That is correct – 888 miles for 3 ski areas in Northeast Oregon. The trip started in Portland. The first stop was Friday night skiing / riding at Spout Springs, then Saturday morning at Ski Anthony Lakes, then over to Ferguson Ridge in the Wallowa Mountains Sunday, and back to Portland, OR Sunday night.

The open spaces of Northeast Oregon can be a hindrance and a thing of beauty, all at the same time. Right now, I must give thanks for the drives that lead from small town to small town, on endless stretches of concrete. Without those roads, I would have missed a lot of places that I have been, and I would not have been able to take the trip I took this past weekend.

I headed east on I-84, from Portland to La Grande, a mere 256 mile stretch that transported me from the west side of Oregon to the east side. It is very possible that the east side of Oregon is unchartered territory for a few of you. If this is true, you should plan a trip right now. Check out the Eastern Oregon Visitor’s Center website.


The east side of Oregon is distinctly different than the west and offers an experience that is very unique. Hopefully this little trip I take you on with this blog will spur a trip this weekend; it is the last weekend in January.

Arriving in La Grande around 5:30 pm on a Friday evening, I asked a couple of locals, “How can I have the most fun tonight?” This earned me a very wide array of responses. I knew what I was going to do, I just wanted to see if a group of locals gave me the option of skiing or snowboarding…and I heard “Go to Spout!”

The 35 mile drive to Spout Springs Ski Area from La Grande took me through Imbler (12 miles) and Elgin (8 miles). I didn’t stop, as there was no need to, being there are no lights or stop signs in either town. Both are quaint little towns that will offer you a chance for an Eastern Oregon experience, but don’t expect much to be open on Sunday.

It is very easy to get there from La Grande/I-84. Take Hwy 82 northeast (Wallowa Lake Hwy) from La Grande to Elgin (20 miles). Then take Hwy 204 west/north from Elgin, heading toward Westin. Spout Springs is 15 miles from Elgin, at the top of Tollgate.

DAY 1: SPOUT SPRINGS SKI AREA
On the way to Spout Springs, the snow started to drop and soon enough we saw the glow of the lights from Spout Springs. By the time we got to the parking lot and got our equipment on and boots laced, we had 2-3 inches of fresh snow on the ground.

Going to a new ski area is such an exciting time for me. I anticipate what the first run is going to be like, how long it will take me to get to know the area and what type of fun things are to be discovered.

Spout delivered with some fun areas. There were some runs that were much steeper than I was expecting from a ski area with 151 acres, 11 runs and 551 vertical feet. There was even a great terrain park with several small table-tops, a beautiful 25-30 foot table-top jump and a fun 40 foot long spine. The groomers at Spout Springs obviously appreciate a great terrain park feature, or two.

To the left are some local snowboarders playing on the bigger table-top. One boarder floated a nice Backside 180. Thanks for spinning for the camera guys!!

This next video is of some more locals playing on a bench the ski area has set-up near the lodges and ticket/rental shop.

After exploring Spout Springs, we headed down to La Grande and got some fuel for our bodies. We then made the 40 mile drive from La Grande to Baker City. We arrived at the Geiser Grand Hotel exhausted. The Geiser is a beautiful, historic hotel in Baker City, and we were very happy to be calling it home for a couple of days! We crawled into our oversized beds in our rooms with raised ceilings and antiques hanging throughout the building and immediately started to recharge our batteries for the days to come.

Portland to La Grande = 256 miles
La Grande to Spout Springs = 35 miles
Spout Springs to Baker City = 75 miles
Total miles = 366 miles

DAY 2: SKI ANTHONY LAKES
A great nights sleep and we loaded the car for Ski Anthony Lakes. This is a great area that I visited in early December, visit the first Ski Anthony Lakes Blog for details.

It is 34 miles from the Geiser Grand Hotel to Ski Anthony Lakes parking lot…I’ve made that trip many times. It is a gorgeous drive with views of the Elkhorn Mountains, open ranchlands and cows roaming and grazing in the winter conditions. You normally do not see anyone on the drive, that is one of the things I love about being out in NE Oregon; small population = not many cars on the road…it makes for a very peaceful drive to the ski hill.

I called the snow report on the way up the hill. The report said 3″ of new in the last 24 hours; add the 2-3 inches they received a couple of days before and we had 5″-6″ of fresh snow in the less skied trees and runs. One of the amazing things about Anthony Lakes is powder can be found up to 3-4 days after a dump; no crowds = more powder turns for me!!

We found fresh powder turns in the trees between Holiday and Bert’s Run; skiers left of Starbottle, through the Meadow and onto Road Run; skiers right on Schuss Alley; on Avalanche (a short hike from Starbottle); and in the trees dropping off of Paint Your Wagon into Tumble Off (click for a trial map). Speaking of Tumble Off; I enjoyed a couple of Tumble Off runs on the hill and also enjoyed a couple of the Gold Medal Tumble Off pints in the Starbottle Saloon.

I had a fun race with some friends at Anthony Lakes. Above is a video of Kiara (skier) and Kenny (snowboarder) getting the best of me in a short, fun race. Skiing and riding is soo much fun!!

Ski Anthony Lakes has a nice little terrain park in their “Meadow” with gorgeous views of the surrounding peaks: The Lakes Lookout, Lees Peak, Angel and Gunsight. One of their terrain park features is a wooden log, sawed in half for a smooth surface to slide/grind on. Towards the end of the day, my legs were feeling the work put in searching and navigating the fresh powder, so I hit up some grooms, as they were still in great shape; fast and soft.

It seemed like the entire ski hill was looking forward to the party at the end of the day. It so happened that Al “Too Loud” MacLeod and the Silencers were playing some great rock-n-roll later on in the Starbottle Saloon.

