Skiing in Oregon and Washington can be incredible – volcanoes and glaciers allow for skiing year round, moisture-filled snow sticks to steeper faces, 10,000′ to 14,000′ mountains rise up from sea level making for some seriously long descents, and the area receives hundreds of inches of snow annually.
So when is the best time to ski in this area of the Pacific Northwest (PNW)? After comparing annual and monthly snowfalls of Oregon and Washington’s top 5 ski resorts, Mt. Baker, Timberline Lodge, Crystal Mountain, Mt. Bachelor, and Steven’s Pass, reading local blogs, and visiting countless resort websites, I came to a conclusion.
The best time to ski the PNW:
Mid-February through March
While other months may prove to be snowier, they can also be more unpredictable with bad weather, as well as crowded with tourists. January into early February trends as being slightly colder and drier. March looks to consistently bring the goods- powder skiing and spring skiing in one month, with a solid base depth!
Mt. Baker, Washington:
Mt. Baker receives an average of 663 inches of snowfall each year. Skiing this mountain in December can make all of your powder dreams a reality, however, it can be a very busy month, especially around the Christmas and New Year holidays. Unpredictable (and cold) weather and thin cover in places are also characteristics of early season skiing. January into early February tends to be colder and drier than December, while March can be just the opposite. In three average snow years, 08/09, 13/14, and 15/16, Mt. Baker saw 114 inches, 164 inches, and 170 inches of snowfall in March, respectively. In an above-average year, 16/17, March delivered 269 inches!
Timberline Lodge and Ski Area, Mt. Hood, Oregon:
According to a graph on the Timberline Lodge website, the average snow depth looks to make the biggest increase in December to January. However, there is another jump from February to March, and this increase occurs later in the season when the base snow depth is greater. Timberline receives an average annual snowfall of 550 inches, and due to its elevation and the presence of glaciers, is open to skiing year-round. There is something special about skiing spring conditions in the heart of summer, quite possibly making May, June, and July the best months for skiing this volcano.
Crystal Mountain, Mt. Rainier, Washington:
An average of 367 inches of snowfall falls annually on this mountain, the largest ski resort in Washington, and the area opens at the first sight of snow. Due to its location on Mt. Rainier, 26% of winter months see 90 inches or more, according to Z Rankings. December can be extremely snowy, with a history of 100+ inch Decembers over the years (OnTheSnow), but with that much snow comes storm days, sometimes for days on end. The true powder hounds will be out there of course, but if you’re looking to plan a vacation, the month of March will provide you with plenty of powder and bluebird days.
Mt. Bachelor, Oregon:
Mt. Bachelor, located outside of Bend, Oregon, receives an annual 460 inches of snowfall and boasts a long season from November to late May. December and January come with storm days and tourists, March with storms and powder coupled with spring conditions, and April and May with fair weather spring skiing and riding. Again, March seems to come out on top, averaging around 100 inches of snowfall each year.
Steven’s Pass, Washington:
Steven’s Pass receives 460 inches of snow annually, on average. Following the pattern of its fellow PNW resorts, the area sees quite a bit of snowfall in December, with January being slightly drier and colder. March seems to consistently have snow, however, even in low snow years.
There are countless backcountry skiing routes all over Oregon and Washington. During the cold winter months, glades and bowls around Steven’s Pass, Alpental Ski Resort, and other lower-elevation areas make for great ski touring. As spring progresses into summer, higher elevation areas, especially surrounding Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood, start to open up and become accessible with the snowmelt, giving way to fast, consistent snowpack, long runs, and year-round skiing!
With a snowy and stormy December and a slightly drier and colder January/early February, March will bring you longer days, a solid snowpack, fantastic powder skiing, blue skies, and spring skiing conditions.
Crystal Mountain, WA is the latest addition to the Ikon Pass, which now offers access to 36 iconic destinations across the globe.