Seattle’s Backyard Winter-Wonderland

Snowboarding and Skiing:

Skiing and snowboarding are the top Washington winter pastimes. For Seattleites, the plethora of places surrounding the city offers a huge number of opportunities to hit the slopes. Mount Baker reigns supreme — if you’re willing to make the three hour drive and pay for a $780 season pass. Stevens Pass, on the other hand, is about an hour and a half east of the city and offers 37 runs and over 1,000 acres of skiable land. Plus, Stevens is a favorite among students for its college pass, which gives college snow junkies a season’s worth of access for $329.

Tubing/Sledding:

But maybe rocketing down mountains on thin skis or a waxed-up snowboard sounds a little traumatic. In that case, why not return to the powdery years of your youth and go tubing? A 45 minute drive out of town will take you to Snoqualmie Pass, which has a sledding hill where tubes can be rented for $5.50 a day. The hill even has tube rope tows, if standing up doesn’t quite suit your fancy. Heather Meadows at the top of the Mount Baker Highway also has a large, slippery area just begging to be sledded over. Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park is another choice, though the long drive might make it less feasible. Seven-day passes into the park will run you $15 and, if you think you’ll come back throughout the year, you might consider a $30 annual pass.

Ice Skating:

It’s graceful. It’s fun. And if you’re lucky, you won’t fall and break your ankle. There are more than a few places around Seattle that allow newbies to strap blades to their feet and try to not look foolish while they fall over. The local favorite is Castle Ice Arena in Renton, which boasts two different ice rinks, one full-sized and the other half-sized. Highland Ice Arena in shoreline is also well-reviewed and even offers a three-week class for those interested in performing in a Nutcracker Ice Show. There’s also the Lynwood Ice Skater which, like the other two rinks, only costs $7 for a day of holding onto a side rail for dear life.

Snow Showing:

Tired of taking walks around the city? Why not strap some snowshoes on and brave the great outdoors? Snowshoeing is great exercise and has the added bonus of making something that’s normally really boring into something adventurous and slightly dangerous. For those with some experience, Artist Point on Mount Baker Highway is famous for its stunning views of the mountain and the surrounding North Cascades. The round trip is five and a half miles with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet. If you’re just starting out, a good choice might be Wenatchee Crest in Blewett Pass. The route tends to be crowded—it’s groomed relatively frequently—but only has an elevation gain of 400 feet and the bulk goes along the crest of the mountains, offering stunning views on either side. Like any other outdoor activity during the winter, students attempting these trails should familiarize themselves with mountain conditions and avalanche procedures before heading out. Luckily for you: OAR will be hosting a course on avalanche safety this December.

Polar Bear Plunge:

Snow sports aren’t the only way to enjoy a frigid Northwest winter. If you’re not afraid of hypothermia and the shriveling of your extremities, the Seattle Polar Bear Plunge offers a delightful opportunity to bring yourself the closest you’ll probably come to freezing to death all year. For those unfamiliar, the Plunge essentially involves you and about a 1,000 half-naked strangers running into the frigid waters of Lake Washington and probably screaming a lot. It’s also free! The plunge happens every year on Jan. 1 at Matthews Beach Park at noon.

Car Watching:

If you really have no desire to move your body or put yourself in harm’s way, Seattle offers a particularly thrilling activity for those who live on or around our variety of hills. This one takes a bit of setting up: first, it has to snow in Seattle. After that, everything pretty much takes care of itself. Take position in the comfort of a coffee shop or at your window and watch as Seattle drivers slowly (and hopefully, safely) coast down the roads and into lamp poles. Try to stay off the sidewalks. For an added layer of fun, grab a friend and make bets over which stubborn drivers attempting the steepest roads will find themselves sliding slowly and surely backwards back down the hill.