Brown’s farm vanishes from sight as you turn left along the Methow River and disappear into trees and rolling hills. The only sound is the crunch of perfectly groomed snow under your skate skis and the air rushing from your lungs as you glide over the Twalks-Foster suspension bridge on your way to exploring 120 miles of groomed trails that connect the Methow Valley from Twisp to Mazama.
Skate skiing is growing in popularity in the United States because of the greater speed over traditional cross-country skiing, the intense aerobic workout, and the fact that it is just plain fun! In skate skiing, the skier keeps the tips apart and the tails of the skis almost touching, like a V. Forward motion is attained by pushing off the inside edge of alternating skis while thrusting the front leg forward in an ice skating like motion. If you have watched Olympic cross-country skiing, odds are you that were watching the fast paced competitive form of skate skiing.
The Methow Valley has seen a growth in popularity with over 30,000 Nordic skiers visiting the Valley last year; a new high. The area boasts nearly 200 miles of Nordic track between the 120 miles of groomed trails maintained by the Methow Valley Sports Trail Association (MVSTA) and trails maintained by the National Forest Service. The Valley’s nearest competitors in the region are Whistler with 80 miles of trails and Royal Gorge California with 120 miles of trails.
Ground zero for skate skiing in the Methow Valley is the Old West town of Winthrop which makes itself over into an alpine sports destination every winter. The Valley has a long history of world class skiing and is the hometown of current Olympic hopefuls brother and sister Eric and Sadie Bjornsen (Sadie is ranked third in the nation in the Sprint event by the USSA), and the husband and wife team of Brian and Caitlan Gregg who live and train in the Methow Valley.
Don’t panic though; you don’t need Olympian skills to enjoy the world-class skate skiing in the Methow. The area’s unmatched winter scenery and miles of trails has something for everyone from absolute beginner to expert. Consider bringing your family; the MVSTA offers free skiing to all children 17 and under and allows kids to compete free in all MVSTA sponsored races. And if you just want to get away from it all there are miles of track where your only company may be the illusive ermine with its silky white winter coat.
Where to begin planning your trip
Most trails are maintained by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association. Maps, current trail conditions, ski pass prices, and a whole host of valuable information can be found at the Association’s website MVSTA.com. For tech savvy skiers, the MVSTA also has a smart phone App that provides up-to-date instant grooming information. A day pass will set you back $22.00 while a multi-day pass costs $57.00. Passes can be purchased at almost any retail store or lodging in the area.
Gear and tuning
Forget your gloves or need a warmer base layer? Your skis need a professional wax, grind, and edge? Head to Winthrop Mountain Sports in downtown Winthrop. Rita, the shop owner, is friendly and knowledgeable in all things outdoors and will help you find what you need or make suggestions if you need some professional advice. Winthrop is also the location of one of the best Nordic ski tuners in the country. For that perfect wax and stone grind see Mark Waechter at Nordic Ultratune. Mark tuned skis during the Olympic Games in Whistler and regularly receives UPS packages from skiers all over the world needing his expert grind.
Where to rent and get lessons
Methow Valley Ski School and Rentals offers all types of ski rental and skate skiing lessons from certified instructors at three locations in the Methow Valley: Sun Mountain Lodge, Mazama Junction, and Methow Cycle & Sport in Winthrop. Lessons are $40.00 for a half-hour and $60.00 for a full hour, skate ski rentals are $23.00 for the first day and $15.00 for each additional day. More information about lessons and rentals can be found here. Winthrop Mountain Sports also has economical ski rental packages starting at $17.00 for the first day and $9.00 each additional day.
Where to stay
A complete list of lodging in the Methow Valley along with prices, amenities, and lodging links can be found at the Methow Valley community site. However, the adventurous overnighters will want to find their quantum of solace at one of the many remote ski-in Rendezvous Huts located throughout the trail system; the views are worth the effort it takes to get there. Huts sleep 8-10 skiers; offer fully equipped kitchens, wood stove, and an outhouse for that true rustic living experience. Hut prices range from $125-$200 depending on the time of year. More information and reservations can be found here. A note on lodging – if you stay at Brown’s Farm, be sure to take dog treats for Henry, the unofficial watchdog of the community trail parking lot located adjacent to the farm. Local legend has it that when Henry was a younger pup he would patrol up to the Rendezvous and guide skiers back several miles to the Mazama Store. True or not, Henry is one cool dog.
With the jagged snow covered peaks of Washington’s North Cascades as your back drop, settle in for a hot cup of coffee or restorative meal at one of the Valley’s many local eateries. For that quick warm-up try the Noca Coffee House on Riverside Drive in Winthrop. Noca gets 4.5 stars (out of 5) on Yelp and uses homemade chocolate in their decadent mochas. The eclectic shop is warm, friendly, and smart with conversations ranging from American literature to the science of matching ski grind and wax to the prevailing snow crystal conditions. For a more hearty alpine meal and spirits try The Sun Mountain Lodge (can’t beat the views), Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon & Cafe (because it is the oldest legal saloon in Washington), or the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for its great bar food, live music, and quirky schoolhouse architecture. For more dining options throughout the Valley go to Methownet.
What not to miss
The Methow Valley Nordic Festival happens from January 24-26. The three-day event hosts between 80-100 participants as part of the American Ski Marathon Series and offers a one-day 15 kilometer race or a two-day 45 kilometer Pursuit race. There is also a relay race option for those that want to compete as a group. Between race days, join participants, visitors, and friends on Saturday night for a Salmon dinner at the Winthrop Red Barn. Race registration and dinner tickets can be purchased online. For a calendar of other special ski events in the Valley visit the Methow Valley Sports Trail Association website.