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Five ski areas on Mount Hood offer diversity, deep roots in sport

A new winter entrance will ensure year-round access to the historic Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Ore.  (Associated Press)
A new winter entrance will ensure year-round access to the historic Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Ore. (Associated Press)

The Northwest’s most diverse skiing scene might be concentrated on one mountain. And it’s a notable spring bargain.

Government Camp, at the foot of Mount Hood, is the birthplace of resort skiing in the Cascades, home to the nation’s largest night skiing operation and the Northwest’s tubing hotbed.

“There is no other destination that has such an interesting cluster of ski areas,” said Scott Kaden, president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association. “It’s not appreciated as a winter destination.”

Government Camp is one of the few places where visitors can reach five ski areas in 40 minutes or less.

• Summit Ski Area is on the edge of town and has been running since 1927, making it the second-oldest continuously operated ski area in the United States.

• Mount Hood Skibowl , a mile west down state Route 26, offers the most night skiing terrain in the U.S., high above town at about 6,000 feet above sea level.

• Timberline Lodge is North America’s only year-round ski area.

On Hood’s east side:

• Mount Hood Meadows is the mountain’s youngest ski area (it opened in 1967) and is loaded with diverse terrain and high-speed lifts.

• Cooper Spur is another small beginner hill that opened in 1927.

“You can find whatever you’re looking for on Mount Hood,” said Jon Tullis of Timberline Lodge.

History laces Mount Hood’s winter sports scene. Kaden, who lives in nearby Hood River, calls the area the cradle of resort skiing in the Northwest.

Summit and Cooper Spur became the first ski areas in Washington or Oregon in 1927. People skied there before the areas opened, Kaden said, but the U.S. Forest Service wanted designated ski areas because so many people were getting injured skiing on their own. Portland residents started the ski areas, which originally included ski jump hills, Kaden said.

Mount Hood Skibowl opened in 1928 and the mountain’s most famous ski area, Timberline Lodge, opened in 1937.

The lodge, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and still draws as many visitors as the snow.

“The lion’s share of our business is as a tourist attraction,” said Tullis. “People come up just to see the lodge and grab a meal. It is the quintessential ski lodge.”

The Forest Service offers free tours of the lodge that has been used in several movies, most notably the 1980 horror classic “The Shining.”

While Mount Hood might still be overlooked as a winter ski destination, that’s not the case in the summer thanks to Timberline Lodge. With its lifts running all year, professional athletes and gear testers from around the world travel to Mount Hood for summer training.

“It’s an international destination in the summer,” Tullis said. “Probably the best summer operations in the world.”

Distinct personalities can be detected in all five Mount Hood ski hills.

Summit and Cooper Spur are family playgrounds ideal for beginners.

Timberline has the most vertical (3,690 feet) of any ski area in the West Coast, but most of the winter terrain is mellow. That can change on weekends when snowcats haul visitors to the top of the Palmer Snowfield for steeper runs.

The most challenging terrain can be found at rustic Skibowl or on the slopes serviced by the high-speed lifts at Mount Hood Meadows.

“We all have our niches and that’s a good thing,” said Mark Deen, Skibowl’s assistant operations manager. “There really is something for everybody here.”

“The typical (out-of-town) visitor skis a day a Timberline, a night at Skibowl and a day at Mount Hood Meadows,” Tullis said.

Tubing is a sport taken seriously on Mount Hood, with good sledding areas at Cooper Spur and three tubing hills within 2 miles of Government Camp.

Designated tubing areas eliminate many of the risks and generate an additional revenue stream for ski areas. The ski areas, which charge $10-$30 for tubing tickets, provide the tubes for sliding.

Skibowl, which has a conveyor belt lift so tubers don’t have to hike up its hills, started offering Cosmic Tubing last year. On Friday and Saturday nights through April a $15-$30 ticket gets you three hours of sensory overload on a hill lit up as techno music blasts over the sound system.

“As far as I know we are the only ski area in the country with Cosmic Tubing,” Deen said. “And it’s been pretty popular. People love it.”

Spring is a bargain season at Mount Hood. Before the economy collapsed in 2008, getting a room at the Timberline Lodge was no easy task.

“You needed to make your reservations at least six weeks in advance,” Tullis said, “but not anymore.”

Now, Tullis said, you can often make reservations the night before your trip. Rooms start at $165 per night, but Tullis said the lodge has been offering second weekday nights for $75 in order to lure more visitors to the area.

There is no shortage of deals on the mountain this spring.

Most of the hotels in the area offer discounted lift tickets.

Dave Tragethon, marketing director at Mount Hood, said 14 hotels offer discounted lift tickets to Meadows. At Cooper Spur Resort guests staying midweek before April 30 score free lift tickets to Mount Hood Meadows.

While Northwest skiers have a habit of winding down their seasons in late February, Tragethon said in recent seasons late-arriving snow has left some of the best skiing for late spring.

“We still have great skiing on Hood in April,” he said. “April is the new March.”

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