My brother Scott and I started a tradition a few years back of trying to hike and ski Mt. Spokane as early in the season as possible. Most years, this has meant strapping climbing skins onto old skis and touring up the summit road to the Vista House on a meager few inches of snow in late October or early November. The ski back down is always interesting, usually not very good, and often a bit sketchy with rocks and patches of road pavement to dodge. But it’s more about getting ourselves stoked for the coming ski season and getting in a little exercise outside than making quality turns.

This year was no different. The five inches of light powder was enough to keep our skins from scraping pavement most the way to the top, but with no base and not enough snow, the descent was limited to poling our way back down the road the way we came. Definitely not the makings of an epic ski tale. For a while on the climb up, as my body protested the strange gliding movements and grip of tight plastic boots that seemed foreign after the long snowless summer, I caught myself wondering why in the hell we were doing this.

The answer came, as it always does, about halfway up the mountain as we stopped to adjust a boot buckle or jacket. The squeaking and clicking of bindings, boots, and skis gliding uphill let up, and the complete silence that took its place was startling. The layer of snow covering everything filtered out all sound except for a light, calming wind rattling through the trees.

Winter here in the Inland Northwest brings plenty of opportunities to strike out away from the crowds on skis or snowshoes to enjoy an unbeatable sense of serenity and solitude. But the snowy season wouldn’t be complete for most of us without also taking full advantage of ample opportunities to revel in the social side of winter. Like throwing yourself into the rush and camaraderie of sliding down the slopes with a few hundred kindred spirits at the local ski hill, teaming up for a Nordic race or ski or snowshoe outing, or sharing a glass of winter cheer around the glow of a bonfire or pub table at the end of a long day out in the cold. It’s the combination of these two distinct ways to experience the frozen months, preferably repeated over and over again from December through March, that defines the true spirit of winter here in the mountains. Let it snow!