Powder and Sunshine at Ski Anthony Lakes
Friday, Saturday & Sunday, December 1, 2 & 3, 2006
Snow Quality: 8 (1-10, 10 being perfect)
Ski Anthony Lakes is located 19 miles west of North Powder, Oregon; in the Elkhorn Mountain Range of the Blue Mountains in NE Oregon.
I got out of Portland about 2 pm on Friday, December 1. I was very excited about this trip, as this past week the Pacific Northwest received some great snow, falling in the low 20′s and teens across the state. The snow blanketed the scenery in low elevations, which would make the 300 mile drive out east much easier. Ice crystals hung on the walls to my right as I drove east on I-84, and all I could think about were the fresh turns waiting for me at Ski Anthony Lakes in NE Oregon!
Once I hit Hood River, the clouds broke up and the sun beat down, making the snow covered hills a spectacular background. I took the photo above at a rest stop between Hood River and The Dalles. I really enjoyed the entertainment of the train on the Washington side, as we raced along the Columbia River. This photo is one I have been looking for – the Columbia River, blue skies, sunshine, snow covered hills and the train as the clincher…difficult to have them all line up, especially when you are on a scheduled drive.
I pulled into La Grande around 6 pm and it was snowing so hard that my car had a half inch by the time I reached the center of the city. A quick stop at the local snowboard/ski shop, and I was ready to meet some friends and talk about what we would reap in the morning.
Day 1 – December 2, 2006
The morning brought clouds and fog, but as we approached Ladd Canyon (the pass between La Grande and North Powder), we could see the blue skies peeking through the overcast and urging us up the pass. The above photo was taken from the Anthony Lake Highway, about 5 miles west of I-84; the drive from I-84 to Ski Anthony Lakes shows Oregon’s open spaces, with cattle ranches, farmland and beautiful mountain ranges. Those are the Elkhorn Mountains in the background; the Wallowas are across the valley.
When arriving at Ski Anthony Lakes, the road winds to give you and your carload the first full glimpse of the mountain, and Saturday was a beautiful sight. The entire mountain was covered with a fresh 8-10″ since the last skier or rider unloaded off of the Rock Garden Chairlift, almost a week ago. Ski Anthony Lakes was in operation for the weekend only this past weekend, but will go to full operations on Thursday, December 7. Ski Anthony Lakes has the highest base elevation in Oregon (and Washington) – 7,100 feet. This elevation gives the area consistent light, dry snow. The snow comes in so light, that it is easy for a strong storm to blow it around and even blow it away. As a result, the base was at 25″; 34″ at mid-mountain.
We loaded on the chairlift around 9:25 am, and the snow was fantastic! The grooms were fast and soft, and off the grooms there were at least 8″ of new snow, much deeper in the wind-loaded sections. There was a very light crust layer on some of the southern, sun-exposed areas, but it was very breakable and still let everyone make powder turns all day long!
A couple of great things about Ski Anthony Lakes is that lift lines are very rare and the snow quality is consistently light and dry. Ask any local out in NE Oregon and they will tell you there is nothing like it, except maybe in Utah. To the left is a video of a local – John – skiing the Rock Garden face. The video is short, but it was a nice line. You really should go experience it for yourself…you will not be disappointed.
I spent four years working at this ski area, so there is a spot in my heart for this place, there always will be. I took turns riding with locals and friends. I explored the runs I felt I knew well, as the snow depth was not quite enough to cover every rock. I did hit a few rocks and stumps, but nothing serious. In fact, Burton was on the hill that day, offering free demos to anyone that signed-up. This was the first day of the 2006-07 Burton Demo Tour, and they had a magnificent one for kicking off their tour.
The run of the day was Upper College (click for a trial map). There was about a foot of new snow and only 3 tracks when I first dove onto the steep, upper run. I exhausted that run, starting my next 4 runs there and finishing with Variety, Vista, Grouse and Lower College.
Then I explored the North side of the ski area, including the right and left sides of Broadway, the longest run at Ski Anthony Lakes (1.5 miles). The sides were stacked with soft, deep, untracked powder.
After 5 hours of riding, my legs were worn. I could feel the burn about mid-way down on my last 2 runs, so I decided to call it a day and visit with friends, and former co-workers. I had a Mountain Burger and a cold pint of Tumble Off Pale Ale – the best beer you have never heard of, and named after a run at Ski Anthony Lakes. There is a small brewpub in Baker City (about 34 miles from Ski Anthony Lakes) – Barley Brown’s Brewpub. They brew the Gold Medal Winning Tumble Off Pale Ale (Great American Brew Festival & the North American Beer Awards). Out of 84 pale ale brews, Tumble Off took the first place, Gold Medal. I always knew it was one of the best beers I had ever tasted in my life (wait until the IPA comes out this spring!), and I am very happy for Tyler and Shawn – Congratulations!!! Baker City Herald Newspaper Article.
College football was on the big screen in the Starbottle Saloon and Mike (bartender) was working the crowd as he always does. This ski area is so special, the General Manager, Operations Manager and Marketing Director make the rounds, talking with the extended A. Lakes family…when you leave, you seriously miss this place, even if you know you will return again soon. It’s a true experience, for the hard-core skier/rider and also for the family of 5.
The drive down to Baker City let me know how tired I actually was. There was no way I could handle the brewpub, so I pulled into my hotel room in Baker City and had a great nights sleep, making sure I was ready for the next day at the local hill.
Day 2 – December 3, 2006
The trees are my favorite place to ride, especially with fresh snow, just begging me to push around. So, arriving on Day 2, no new snow, but more beautiful sunshine, I started contemplating what trees would still have some fresh snow and be the best to ride.
This took me and a good friend (and 7 year local) – Kenny – to the trees between Trouble Creek and Variety. There is a little gully there that fills in with snow and offers a small half-pipe-shaped gulley.
The walls are not too high or steep, but a perfect gulley to slide up and down and back and forth, giving a really cool feeling of being surrounded by trees and spraying powder up on the walls. We combined a semi-tracked-up Upper College with this Variety Gulley a couple of times, then headed to the south side of Variety, where trees let you zip on-and-off the groom and in and out of fresh powder for days after a snow storm.
Now we needed energy. Jackie and the kitchen crew always have a great special for lunch, and today they served up Fresh Cornbread. I topped mine with some chili and it was delicious! Satisfying my hunger, warming me up, and giving me energy to push on for the afternoon rides!
Next we ventured into the Meadow, which is in between Vista and Starbottle. We then ventured over to the south side of the ski area and played down Starbottle and Avalanche.
On the last run I interviewed Kenny (see video on top), and we headed into the Starbottle Saloon to chat with Mike (bartender), Rick (GM), Amy (Operations Mgr) and Becky (Marketing Director). We showed our photos and videos and shared our great riding and skiing stories with other locals in the Saloon.
I really cannot say enough about this place. If you have never been, you need to go. If you have been before, this little blog should get you on the web, planning your next trip!
Editor’s Note: Jerry Krieg is the Director of Marketing for our partner SkiOregon ; his column “Jerry’s Powder Dispatch” will appear all ski season and chronicles Jerry’s inexplicable need for fresh powder.