An Expert Guide to Skiing & Snowboarding at Mt. Hood
Considering a trip to Mt. Hood? Learn more about this PNW dream from Snowboard Expert Gaelen Mast. From what to pack to on-mountain tips, he breaks it all down for you.
If you’re an avid skier or snowboarder and you want to slide down snow-covered slopes for as long as you possibly can, then you might just consider Timber at Mount Hood as your next spring vacation destination! Located in the Pacific Northwest in the state of Oregon, Mount Hood is the second largest ski resort in the state (based on skiable acres) and one of the few ski resorts in North America that remains operational through the spring and summer months!
The mountain itself is the largest in Oregon with an elevation of 11,249 vertical feet and 2,150 acres of skiable terrain. These staggering numbers allow it to have lift-serviced terrain 10 months of the year (They typically only close for September and October.).
As someone who lives in the Northeast, I’m lucky if my snowboard season makes it through April. So the thought of traveling to Mount Hood to expand my riding season has always been a dream of mine. That is until May of 2022 when two friends and I decided simply to go for it and see how things went. We traveled from Massachusetts all the way to Oregon, spent 14 days riding Mount Hood in the middle of May, and learned a ton of valuable info along the way!
Today, I intend to share a guide to spring skiing/riding at Mount Hood with lots of tips and tricks. If you have been considering making this trip, hopefully, this guide will make the process less intimidating and allow you to also chase your snow-filled dreams!
Plan for Success
Unless you're a Mount Hood local, making a trip like this can be quite an ordeal and requires a bit of planning to pull off. As much as I’d like to tell you it’s as simple as deciding you want to shred a little longer, hopping in the car, and arriving a few days later, planning for this trip won’t be nearly that simple and can require forethought!
To Fly or to Drive?
Depending on where you’re located, traveling to Mount Hood can be the most intimidating part of the trip. For myself, I flew from Boston, Mass. to Portland, Ore. with one of my buddies, while our other buddy drove from North Carolina to Oregon and met us there. There are pros and cons to both methods, and I’ll try to highlight them all, but only you know what is going to make the most sense for you.
Flying: While typically thought of as more expensive, flying can actually be a cheaper option if you’re far enough away from your destination. My biggest tip if you’re thinking of flying to Mount Hood is to start shopping for flights EARLY as flights tend to get more expensive when you purchase them closer to your departure date. I began looking for flights in January 2022 and bought my ticket in late February 2022 and scored a roundtrip for less than $200. Apps like Hopper will automatically track flight prices and predict future prices, which can make this whole process much easier.
One thing to keep in mind about flying is how you’ll transport your gear. If you plan to bring your entire snowboard (which I did), expect to be charged an “oversized baggage fee” that can sometimes come with a hefty price tag, so make sure to look into the specific airline’s baggage policy before buying your tickets. Alternatively, Mount Hood does have equipment rentals if you don't want to deal with bringing your gear, but they certainly aren’t cheap, and you’ll more than likely actually save money bringing your gear.
The major pro to flying is obviously convenience. You can make it from just about anywhere in the country to Oregon in just about a day or so (it took me nine hours from Massachusetts), and you don’t have to worry about driving all the way there, figuring out where to sleep each night or any of the other possible headaches that might arise from taking a cross-country road trip. The major downfall of flying is that you won’t necessarily have any way to get out of the airport once you land! You could always rent out a car for your stay or use ridesharing services, but obviously, these things are going to cost a pretty penny. As I mentioned, we were lucky enough to have a buddy who drove there, picked us up, and acted as our chauffeur for our stay in return for a bit of gas money. So if you plan to fly in, see if you can arrange a similar sort of situation.
Driving: If you don’t mind driving the distance from wherever you’re located to Mount Hood, and you have faith in your car to make it there, I would actually suggest this option despite not personally doing it myself. If you were to drive there, you have way more packing space (a whole carload versus a bag or two on the plane), the option to travel at your own pace (let’s be honest, no one likes the chaos of airports), and most importantly you’ll have transportation when you actually arrive! Make the trip with a friend or two and you all can split gas costs and/or lodging costs while on the road, and you’ll have someone to talk to along the way!
My biggest tip if you are considering driving is: Number 1. Make sure your car is in good mechanical shape before the trip, as breaking down would be a huge bummer. Number 2. Have a vehicle with AWD/4WD and/or some snow tires. Even in spring (April, May), the mountain still regularly gets snowfall and the four-mile access road leading up to the Mount Hood parking lot is quite windy and hilly. On our first day there, we drove through a snow squall in the morning, and I was very happy to be in a Subaru with snow tires at that time!
Obviously, if you’re going to be spending a few days up at Mount Hood, you’re going to need somewhere to stay. This can also be challenging as it’s hard to know where to start. While there are hotels and mountain vacation rentals, they tend to be quite expensive and not a great option for the average ski/snowboard bum on a budget.
A lesser-known but effective option is trying to find an Airbnb or VRBO in the area (these are properties rented out by private owners). While these can also be quite expensive, there are also often hidden gems if you start looking early enough. In addition to that, many of these Airbnb or VRBO rentals will give you sizable discounts if you’re staying for longer than a week. My friends and I booked an Airbnb back in February that was only about 10 miles from the mountain, quite boujee by our standards, and only cost us about $350 for the entire 14 days! If you’re going to go this route, the key is definitely to start looking early! Try setting your search parameters to a town called government camp located right at the base of the mountain, do some poking around, and you might just find yourself a deal!
