Ski at the hotel from The Shining, then move on to uncrowded slopes, on Oregon-Idaho road trip
- Timberline Lodge was the setting for Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic
- From there you can travel to Idaho, stopping off to ski on untouched powdery snow
A dense, cold nighttime fog has descended onto my hotel in the heart of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. It is a little bit eerie given that this is the very same building that featured in The Shining.
Lovers of horror films will recall the similar conditions at the climax to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic – fortunately, however, I’m not about to be chased around in the snow by an axe-wielding madman: I’m here to go skiing.
For my hotel, Timberline Lodge, is the one and only hotel at Timberline ski resort on Mount Hood, Oregon, and as well as being a Hollywood star it also offers ski in/ski out convenience. By morning the fog has turned into heavy snowfall, which means that although it is high season, the tree-lined slopes are almost empty and I have the shin-deep powder to myself.
Timberline is my second stop on a winter road trip through Oregon and Idaho, which started at Mount Hood Meadows on the opposite side of Mount Hood from Timberline.
When I arrived at Mount Hood Meadows there hadn’t been a snowstorm for several weeks so I got to ski hard-packed pistes in brilliant sunshine. Not the best ski conditions, but here too, the slopes were very quiet and offered incredible views across Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, with endless ridges of forests fading blue-green into the distance and peaks such as 10,497ft Mount Jefferson poking their snowbound summits above the trees into a cobalt blue sky.
A storm hits two days later, and from then on it snows almost every day of the trip. I am tempted to remain at Timberline Lodge for more than just one night – it is nowhere near as bleak as it appears in Kubrick’s film, which only actually features the hotel’s exterior.
The lodge trades to some extent on The Shining connection, but surprisingly few overseas guests seem to be aware of it until they arrive and find T-shirts featuring Jack Nicholson’s grinning visage and the catchphrase ‘Here’s Johnny!” for sale in the hotel souvenir store.
Most guests come for the skiing, and the classic 1930s ambience. Built by local artisans during the Great Depression and opened by President Roosevelt in 1937, the lodge’s interior features huge fireplaces, original handcrafted furniture, artwork and textiles and rooms that are snug and cosy against the worst of the Pacific northwest winters.
But soon it is time to hit the road again. From Timberline I drive south to base myself for two nights in the über-cool town of Bend, which must have more beards, barbers and microbreweries per square mile than anywhere else on Earth.
From Bend it is a short drive to Mount Bachelor, which is renowned for its heavy snowfalls. I arrive in cold, brilliantly sunny conditions just after a foot of fresh snow has fallen, and meet two locals, Rheese Thedford and Geoff Angell, who give me a high-speed tour. The resort is so quiet that we ski fresh powder all day without even having to venture off-piste.
As we hop onto the Northwest Express chairlift I tell Thedford, the resort’s director of sales, that if we were skiing in the Alps at this time of year the lift queues could be up to 20 minutes long. I ask him if he has ever been there.
“Look around, why would I want to?” he replies. Taking in the snow-draped fir trees, wild mountains and empty pistes I have to admit that he has a point.
Unlike Thedford, I have to get away the next day for the 320-mile drive along Highway 20 to my next stop, Boise, Idaho. Like Oregon’s ski hills, the road is almost empty of humanity and offers the classic US driving experience: put your favourite tunes on full volume, hit cruise control and go, along endless, straight blacktop through high desert country.
In Boise I meet up with a friend for the next leg of the journey which would take us north almost to the Canadian border via four very different ski resorts.
The first, Bogus Basin, is a ski world anomaly: it is a locally-owned, non-profit operation with a very down-home vibe. Even so, it is the second biggest ski resort in Idaho and offers over 2,500 acres of terrain split equally between beginner, intermediate and expert, and if you use Boise as a base (it’s just 16 miles to the south) there are plenty of great après-ski options too.
It’s a holiday weekend when we visit which meant there were lift queues for the first time on the trip, but there is enough skiing here to spread everyone out, and we found more than enough space to do our own thing both on and off-piste.
Travelling to the scenic lakeside town of McCall the next day, we pass big forests, big mountains, big rivers, all the while with light snow falling. There are two ski hills within a 30-minute drive of McCall, one of which is Brundage Mountain, which boasts “the greatest snow in Idaho”.
When we get there, sub zero temperatures have left the immaculately groomed pistes squeaky and grippy, and still there is scarcely another skier in sight as we hoon around beneath a dazzling blue sky, the frozen waters of Payette Lake in the distance, either side of which lie some of the USA’s most remote mountains. In the afternoon, a laid-back local ski guide takes us off-piste into glorious snowy glades and steeps until, exhausted but happy, we head to the bar at the base of the mountain.
Tamarack, our next stop, does not look too promising at first – the resort closed briefly after the financial crash in 2008, leaving a scruffy collection of unfinished developments and a mothballed mountain restaurant, and there are only two four-person chairlifts to access the skiing.
But what skiing it is. There are several inches of powder to play in both on the pistes and among the trees; and we still find empty, untracked powder mid-afternoon among the 3,000 feet of vertical the resort offers.
Snow begins to fall again the next day as we drive 330 miles through wildest Idaho to Schweitzer Mountain, one of North America’s best kept secrets, lying at the southern end of the Purcell Mountains above lakeside mountain town, Sandpoint. The deep blue waters of Lake Pend Oreille lie below the resort, and snow encrusted pine trees, otherwise known as ‘snow ghosts’, stand proud on the upper slopes of peaks which rise to almost 6,500 feet.
Despite the modest altitude Schweitzer still offers 2,500 feet of vertical on uncrowded powder; and should it become busy (as it does on the second day of our visit – a Saturday, with fresh snow) you can go cat skiing among the trees on the north side of the resort, which stretch all the way to Canada and beyond.
This proves the perfect end to my trip; floating through feather light powder with just a handful of other skiers. Just as I swoosh to a stop on my final run, a bald eagle flies just a few feet overhead.
The nearest international airport for the starting point of this trip is Portland International Airport. The Oregon section of the road trip can be enjoyed on a 10-night trip with Ski Safari (skisafari.com). If you want to create your own itinerary, traveloregon.com and visitidaho.org are good sources.
Five more ski resorts to dodge the crowds this winter
Located at the end of a high alpine valley, the resort’s snow-sure slopes are seldom very busy.
Big Sky, Montana
The remote location of one of the USA’s biggest ski resorts helps keep the crowds down.
Val d’Anniviers, Switzerland
A picturesque valley of traditional ski villages that rarely sees lift queues or crowds.
Bad Gastein, Austria
A spa town with particularly good, long intermediate runs.
High and wild, with some excellent off-piste and more locals than visitors.