A Quest to Shred Washington’s 15 Ski Mountains

By Ryan Murray

Sitting in the office of a work-sponsored counselor talking about the wintertime blues, I received some of the best advice I had ever heard. Like most good advice, it was obvious and simple, but I needed it said to me to understand. “Find things you enjoy doing, and make time for them,” said the counselor.

Let me explain how I got to this point. 

I was almost 40. Having spent over two decades focused on developing marketable skills to support my family, I had forgotten how to have fun. It was winter, and winter had come to be a cold dreary ball of suck.

My employer offered free wellness counseling, and I thought, “Why not?” It helped me realize I had forgotten to make time for things I enjoyed in the winter and instead had been slogging through work and home responsibilities without much respite. 

Thinking back to my younger years, I used to start dreaming of winter before summer was over, not dreading it as I did now. I wondered why.

49 Degrees North Mountain Resort snowy treed run.
49 Degrees North Mountain Resort in northeast Washington. // Photo: Ryan Murray

I remember eagerly anticipating ski swaps to comb through the deals and pick up gear. Once the snow came, I would hit the hills as often as I could bum a ride up to the lift area. Was skiing what was missing from my life? 

The Toyota Free Ski Days happened to be going on and I drive a Toyota. It seemed like a good chance to find out if strapping on a pair of planks was the winter elixir I needed. I took a day off work, loaded up the car, and took off. It was fantastic.

This was the high I had been missing, the rush of adrenaline flying down the hill. However, the problem I quickly hit the next week was that as a goal-oriented person it was hard to schedule time for “fun.” 

The solution was simple: I would make skiing into a goal. I realized that I had never been to many of the ski areas on the Toyota Days calendar, and that gave me the idea to find and ski every resort in Washington state.

I’ve lived here most of my life, why not ski it all? This goal was achievable, fun, and ridiculous enough to get me out of the house all winter. If people can hike the highest mountain on every continent, why couldn’t I ski every resort in Washington?

Like the state’s population, the ski resorts of Washington are diverse and each special in their own way. Check out the list in the sidebar for my personal take on each

Wooden sign atop a run at Mission Ridge ski area..
Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort, in Washington’s central Cascades. // Photo: Ryan Murray

Shortly into my ski odyssey, I tore my knee apart. Being out of shape and having bad form was a disastrous combination that derailed my goal for four years.

Every skier should know how to prevent an ACL injury. I wish I had taken 15 minutes to read these tips to prevent injury before I tore my ACL and spent countless hours in surgery, recovery, and rehabilitation. The basics for knee protection are: 1) Arms forward, 2) Feet together, 3) Hands over skis.

ACL tears are different for everyone. I had a hard time walking without my ACL and decided to get the reconstruction surgery. 

After my surgery, I started drifting more toward cross-country skiing to take it easy on my knee. The type of downhill skiing that I enjoy (going fast, jumping off things) is more scary than fun now that I know what can go wrong. But before I hung up my alpine skis, I needed to finish my goal.

This last winter I picked up the one ski area I was missing, Hurricane Ridge. Completing a ski journey that started on a rolling carpet in Bellevue and ended 34 years later in the Olympic Peninsula, I skied every public resort in Washington. 

Having a defined ski goal not only made winters fun again, but it gave me a better perspective on life. It reminded me to schedule time to inject some silliness and fun into my routine. This has not only helped my wintertime blues but also spilled over as a strategy to get more enjoyment from the rest of the year. While I may be transitioning to more cross-country skiing, these days, I’m more committed than ever to making goals and getting out to do things that bring me joy.

Originally published as “Skiing Them All: A Quest To Shred Washington’s 15 Resorts” in the November-December 2021 issue.

Here’s Ryan Murray’s list of all 15 of Washington State’s public alpine ski areas, with brief personal notes about each one.

Snowy slope with trees at Sitzmark ski area.
Sitzmark Ski Hill in north-central Washington, in Okanagan County. // Photo: Ryan Murray

Ryan Murray works as a chemical engineer in Washington state. He enjoys dragging his three kids on adventures and hopes that one day they will realize how much fun they are having. When not playing in the snow, he enjoys hiking and is trying to section hike the Washington stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail.   

Find more stories about Northwest ski mountain destinations in the the OTO archives.

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