At 9 a.m. on a Friday, the parking lot of Timberline at Mt. Hood was already filling up with SUVs and 4x4s as my husband, Marc, and I pulled in. The Wy'East Day Lodge echoed with the sound of slamming lockers and clomping ski boots. Roving bands of swaggering snowboarders in baggy pants and sweatshirts, their faces burnished with goggle tans, patrolled in bunches. Just like any other day during ski season. Except it wasn't ski season; it was early summer.
At nearly 6,000 feet, Timberline is nearly halfway up 11,239-foot Mt. Hood. Its chairlifts reach where the snow never melts. This is the land of endless winter. All year long, the Palmer Snowfield at Timberline, Mt. Hood's highest skiable terrain at 8,500 feet, remains white. Marc and I wanted to see it for ourselves.
Outside Wy'East (the Multnomah Indian name for Mt. Hood), at the base of the mountain, I used my hand as a visor and took in the scene. There were only a few skiers so far, but high up on its face, so high that they were mere specks, climbers attempted to summit the peak.
Marc, the biggest ski fan in the family, hit the lift for the first of 15 runs down the mountain. The view from the top of the glacier-like Palmer Snowfield was intimidating, he said, but each of the three groomed trails was about 30 feet wide, making turns easier. The snow was hard at first, melting into delightful sections of powder and crusty corn an hour later.
From LAX, nonstop service to Portland is offered on Alaska and United, direct service (stop, no change of planes) on Southwest and connecting service (change of planes) on United, Alaska, American and Delta. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $230.
Nearby at Timberline's terrain park, expert teen snowboarders from Windells Academy, the renowned training facility attended by Shaun White, were practicing aerobatic stunts with such names as Misty Flip 540 and Cork 900 Tail Grab. A professional photo shoot was in progress, capturing the freestyle skiers' tricks for promotion in magazines and videos.
By early afternoon, the trails were getting mushy, and Marc and I regrouped to plan the rest of the day. We chose a change in climate a few thousand feet down the mountain. Another surprise was in store: It's possible to ski and golf on the same day. The Courses at the Resort at the Mountain in Welches, Ore., has 27 holes open to the public. "We have a group of guys who come in late August every year and call themselves 'Ice and Slice,'" head pro Bryce Finnman told me.
Our golf games a bit rusty, we turned instead to the resort's croquet course, also open to the public, along with lawn bowling, a putting green, tennis courts and bicycles, for modest fees. The croquet course looked a lot bigger than I recalled from backyard games, but the satisfying thwack of a mallet on a wooden ball was the same. The warbling birds singing backup were a far cry from the "Woo Hoo!" of snowboarders ripping it up on the mountain.
It was past 2 p.m. when hunger got the best of us. Tucked away near the golf course, the Mallards Café & Pub took awhile to find, but when we did, we felt as if we had stumbled on a local secret, as indeed we had. Even if you don't know a birdie from a bunker, the view here is worth the trip. With visions of white-capped mountains still dancing in my head, I sat outside and munched a triple-decker, nursing an
(what else?) and taking in a 180-degree swath of lush green. The sun glinted off a distant golf club on the verdant course, while the fir-covered Huckleberry and Hunchback mountains rose in the distance.
After lunch, we decided to check in and explore Timberline Lodge, the historic hotel where we planned to stay. As Marc drove back up the mountain, I filled him in on the lodge's impressive pedigree. It was built in the late 1930s by Works Progress Administration workers willing to work in frigid temperatures and live in rugged encampments. Almost from the moment of its completion, Timberline was recognized as one of the great lodges of the Pacific Northwest. So arresting is its setting and architecture that its exterior was chosen to represent Overlook Lodge in the classic horror film "The Shining." It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
As I walked into the main lobby, my gaze rose up — and up. The lodge draws its inspiration from the mountain — and is itself on a mountainous scale. A hexagonal 92-foot fireplace rises from the lobby, encircled by spokes of colossal timbers. Giant windows on the first floor and mezzanine level frame either Mt. Hood or its sister peak, Mt. Jefferson. An array of artisans, including blacksmiths, stonemasons, woodcarvers, weavers and sculptors, created the building and everything in it. Their handmade work is on display or embedded everywhere, from giant polished desks and armchairs to thick wrought-iron gates and vivid stained-glass murals.
The past coexists comfortably with the present, though. Marc and I played ping-pong and tabletop shuffleboard in a room lined with a dozen oversized panels painted in the '30s, all charmingly depicting outdoor activities from skiing to picnicking.
Soon enough, another vision — this one of an ice-cold dirty martini — began to form. We claimed a window-side couch at the lodge's Ram's Head Bar and ordered drinks and a smoked salmon plate. Nearby, a table of preteens sipped mugs of hot chocolate. Actor
claimed a stool at the bar, his face sunburned from a day outside.
Seeking a more formal setting for dinner, we left the laid-back Ram's Head and decided to make an evening of it at the lodge's Cascade Dining Room. With its beamed cathedral ceiling, wall of glass and linen tablecloths, the Cascade is rustically elegant. We chose a local Oregon wine to pair with our oven-roasted wild salmon and roasted Oregon rack of lamb. The chef also favors locally sourced morels and chanterelles when available. Athletes not in training could add the chocolate raspberry bombe.
The next morning called for some exercise to atone. Behind Timberline Lodge, a network of easy to moderate trails wends its way. I laced up my hiking boots and took a morning walk in brisk air before the trails got crowded. As I walked uphill — and the sun rose higher in the sky — I shed layer after layer. After a while, a fleece and sweater were both tied around my waist, and my shirt sleeves were pushed up. My sunglasses and baseball cap came in handy.
For a longer adventure, some hikers ride the Magic Mile chairlift to the top and hike the mile back down to the lodge. Still snow-covered in early spring, the lower ski trails melt into hiking trails as the weather warms. In July and August, lupine and other wildflowers bloom on the mountain. A trail map from the U.S. Forest Service is available at the Mountain Services office at Wy'East. The lodge gift shop also carries a selection of area hiking guides.
We stayed as long as our flight time back to Los Angeles would allow. It was hard to leave this unique neck of the woods, where it's possible to ski, putt and play tennis all on the same day. As we headed home, I couldn't resist turning around for a last look at awe-inspiring Mt. Hood, ever snow-capped and glistening.