Updated January 2011
You may think that spending nearly five hours in the car for a shot of sunlight seems extreme, but come January, even the most hardened lovers of Puget Sound's damp, light-challenged winters are desperate for a change.
Forget the expense of a trip to Los Angeles or Tucson.
The Methow Valley, tucked away in north-central Washington on the eastern slopes of the North Cascades, sparkles in winter with deep blue skies, plenty of sunshine and stunning vistas of snowfields dotted here and there with steel-roofed farmhouses.
All of that snow makes it a prime destination for families who want to enjoy winter sports while getting away from the rain for awhile.
Last winter, eight of us (four adults and four kids ranging in age from toddler to 'tween) spent a long weekend at The Chewuch Inn, located in Winthrop within walking distance of the frontier-themed downtown.
Our goal: to take even the littlest ones out on cross-country skis, and to get in a few runs at grown-up speed ourselves.
We chose to stay in Winthrop -- instead of the quieter, hippie-chic Mazama, located about 15 miles west -- for its convenience: Restaurants and a grocery store are located minutes away, and downtown Winthrop, with its boardwalks and Old West building facades, is a welcome distraction for small kids who have had too much snow play. In addition, the small community of Twisp is located about nine miles east, and no trip to the Methow is complete without a stop at the Cinnamon Twisp bakery for a dozen of its addictive, honey-laced Cinnamon Twisp pastries.
According to owner Sally Kuperberg, The Chewuch Inn (four guest rooms, three cabins) doesn't cater specifically to kids, but we liked the comfortable rooms with multiple beds, and the hearty breakfasts served in the dining room, which can also be used for midday hot cocoa breaks or games by the fire. Staff didn't blink when I asked to wash and dry my daughter's parka, stained with blood during a sledding mishap, or when we set out a picnic in the dining room one night when the kids were too tired to go out to dinner.
One of the Methow's main attractions is its 200 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails, collectively called the Methow Valley Community Trail, and it's easy for even beginners to get started. Buy a trail pass (a one-day pass is $10-$20, children 12 and under free) and rent skis at Winthrop Mountain Sports in downtown Winthrop. The Methow Valley Ski School also offers rentals, as well as lessons at Sun Mountain Lodge and two locations in Mazama.
A trailhead can be accessed by walking across the road from The Chewuch Inn (no parking at this location), or by driving a short distance down the road to the parking lot. A short, flat loop -- perfect for kids and beginners -- is located right by the lot. More experienced skiers can take the trail up a small hill, and ski along the Chewuch River. The trail is heavily used, but it still feels serene and quiet, and eagle sightings are common.
If cross-country isn't your family's thing, there's uncrowded downhill skiing at the locally owned Loup-Loup Ski Bowl and snowshoeing ($5 for a pass) at various locations in the area. Just playing in the deep snowpack is novel fun for Western Washington kids, too.
The littlest ones did ski this trip, proudly making their way around the loop trail in Winthrop. Our then 5-year-old was delighted by the gliding sensation once she mastered the basics, and we were amazed at her -- and all the children's -- stamina on the trails. We brought plenty of snacks along to stave off hunger-induced recalcitrance, and a lot of water.
And, by trading child care, we were able to ski at our pace a few times, too.
Getting there: The Methow Valley is located along Highway 20, a five-hour drive from Seattle since the most direct route via the North Cascades Highway (SR 20) is closed during the winter months. Travelers can take Interstate 90 or Highway 2 eastbound to Wenatchee, then continue north to Winthrop.
Basics: Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, 888-463-8469 (toll-free).
- Winthrop Mountain Sports, 257 Riverside Ave., Winthrop. 509-996-2886.
- Methow Valley Ski School, 509-996-4735.
This article originally appeared in the November, 2007 issue of ParentMap.