We met at the same time our kids did. Erik and Katie were on their high school Nordic ski team, Betsy and I were team moms – baking brownies, holding out warming capes for the kids in their spandex racing suits, riding the team bus and cheering at the meets. As the spark grew between our young skiers, so did the friendship between the two parent couples. Sharing a wedding ceremony between our children cemented the bonds for all of us.
When Amazon lured Erik and Katie out to Seattle two years ago, I wondered how they would feel about living in a temperate climate, leaving behind Minnesota winters and skiing. Little did I know that it would only be the beginning of mountain adventures for them, including skiing, snowshoeing, ski mountaineering and (gulp!) avalanche training. Enticed by the stunning snowy mountain photos, I spent a week with them last winter including a picture-perfect day snowshoeing on Mt. Rainier. I was hooked – I had to do it again. And I knew the perfect companion.
“Say Betsy, how about Moms trip to Seattle?” That’s all it took.
The plan was to hike or snowshoe together during the week while Erik and Katie worked. For the weekend, the kids had something special arranged – three days skiing in The Methow, the largest cross-country ski trail system in North America, in the Cascade Mountains. Not only that, but they had snagged a cancellation for one of the highly sought-after ski-in huts for our first night.
We left in the dark, bleary-eyed but excited at 5am. By 10am we were at the trailhead, and loaded our overnight gear in a sled for the snowmobile tow service. Mountains of sleeping bags, food, water and clothing zoomed off as we – accompanied by pooch Finley – skied up the trail. I looked up at the surrounding peaks, snow laden and glistening in the sun as my skis slid over the snow. It just didn’t feel real!
That first day was magical. The grooming was impeccable and we skied companionably in a group taking it all in. Our hut was at the top end of our portion of the trail system, dictating we climb most of the way to get there. Our original plan had been to ski up to the hut, relax over some lunch then venture out again. But it was far too enticing to just continue skiing and cover more of the trails. We didn’t have a morsel of food with us, but our hunger for the trails was stronger. Onward we went.
There are five ski-in huts in all and we made it a point to stop and explore the locale of several others. The clear favorite was Rendezvous hut, with spectacular views. It speaks for itself.
The trails are groomed for both classic and skate skiing. The others classic skied, and Betsy skijored with Finley. I chose to skate ski, vainly hoping it would help me keep up. But speed was not of the essence on this trip. It was all about the experience.
By the time we reached Heifer Hut, we had skied 27 kilometers and were ready to settle into our rustic quarters. It was perched on the mountainside surrounded by stately pines. Leaning our skis against the wood exterior, we eagerly went inside to explore. A woodstove, bench and double bunks lined one side, and on the other was a kitchen area with a propane stove and a table with benches. A ladder led to the loft where three more double mattresses awaited. The propane lights reminded me of Coleman lanterns, and were supplemented with solar lights fueled by a tiny solar panel. With the woodshed and outhouse across the way it had everything we needed,
Getting the fire started was our first order of business, along with fixing some food. Hot tea and snacks refueled us enough to unpack, claim bunks and stash our gear. Soon it was cozy inside, and we traded our ski wear for comfy cabin clothes. The remainder of the afternoon and evening passed quickly, with hot wild rice soup and fixings followed by lively rounds of Hearts played around the table.
Erik and I were the first ones up in the morning, and donned snowshoes to explore the terrain behind the cabin with Finley. We meandered in deep powder, sunshine and silence, the perfect start to the morning. Katie and Betsy joined us, and Erik headed inside to prepare breakfast. I think those were the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten!
If reaching the cabin was all uphill, it meant our second day was the opposite! Erik and Finley took off down the black diamond trail back to meet the snowmobile at the car while Katie, Betsy and I skied to a distant trailhead where we would meet them. Erik managed to ski up to us en route, and we sent him off to get in some good fast kilometers (in prep for the Birkie), and he still caught us again just before we finished. We completed the day with a low key snowshoe on Patterson Lake before heading off to our hotel in Winthrop.
For our final day, we chose the opposite end of the trail system near Mazama. There we skied in the valley, on trails that more closely resembled Minnesota. The gentler trails passed through woods and open fields, where we were reminded of our locale with mountain views once again. While we had encountered few skiers the prior two days, the easy access and terrain of this area invited many more skiers including families. We skied a number of different loops before our departure time drew near.
While we were sad to see the skiing and weekend come to an end, talk quickly turned to next year. Betsy and I were hooked. Clearly we have more shared adventures already looming in the future.