The Methow Valley is located on the East slopes of the Cascades – the combination of Eastern Washington weather (sunny and cold) and beautiful mountain scenery make it a popular destination for winter sports. Wendy and I – tired of all the rain we’ve had lately – decided to head out for an extended weekend of frolicking in the snow.
It’s a 4 hour trip from Seattle; much of it is very scenic driving over the mountain passes, so time goes by quickly. Once you get down to the Columbia river valley you enter the fruit tree desert around Wenatchee. It’s remarkable how every bit of arable land is densely planted with meticulously pruned fruit trees; but the monotony is not so appealing – both visually and from an ecological perspective. Also, the discrepancy between the lavish mansions of the orchard owners and the shacks of the migrant farm laborers is disconcerting.
Once you turn off the main road and head up the Methow valley, natural beauty again takes center stage. Our destination was the Methow Valley Inn in Twisp. It was a good choice: Twisp plays second fiddle to the more touristy Winthrop, which suited us just fine. The businesses cater more to the locals and the place feels more authentic. Of course, the locals are no longer the farmers and miners of yore – lots of wealthy retirees and Seattleites seeking a more rural lifestyle. On the bright side, that means you can get excellent vegetarian food and locally roasted coffee.
The Methow Valley Inn is an old 1923 hotel. It’s hasn’t been altered much since then and is one of the nicest places in town. Terry Larson, the inn-keeper, has been running the place since the mid-90s and clearly enjoys what he’s doing. He really makes you feel at home and treats you like family; many of the other guests had been coming here for years. Terry has done a nice job of creating inviting communal spaces: the big breakfast table with a view of the mountains, the giant fireplace in the living room, or the kitchen table where complimentary soup is served to hungry skiers every afternoon.
Saturday was a perfect sunny winter day. We decided to go skiing and drove to Mazama at the end of the valley. The little ski shop soon had us equipped and we set off on the communal trail that runs all the way from Twisp to Mazama and beyond (about 40km one way). The snow levels were a bit lower than normal, but still excellent for cross-country. This was Wendy’s second time ever on cross-country skis. A bit shaky at first, she quickly got the hang of it and was moving at a respectable pace. The valley is perfect for skiing – wide enough to let in lots of sunshine; lightly wooded, allowing great views of the surrounding mountains; the meandering river adding its charm to the beautiful scenery. We got a bit carried away by all of it and slightly overestimated the distance we could cover – our pace slowed significantly the last few miles and we were glad to finally get back to Mazama and a nice bowl of hot soup. But we enjoyed every minute.
On the way back to Twisp we stopped for a drink in Winthrop at the 3-Fingered Jack Saloon. An old-timer was sitting next to me at the bar drinking whiskey and coke. When he leant over to talk to me I feared I was about to be subjected to some incoherent ranting … but to my surprise and delight it was quite the opposite. Jim turned out to be one of the pioneers of the aero-space industry and a really fascinating person. He’d been to almost every space port in the world to participate in satellite launches, including a 1996 visit to the previously top-secret Chinese launch facility; he knew Armstrong and Aldrin; he’d been a Peace Corps volunteer in India in 1968 … and he had amazing stories to tell about all of it.
Sunday we sadly already had to head back again, but there was time enough for some snow-shoeing in the morning. Terry had suggested an area of rolling hills that is a favorite among locals. As usual, we were a bit over-zealous at the beginning and chose the steepest hill around for our first foray into snow-shoeing. But when things started to get a bit too hairy, we wisely decided to backtrack and explore the more gently rolling hills on the other side of the road. The snow was firm, the air was clear, and the views were spectacular. Soon it was past noon and time for us to depart – but we will definitely be back.