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The Inside Line: Stevens Pass, WA

Travel Pacific
By Chris Solomon
posted: 07/28/2004

Elevation: 5,845 feet Vertical Drop: 1,784 feet Snowfall: 482 inches Getting There: Stevens Pass is located 78 miles northeast of Seattle at the crest of the Cascades. Take I-405 north to Highway 522. At Monroe, head east on Highway 2 to the pass. Info: 206-812-4510, stevenspass.com

Beta: Stevens Pass is known more for buffed blue-square cruisers and lift-line gridlock during ski-school sessions than for hairbag descents. Hardcore locals who've logged time at this Cascade resort know better. Skied smartly, Stevens is a rowdy little playground: Its fan-shaped front side is crowned with rock palisades harboring I-think-it-goes-through chutes and pocket bowls whose brevity is the only thing that keeps them anonymous. The back side is timber-flecked and furrowed with gullies. Finally, all this terrain sits in the gun sights of a snow vortex so large that the state highway department uses a surplus battle tank for avy work.

Powder Day
Before the lifts open, stand between the Big Chief and Hogsback lifts and try to divine which will open first. If it's Hogsback, ride it to the Tye Mill chair, then plunge into Mill Valley's Corona Bowl. Take the Southern Cross chair back up to Polaris Bowl or the 1,774-foot plunge down Andromeda Face. Repeat as needed. If the Big Chief bullwheel turns first, ride to the back side and yo-yo on Andromeda Face from the get-go.

3 Days Later
Skirt the area boundary east of Big Chief Bowl and follow the fall line as it descends through the trees to an RV parking lot and a short walk back to the lifts.

Spring Day
Beeline for any south-facing slope in Mill Valley (Andromeda Face or Gemini will have good coverage). Later, hop back to the front side where the frozen bumps on Rock Garden will be nicely buttered up.

The Riding
With only one catwalk (on the ridge above Mill Valley), the mountain requires that snowboarders do mercifully little knuckle-rowing to get around.

Proving Grounds
Marquee route: Though it mellows to a single diamond after 700 feet, Double Diamond on the front side is the run to induce exquisite thigh burn.
Off-Broadway: Jump-start your Stevens street cred by skiing the mineshaft plunges off Cowboy Mountain and Cowboy Ridge.

Backcountry Access
Hike out Cowboy Ridge and ski the glades at its terminus. Skin up adjacent Rooster Cone, choose a couloir, and huck your meat. Then climb nearby Fleur de Lis, to the eponymous 1,000-foot line. The runout deposits you feet from the Southern Cross chair. As always, go backcountry prepared.

Drinking & Dancing
With no base-area lodging, Stevens clears out early. Head 32 miles east to the faux-Bavarian town of Leavenworth, where you can drink a Leavenworth IPA while tapping your wool-socked Chaco to live bluegrass at Uncle Uli's Pub (509-548-7262).

Fuel
The one-blink towns between Seattle and Stevens have little to recommend them gastronomically, except Sultan Bakery (360-793-7996). The pastries are a diabetic's worst nightmare. On-mountain, it's ribs and burgers hot off the barbie at Outer Limits Grill. In Leavenworth, Gustav's (509-548-4509) has Whistling Pig Wheat from the Leavenworth Brewery and the usual pub grub.

Digs
On the budget end, the riverfront Valley Cottage Motel, seven miles east of Leavenworth ($35-$45; 509-548-5731) has cabins that can sleep up to five. For a treat, stay at Mountain Home Lodge ($270 and up, with meals; 800-414-2378). Accessible only by snowcat, it has X-C skiing and a 1,700-foot toboggan run.

Must-Know
Between Christmas and mid March, weekend lift lines resemble Depression-era bread riots. Play hooky and ski midweek.

Essential Gear
Pack a chamois cloth (10 bucks at the hardwaare store). Plenty of Northwest face shots translate into goggles with San Francisco-density fog.

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