Among Nordic ski aficionados, the Methow (properly pronounced as ‘Met-how’) Valley is revered as Washington State’s mecca. And Sun Mountain Lodge, a 15-minute drive from the town of Winthrop, is a AAA Four Diamond award-winning resort with front door access to more than 200 kilometers of machine-groomed Nordic ski trails surrounded by over a million acres of national wilderness and forest land.
Situated on 3,000 acres at an elevation of 3,000 feet with panoramic views of the North Cascade Mountains and the Methow Valley, Sun Mountain Lodge is the Northwest’s oldest and largest cross-country ski resort. Accommodations are separated into three buildings and eight different price categories: the Main Lodge (standard Four Diamond rooms), Gardner (superior) and Mt. Robinson (luxury). Altogether, there are 96 television-free guestrooms with fireplaces and scenic views of either the Cascades or the Methow Valley and Okanogan Forest. Guests can also choose to stay in one of the ten Patterson Lake Cabins, only 1.5 miles down the road. Cabin guests enjoy all Lodge amenities and Nordic trail access only 50 feet away from the cabins.
“There are four main parts of the Methow Valley Trail System that all link together,” explains Geof Childs, sales manager at Sun Mountain Lodge and volunteer Nordic Patroller for the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA). In addition to the Sun Mountain Lodge Trails, there are the Mazama Trails, Rendezvous Trails, and the Methow Community Trail, easily accessible from the Town Trailhead in Winthrop. MVSTA is a non-profit organization that builds and maintains the trails and also sponsors ski races, clinics and events-all part of their mission to develop and promote environmentally friendly, non-motorized recreation.
“The Sun Mountain Lodge is a great place to stay if you want to ski from your room and be able to relax after a hard workout without leaving the hotel,” says Spokane Nordic skier Mara Geffken, who has stayed at the Lodge with her family eight times so far.
“It’s a great place to combine amazing outdoor recreation and relaxation. There are numerous great trails with something to fit any mood,” says Geffken. “On Sun Mountain, the Little Fox trail and Aqua Loop are good warm-up trails. Then you can head up Thompson Road for a real work out-get ready to climb. Down in town, the Methow Community Trail is a great way to see the beautiful scenery and work on your technique because it has fewer hills.”
Sun Mountain Lodge first opened in 1968 and was renovated and expanded by new owners in the late 1980s. Recently, a five-year property renovation was completed, which included a new conference center and new guestroom décor, including arts and crafts created by local artists.
When guests aren’t free-heal burning, there are sleigh rides, snow shoeing, ice skating, two outdoor hot pools (essentially large hot tubs), an exercise room, activity and recreation center, gift shop, library, full-service spa, wine cellar, and casual and gourmet dining options. High-speed wireless Internet connection is available in all public spaces and the guest rooms.
“Most people spend their first day on the introductory trails at Sun Mountain or from those accessible in town – either Winthrop or Mazama,” says Childs. Sun Mountain Trails begin only 50 feet from the Lodge’s pro shop and include 13k designated as “Easiest,” 23k as “More Difficult” and 18k as “Most Difficult.”
“It’s not like an Alpine area,” says Childs about the trail rating system. “An expert skier would be very happy on our beginner trails.” What determines the skill level, he says, is the gradation for ascents and descents and the curviness of the trail.
There are also four Sun Mountain Trails designated for family skiing-the Sunnyside, Little Wolf Creek, Beaver Pond and Chickadee. Advanced skiing is found on the Thompson Ridge, Meadow Lark and Inside Passage trails. The Mazama Trails are considered great for beginning skiers because they’re mostly “Easiest” (28k), and the Rendezvous Trails provide access to Washington’s high-country hut system and backcountry skiing.
“After a hard day of skiing, both Twisp and Winthrop offer good food options,” Geffken says. “We like to go to the Burnt Finger, just outside of Winthrop, for amazing barbeque or go to the Twisp River Pub for great burgers, local beer and live music. And we always need to do some shopping for outdoor gear at Winthrop Mountain Sports.”
“Because the community is so recreation and family oriented, it’s easy for visitors to fit in,” says Childs, adding that “Methow casual” is a term to best describe the community’s vibe.
Equipment rentals and trail passes are available at the Lodge, as well as individual and group lessons for all levels of skate skiing, track and telemark techniques.
And coming December 13-16, Sun Mountain Lodge will host the Methow Valley Cross Country Ski Camp, which is open to all skill levels. And for those needing their downhill ski or snowboard fix, the Loup Loup Ski Bowl is not too far away – only 12 miles east of Twisp.
Whether you’re a novice or competitive Nordic skier, Sun Mountain Lodge has the essential ingredients for a totally sweet road trip this winter.
When You Go:
Sun Mountain Lodge is about a four-hour drive from Spokane. Drive west on Highway 2 to the junction with Hwy 174. Turn right and proceed northeast on 174 through Grand Coulee to Bridgeport. Continue west on Hwy 173 to the junction with Hwy 97 at Brewster. Turn left and follow Hwy 97 approx. 7 miles to Pateros. Turn right onto Hwy 153 until you reach Hwy 20 and then drive west to Twisp. About six miles west of Twisp, just past milepost 196, turn left onto Twin Lakes Road. At 1.6 miles turn left onto Patterson Lake Road and drive 6.4 miles to Sun Mountain Lodge. (You can also drive Hwy 174 to Hwy 155, then Hwy 97 to Hwy 20.)