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The Inside Line: Wallowa, OR

Travel Pacific
By Chris Solomon
posted: 12/24/2002

Elevation: 8,150 feet Vertical Drop: 3,700 feet Snowfall: 300 inches (at summit) Getting There: The Tramway is located six miles south of Joseph in northeastern Oregon. From Portland, take I-84 east to La Grande, then Highway 82 to Joseph (320 miles). Info: 541-432-5331, wallowalaketramway.com

Beta: In 1970, the Wallowa (Wahl-AH-wa) Lake Tramway, the (then) tallest lift in North America, was built outside the drowsy ranching town of Joseph, a prelude to a major ski resort that never followed. Today the 3,700-foot tram attracts just a couple dozen skiers annually. They show up on winter Saturdays, the only day the lift runs, ready for unforgettable powder runs on 8,241-foot Mount Howard and in the nearby Eagle Cap Wilderness, home to some of the Northwest's finest backcountry turns. Two-hour to two-day traverses along rocky, wind-scoured ridgelines lead to a succession of chutes and east-facing bowls, each bearing Wasatch-worthy snow. Those feeling avalanche-proof can even find uninterrupted 5,000-foot shots. Call it Oregon's little La Grave.

Powder Day
If coverage is good down to Wallowa Lake (it's rare) get an unlimited day pass ($22) and yo-yo the north-facing glades of Mount Howard. If not, buy one ride ($17) and use the tram as a giant stepladder to the backcountry.

3 Days Later
This is ranch country; the cows leave more tracks than the skiers. But if the snow is a little sun-cooked, shuttle a car to the Ferguson Ridge ski hill, about 12 miles away. From the top of the tram, drop east to your rig-through short shots preserved by sheltering pines, then down a three-mile roller coaster of a logging road.

Spring day
March is the best time to ski in eastern Oregon. Gain the north-south ridge between the tram and 9,702-foot Aneroid Mountain and harvest corn in the half-dozen east-facing bowls that drain into nearby McCully Creek.

The Riding
Bring a split board or snowshoes, and be prepared to traverse.

[250AD LEFT]

Proving Grounds
Marquee route: Top out on the Tramway and traverse the ridgeline south for two hours to an unnamed bowl that offers views of Hells Canyon and Seven Devils Hills.
Off-Broadway: Later in the season, after the tram's closed, drive five miles southwest of town and head up Falls Creek. Here, locals climb 4,000 feet up Sawtooth Peak to earn 1,000-plus-foot shots well into summer.

Backcountry Access
From the tram, point your compass south toward 9,572-foot East Peak and the start of the untapped Eagle Cap Wilderness. For a multiday traverse, call Wing Ridge Ski Tours (800-646-9050) or Wallowa Alpine Huts (800-545-5537).

Drinking & Dancing
Joseph doesn't exactly kick up its heels after dark, but The Embers Brewhouse (514-432-2739), on the main drag, has a big-city array of microbrews. Or, head north to the Terminal Gravity Brewery in Enterprise (541-426-0158).

Fuel
Load up on apple turnovers at the WildFlour Bakery (541-432-7225) and quiz owners and backcountry skiers Jim Nave and Peg Rodgers about conditions in the hills. Terminal Gravity serves up arguably the best food in a three-county area-a rotating menu of standards like pasta and fajitas.

Digs
The Indian Lodge Motel in Joseph has serviceable motel rooms for $37 and up (888-286-5484). Or try the 80-year-old Wallowa Lake Lodge, near the tram ($65; wallowalake.com).

Must-know
Mount Howard has no avalanche control, ski patrol, or signage. Bring a beacon, shovel, probe, avalanche awareness, and more than a nickel's worth of common sense.

Essential Gear
Clutch your Wallowa-Whitman National Forest topo map close; guess at drainages here and you might be facing an unexpected bivy. ($6; fs.fed.us/r6/w-w)

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