Thinking about sledding, tubing or just playing in the snow? For many families, a trip to the mountains (Mt. Hood) to see the snow and enjoy some family fun outdoors is a once a year or so event. An exciting day of adventure, with much anticipation. But if you don’t do this all the time there are many things that can get in the way of that much anticipated fun day in the snow. From many years of experience, as skiers, ski racers, and part-time residents of the Mt. Hood community, here are a few tips to make your day special and keep you and your family safe.
Prepare: From the car to kids clothing, nothing beats being prepared for the cold, wet weather that often surrounds our beautiful Mt. Hood. All that rain you deal with down in the valley is just as wet in the mountains, and a bit colder. People with experience in other dryer cold climates like the Rocky Mountains are surprised when they see our heavy wet snow. Everyone should have waterproof insulated boots, and waterproof pants, over something warm like fleece, wool, or other synthetic fabrics. Cotton is not a good choice for being out in the snow for a few hours. Hats and waterproof gloves are critical as these areas get cold fast. Also, consider renting a helmet at one of the local ski shops or snow tubing centers. Skiers almost all wear them these days and the impact from sledding run into something like a tree can cause a concussion if unprotected. Next stock the car with some water, snacks, maybe a thermos of hot chocolate or hot water. Traffic jams happen when the roads get icy and accidents on the highway can cause delays. You can end up in a place where you can’t go up or down for a while. Just better to have than not. And last if you have a car with snow tires on all four wheels and AWD great! But if you don’t drive to the mountain every weekend then probably you don’t. A front wheel drive car does better than rear wheel drive. Tires with good tread are important. Bald front tires on the best front wheel drive care will not work if there is snow on the road. And always carry tire chains and practice putting them on before you leave home. And finally, you will need a snowpark permit in most places you will go. These are available at stores in and around Government Camp like the Summit Chevron, Govy General Store, and at the ticket windows of the ski areas. There are daily parking passes or a season-long permit for about $35.
Where to go: There are two types of destinations to head to. One is free and with no services, snowpark areas where you kind of find a slope, drag the sled up the hill and hop on for a ride down. Repeat. After a few trips, everyone will be sweaty, tired, and need a rest. The best of these are on Highway 35 to the south and east side of the mountain.
White River Snow-Park: About 8 miles from Government Camp, and 4 miles from where Hwy 35 turns off Hwy 26, is White River. This snowpark holds about 200 cars at capacity and has some primitive toilets. Lots of open space to XC ski, sled, and just toss a snowball.
Little John Snowpark: A few miles further, past the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski area is Little John. A much less crowded snowpark on the Right side of Hwy 35 heading towards Hood River, Left side if you are traveling up from Hood River.
Tubing hills – Ski Bowl: For some non-stop fun and to keep the energy levels up try a tubing hill. These are places with up-hill transport, like a ski lift only for tubes, and their own nylon covered tubes for going down. These are great fun and the groomed slopes tend to be fast and furious. That said, they also have some margin of safety designed into their slopes, like something to slow you down at the bottom, and some organization at the top to send tubes at intervals. Ski Bowl operates this on the “Eastside” or Multorpor lodge side of the ski area. The lodge is also right next door with a full-service restaurant, food court, and bar. Oh, and warm indoor bathrooms are nice too. On the weekends after dark (including Friday night) they offer “Cosmic tubing” with strobe and laser lights, and rocking music to keep you going. This area is not safe for small children due to the crowds and fast action. Tickets are $27 Adult, $20 kids for 2 hours. For more go to their website.
Summit Ski Area At the East or upper entrance to Government Camp, at the Rest Area, is Summit Ski Area and Tube hill. Like other organized tube hills they only allow you to use their tubes, and for only $25, you get a tube from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, weekends, $20 weekdays. There is no uphill transport but they do have groomed tubing lanes. Summit also operates Snow Bunny, a little Sno-Park a few miles around the mountain past Timberline Road, where you can tube (not sled) for $20 all day.
What not to do.
- Stopping on the side of the highway and trying to find a place to sled is discouraged. Many places it’s flatly illegal and most places it’s crazy. Traffic in the winter months is often heavy on Hwy 26 and Hwy 35. The only safe place to stop for snow play, photographs, or anything else is a designated snow-park.
- Timberline Road is also NOT the place to go to see the snow. It’s narrow, winding, and has almost nowhere to pull off and stop. The Timberline ski area parking lot fills up by 10:00 AM on weekends, sometimes earlier. They block the road at Highway 26 when it’s full and turn people around. If you are not going skiing, save the visit to Timberline for a sunny summer day and go for a hike while enjoying the views.
- Side roads you don’t know. There are numerous small roads that turn off Highway 26 on the way up. When the snow level drops to 2000′ or lower many get snow. Most of these are roads to residences and do not have good places to park, turn around, or sled. Most do not get plowed, and though it might look “OK” from the highway you might not get turned around or make it out without the right vehicle. And once off the highway good luck calling for help. Cell signals die about 100′ from Highway 26 all along the area between Welches and Government Camp.