The atmosphere for live music at Anthony Lakes is unbelievable! Everyone dancing and having a great time, music bouncing around the saloon and a bubbling, energetic crowd that had an awesome day of skiing and riding Anthony Lakes!! Live music happens several times at Ski Anthony Lakes throughout he season, if you are able, go check it out, it is a great time!

After enjoying the entertainment, we headed back down to Baker City and enjoyed a late dinner and awesome beer at Barley Brown’s Brewery.

Miles to date = 366 miles
Geiser Grand to Ski Anthony Lakes = 34 miles
Ski Anthony Lakes to Geiser Grand = 34 miles
Total Miles of Day 2 = 68 miles

TOTAL for 2 days = 434

DAY 3: FERGUSON RIDGE
Plenty of sleep and relaxation at the Geiser Grand Hotel, including stepping into terry-cloth robes (provided by the hotel) from the hot tub. Big breakfast in the morning, under the sunlit stained glass ceiling was very enjoyable. The service was fantastic and the food was great! Check out some of the Haunted Hotel events at the Geiser, they are a blast as well!!

The third and final ski area on this adventure is Ferguson Ridge in the Wallowa Mountains Ferguson Ridge is 6 miles east of Joseph, OR off of the Imnaha Hwy, and is the epitome of the “community ski area.” Charlie started the area in 1985. Visit Fergi (pronounced – furgy – as the locals call it), and I think you will experience the most “down home” ski area in the United States.

How do the locals know that Fergi is open? Check out the photo to the left. We saw 3 or 4 of these signs on our way up to the area. The ski area is literally a word-of-mouth ski area, ran 100% by volunteers.

The area is beautiful and if you have never seen the Wallowa mMountains (especially in the winter), check out the 30 second video just below: 360 degree, breathtaking views. This video was taken from the access road to Ferguson Ridge.

The info I found on the world wide web states that the vertical drop is 601 feet, the top elevation is at 5,803 feet, there are 7 trails and 2 lifts. The main lift is a T-bar. I am not sure how many of you have “ridden” a T-bar before, but it is an experience in itself, especially climbing 600 vertical feet. Lets just say that it takes a lot more concentration and effort than riding a high speed quad, or any type of “normal chairlift.”

The first couple of runs, we explored some of the “main” trails. There was a fun little half pipe, which was more of a natural gulley and fun to play on. There were rails set-up near this half pipe that the kids were sliding on. Being the powder hounds we are, we found some tracks that led into the trees on the north side of the ski area.

We went for it and found about 300 vertical feet of powder turns, the best run of the day. The snow pack isn’t too deep out there in the trees, and at times we had to jump and swerve sticks and limbs to make it through the soft powder. Above is a photo of our tracks in the fresh snow and sunshine!

We were hungry for some lunch about 2pm and headed into the “lodge.” Once again, a volunteer staff cooking and serving food and drinks. We lounged on the beautiful wood deck at Fergi and enjoyed the sunshine and friendly, family atmosphere. We knew it was a long drive back, so we stretched out after a long 3 days of riding, packed up and headed back to reality.

Miles to date = 434 miles
Geiser Grand to Ferguson Ridge = 120 miles
Ferguson Ridge to Portland, OR = 334 miles

TOTAL MILES = 888 miles

You know, next time you dread a long drive in/through the country, think about the horrible drives you have had to endure in the city, with traffic that seemed to crawl, and appreciate the long drives for what they are – part of the journey of discovery.

Jerry K.
Ski Oregon

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  1. Jessica says…

    Jerry – love this blog! Your descriptions of the drive to the eastern part of Oregon reminds me of my trip last year. Thanks for bringing back nice memories.

    Written on January 24th, 2007 / Flag this Comment
  2. Rona says…

    I was wondering why you did not stop in Union County? The Historic Union Hotel located in Union is so much closer and just as nice a the Geiser Grand. The miles between Historic Union Hotel and Ferguson Ridge is only 98 miles. Historic Union Hotel has a wonderful fireplace in the lounge and fine dinning in the dinning room. The rooms at the Histioric Union Hotel are all theme rooms which are fun in its self.
    Maybe next time you can give us a try.
    Good write up on the area.
    Thanks
    Rona
    La Grande, OR

    Written on February 2nd, 2007 / Flag this Comment
  3. Ravi says…

    Hi Jerry,
    Amazing trip/blog. I felt I was driving thro while reading your blog even from India. Thank you it reminded me of my short stay in Oregon. Keep writing…

    ravi

    Written on February 4th, 2007 / Flag this Comment
  4. Mo Sherifdeen says…

    Rona – I’m one of the editors at TravelOregon.com and we know what you mean about the Historic Union Hotel; I’ve personally toured the place and love the charming setting and decor; in fact we’re recommending it on our “Romantic Getaways” suggestions for Eastern Oregon – you can read the full story here.

    We’ll definitely try and stop by the hotel for a future blog story.

    Written on February 5th, 2007 / Flag this Comment
  5. Jerry K. says…

    Jessica,
    Thanks for the encouraging words and commenting on the blog! The drive was amazing…blue skies and beautiful scenery!
    I hope you are able to make a similar trip soon.

    Rona,
    I wish I would have stayed at the Union Hotel! I stayed there several years ago and loved the place! Unique and fun! Next time I am out east, I would really enjoy taking a tour and staying in my favorite – The Southwest Room – with the handcrafted furniture and live cactus!

    Ravi,
    Thank you for the kind words, I hope to keep traveling and writing! I hope you are able to road trip soon also!!

    Mo,
    Thanks!

    Written on February 7th, 2007 / Flag this Comment
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