeds greater than 60 mph.

That passion led me on a quest when I got to Pullman. Somewhere, somehow, I was going to find the perfect slope.

I’ve evaluated resorts, hoping to find the perfect place. Here, you can find them ranked for their strengths.

BEST FOR BEGINNERS: 49 Degrees North

49 Degrees North takes the crown for the best beginners’ resort. Located in Chewelah, it’s actually one of the closer ski resorts to Pullman. The resort has more of a family feel, and the runs are very wide and very long – perfect for the beginner, or an intermediate getting those ski legs back.

All the chairlifts have an easy way down, with green and blue runs accessible from the top of every lift. Additionally, the chairlifts themselves are slow-moving and easy to board, unlike the high-speed quads more developed and expensive resorts use.

Oh, and if you’re a more advanced skier or snowboarder teaching a friend, don’t fret – there are black diamonds off of most chairlifts if you want to ditch your friend and take a few runs. Additionally, even though the runs aren’t usually that steep, the sheer length of them makes it possible to get some impressive speed up. I hit my East side speed record at 49 Degrees when I pointed my skis downhill and rocketed off, without slowing or turning except to avoid other skiers and snowboarders (an activity I like to call ‘dynamic slalom.’)

Travel time: 2 hours 35 minutes

Lift ticket cost: $48 with a WSU ID

Michelle’s East side speed record: 50 mph

BEST FOR INTERMEDIATES: Silver Mountain and Mt. Spokane

This one is a tie between Silver Mountain and Mt. Spokane. Both resorts have long runs and diverse terrain, and while Silver has the benefit of an excellent upper and lower lodge, Mt. Spokane is often underrated in conversation.

If you like to ski but also think you might like to relax in a lodge for part of the day, Silver Mountain has two excellent lodges, one at the top and one at the bottom. Additionally, Silver features the longest gondola ride in the continental U.S. and the view is quite lovely, when the mountain isn’t socked in with fog.

Mt. Spokane is slightly less fancy in terms of the décor, but does have two base areas – one at the base of Chairs 2, 3, and 5, and another at the base of the primarily black diamond Chair 1. Depending on your interest and where you want to spend the day, this may be more up your alley.

Travel time: Silver Mountain: 2 hours 14 minutes

Mt. Spokane: 2 hours 9 minutes

Lift ticket cost: Silver Mountain: $57, though the ORC sells discounted tickets for $42

Mt. Spokane: $45 with WSU ID


Schweitzer is the best for those who like more of a challenge, although you can bring your less-able friends with you and leave them to have a good time on another part of this huge mountain. Schweitzer wins in this category because of the options – it has two separate bowls as well as a Nordic skiing experience, if you’re into that.

The bowls feature lots of black diamond, double-black, or unrated steep powder bowls with blue ski-outs back to the chairlift. These bowls are also the place to challenge yourself in the trees. Just make sure if you try some tree skiing on a powder day, you don’t do it alone. It’s easy to get lost in a tree well, and if others don’t know where you are, you might never get out.

Travel time: 2 hours 56 minutes

Lift ticket cost: $62 with WSU ID


Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a terrain-park skier. Check out the GoPro video featuring yours truly on for proof that once you put me in a terrain park, I usually wipe out. Impressively. That’s because I ski on fat powder skis. They’re heavy and wide, and while they float and glide on powder like a dream, they’re not exactly the easiest things to maneuver on the rails.

That said, I based my evaluation of terrain parks on my observations and the observations of the ever-so-patient friends who came with me on my quest for the perfect ski area.

The best terrain park was Mission Ridge. Not only do they have diverse jumps, barrels and rails, they also host events and competitions in the terrain park throughout the winter. So if you’re interested in having a little competitive fun while you do your flips and slides, check out Mission Ridge.

Travel time: 3 hours 35 minutes

Lift ticket cost: $55

BEST POWDER SKIING: Brundage, Lookout Pass and Bluewood

This category is especially difficult to rank, because powder skiing depends entirely on the day. While I’ve skied on some new snow, there hasn’t been a truly epic powder day yet. The best experience I’ve had so far with new snow on the East side was at Brundage – and, as they advertise a cat skiing program, I’m dying to go back for more.

Some runner-ups in this category include Lookout Pass and Bluewood, both of which are surprisingly enjoyable resorts with smaller bowls that can be really fun with more snow. The benefit of these two is that people don’t know how good they can be, so they don’t ski out as quickly.

Travel time: Brundage: 3 hours 24 minutes

Lookout Pass: 2 hours 37 minutes

Bluewood: 2 hours 6 minutes

Lift ticket cost: Brundage: $60

Lookout Pass: $38 with WSU ID

Bluewood: $38 with WSU ID

The bottom line to all this is that I still don’t know where I want to buy myself a season’s pass. I enjoyed all the resorts for different things and with different people. As much as I love to shred pow, I really enjoy a groomer day with friends. The options are definitely here, same as they are on the West side— you just have to be willing to drive a little further.