Winter isn’t just for skiers any more.
You can follow the trail of Chief Joseph on snowshoes. You can cross the Cascades via snowmobile. You can mush a sled dog team in Montana. You can soak in hot springs in British Columbia. You can ride a horsedrawn sleigh in Alberta. You can go ice fishing or ice skating in North Idaho.
Even if skis are your thing, you don’t always need a cable lift - or even two skis, for that matter. You can ride a helicopter or a snowcat to deep fields of powder. Or you can climb on a snowboard, credited with creating a surge of new customers - especially young people - at downhill resorts.
Meanwhile, cross-country skiers - once the loneliest of enthusiasts - sometimes encounter what would have been unthinkable a decade ago: crowds on some of the most popular trails.
Whatever your choice in winter recreation, you can do it all around the Inland Northwest, often in the same location on the same day. This guide - which we expect to be an annual edition - has dozens of ideas on how to do it.
“People are becoming more inclined to get outside and enjoy winter,” says Bob Clark, assistant manager at the Mountain Gear store in Spokane.
“People are doing a lot more combinations of winter activities - skiing and snowmobiling,” says Victor Bjornberg, a spokesman for Travel Montana.
Some of the trends in winter recreation:
Growing numbers of ski resorts are adding alternative sports to lure non-skiers. “We’ve opened a snow tubing run and an outdoor ice skating rink,” says Lisa Jones, communications manager for the Big Mountain ski resort in Montana. “They’ve gone over really well, especially for families with small children.”
Dog sledding has shown a major increase in Montana. “A couple of years ago, you could find one or two operators,” says Bjornberg. “Now there are seven or eight.”
The oldest form of snowy travel - snowshoeing - is also enjoying a boom, partly because it lets people get away from more crowded areas used by cross-country skiers or snowmobilers. “It also opens up some terrain that may not be as easily accessible on skis,” says Clark.
A growing number of operators are offering snowmobile rentals and guided trips, ideal for families who may not want to buy a machine. And western Montana has become one of the nation’s most popular snowmobile destinations.
Cross-country skiing is still growing steadily, and the Methow Valley, on the eastern fringes of the Cascades, has become one of the nation’s premier nordic ski areas.
“We’re seeing more and more people do it,” says Rob Thorlakson, director of sales and marketing at Sun Mountain Lodge, near Winthrop. “It’s good exercise, it’s substantially less expensive than donwhill skiing and it’s easy to learn. You can take a lesson and then go out and do it.”
MEMO: Winter Recreation Guide pull-out section