Many people will simply camp at one of the dozen or so campgrounds that are within a 15-mile radius of the mountain. Most of these campgrounds are state parks and allow up to 14 cumulative days of camping, so they’re good for longer trips. This will certainly be your most affordable option, but naturally, you’ll be sacrificing certain amenities if you go this route. A word of caution about doing this: look at typical temperature ranges for the dates you’re planning on going, Oregon can be surprisingly cold at night even in the spring, and you should make sure you’ve got proper sleeping gear if you plan to camp.
The Spring Pass
Getting a spring pass to Mount Hood is a no-brainer if you’re planning a trip up there! It costs $237 and gives you unlimited access to the Timberline ski area (this is the name of the summit ski area, which is the section of mountain open in the spring) from early March to the end of May. With daily lift tickets ranging from $70-$100, it only makes sense to snag this pass if you plan to go for three or more days on your trip. Look for announcements about its availability on the Timberline Lodge Instagram around the beginning of March, and make sure to grab it ASAP as it’s only on sale until early May.
Pack Like a Pro
When it comes to your trip, what you packed or didn’t pack can make all the difference! While I can’t list out every single item you might consider bringing, I do have a short list of absolute essentials to add to the list! All of the items listed below are sold at the mountain; they’re just going to be expensive!
Whether you have a bar of quick rub-on wax or you bring your whole waxing kit, you’re absolutely going to want to have wax on hand. On warmer spring days when the temperature is 60F+, the snow becomes incredibly sticky and slow.
This ties back to warm days when the snow is sticky, soft, and slushy. It’s also very wet on these days, and you’ll soak through gloves/mittens quickly. Having an extra pair for a midday change is a game-changer!
Goggles may feel like an obvious one if you’re already used to wearing them, but they are essential when at Mount Hood. On brighter days, you’ll want goggles that have a much darker lens so you aren’t blinded (sunglasses work, too). On cloudy days, you’ll want a good pair of low-light goggles so you can see the depth of the terrain in front of you. It’s best to keep both on hand at any given time, as I experienced many days which began in dense fog in the morning and became blindingly bright by the afternoon.
As I alluded to in the above section on goggles, Mount Hood can get quite bright. When you’re closer to the top of the mountain where there is no tree coverage, the sun can be brutal, and without sunscreen, you WILL burn. My best advice is to try and cover as much skin as possible. But for certain areas like your nose, you definitely want to throw some sunscreen on there, or you’ll end up like my buddy who chose not to wear it on day one and was as red as a lobster for the rest of the trip.
While logistics are crucial to planning the trip, what you’re probably most excited about is the mountain itself! In this section, I’ll give a brief guide to the terrain as well as some best practices to make the most of your time on the snow.
There’s certainly no shortage of terrain when it comes to riding at Mount Hood in the spring. While only the upper half of the mountain is open in the later spring months, there is still access to six different chairlifts. There are a few dozen different trails, as seen in the trail map, ranging from mellow green circles to extremely steep black diamond runs. So even if you aren’t the most advanced skier or rider, they’ll be terrain you will more than likely enjoy! Seriously, anyone from complete beginners to advanced skiers/riders can enjoy spring laps at this mountain! It is worth noting that there is no night skiing at Mount Hood, and some lifts close earlier than others. So it's best to strategize your laps to make sure you get to ski everything you want to!
Since the elevation of the mountain is so high, it goes through several different zones. Near the bottom, the trees are much denser, which provides some awesome advanced glade trails. As you make your way up the mountain, the trees become sparser, which is great for newer tree skiers/riders. Finally, near the top of the mountain, there are no trees, just huge open lines that allow you to ski/ride all over the place!
Just one of the many natural features I rode this May at Mount Hood
If you’re into terrain parks, there are several located on the mountain, and they can be accessed by the Mile High lift or the Stormin’ Norman, which is widely considered the park lift. Terrain parks can get pretty crowded, so it’s best to hit them first thing in the morning before the largest crowds roll in.
Speaking of avoiding crowds, if you’re looking to score the best snow possible, the key is to get there as early as possible. Not only will this make it much easier to find a parking spot, but you will also get to ski/ride on snow that isn’t straight slush chunder. Due to the warm temperatures and crowds in spring, the snow is usually pretty much sticky mashed potatoes by 1 pm each day, so I'd highly encourage you to become a morning person and get to the mountain ASAP each day before everyone else does!
As you might expect, the busiest days are going to be on Saturday and Sunday, and these are the times you really want to prioritize getting there early and beating all the other guests to the good snow! On weekdays such as Monday and Tuesday, you don't need to worry about this nearly as much!
Do You Have the Gear?
One thing we didn’t discuss in this article was the type of snowboard or skis you will need. The honest answer is that you can get away with just about any setup, and you’ll probably still have a good time! An all-mountain or freeride setup will be the most versatile on the mountain, or a freestyle setup will be a blast if you intend to spend most of your time hitting park. Regardless of what your style is, make sure you’ve got the gear you need!
Perhaps the easiest way to do this is through Curated! At Curated, you can connect with a Winter Sports Expert, tell them what you’re looking for, and get gear recommendations in minutes, all for free! If you like what you see, you can order directly from the site and have your new gear at your door in just a few days! It’s the easiest way to get prepared for your next adventure!