Snow has already fallen on Mercer Island this season, but it doesn’t stick long. For the best snow, Islanders hit the mountain slopes just a short drive from Seattle. Many families are signing their kids up now for ski lessons (registration now open!). After the holidays, middle school and high school students will be hitching a ride to powdery paradise on the popular Crystal Mountain ski bus.
Are you interested in hitting the slopes this season? Here are a few tips we’ve learned from our Mercer Island friends and neighbors:
Best places for downhill skiing and snowboarding
Doable in a day – here are the most popular places for downhill skiing and snowboarding that are an easy day-trip from Mercer Island, especially if you are planning to do consecutive-week lessons.
The Summit at Snoqualmie is the closest ski resort from Mercer Island. Islanders say it is 45-minutes to 1-hour drive, depending on traffic. The Summit is where local ski schools provide lessons, mostly at Summit West.
Crystal Mountain is Washington’s largest ski resort, approximately a two-hour drive from Mercer Island. Islanders say it offers good snow and good parking.
Stevens Pass is also about a two-hour drive from Mercer Island and is known for getting the most snow, but weekend parking and traffic on the way home can be challenging.
Destination skiing – many Mercer Island families swear by an “immersion” experience, such as half-day or full-day lessons, for kids. If this is the route for you, consider a ski getaway at one of these favorite BC resorts:
Whistler Blackcomb is the region’s largest resort and known for offering one of the best ski schools in the world. All-day camps offer an intensive experience with excellent instructors. Whistler is about a 4-5 hour drive from Mercer Island to Whistler, British Columbia.
Sun Peaks Resort is also a favorite destination ski resort, smaller than Whistler and offering a more intimate experience. (Here’s a helpful article comparing Sun Peaks and Whistler.) Sun Peaks offers a variety of day camps for all ability levels. Sun Peaks is a 5.5 to 6 hour drive from Mercer Island to Sun Peaks, British Columbia.
Big White Ski Resort is another favorite ski destination, offering a variety of all-day and half-day camps. Some islanders prefer Big White (and SilverStar) since they can fly into Kelowna’s International Airport and convenient shuttle service provides easy access to the resort. If you prefer to travel by car, Big White is a 6.5 to 7.5 hour drive from Mercer Island to Kelowna, British Columbia.
SilverStar Mountain Resort is another popular destination, “just the right size for kids.” It’s located near Big White, but is known to be less crowded. It also offers a Snowsports School. Travel by plane to Kelowna International Airport or by car. Silver Star is a 6.5 to 7 hour drive from Mercer Island to Vernon, British Columbia.
Still not sure where to go? Check out this Westender article: “Mountain Report: Which BC ski destination is right for you?”
Ski and snowboard schools
Here are the local ski schools recommended by your neighbors. These schools offer youth lessons at the Summit at Snoqualmie Pass, and Mini Mountain also offers indoor lessons on rotating carpets at their Bellevue location, which may benefit young skiers as a preliminary experience to learning to ski in cold, snowy conditions. The resorts at the ski destinations listed above also offer their own youth ski programs, so visit their websites for the details!
Mini Mountain (Indoor and outdoor program)
Crystal Mountain Ski Bus
The Crystal Mountain Ski Bus has been providing bus transportation to young islanders to Crystal Mountain for over 50 years. The Ski Bus runs for six weeks on Saturdays, starting January 6th, 2018. Students from 6th grade through high school can ride the bus and participate in coaching sessions. The Ski Bus departs at 6:30 am from the Mercer Island Boat Launch parking lot (across from the Stroum Jewish Community Center) and returns between 5:30 and 6 pm. Find out all the details and register on the Crystal Ski Bus website.
(Curious about the Crystal Ski Bus history? Read this Mercer Island Reporter letter to the editor celebrating the Crystal Ski Bus here.)
Tips from your neighbors
Fiorini Ski School is great! I have been with them for the past 10 years. There are classes for all age-groups, and transportation is included. Great instructors and friendly atmosphere.
We tried local lessons at Snoqualmie for a couple of years. Found the best solution was 1-2 long weekends in Whistler with kids in all-day ski school. They got much more out of condensed and intensive time twice a year than an hour a week for a couple of months.
I agree with the immersion approach, but if that’s not doable, private or semi-private lessons can get you pretty far locally. We love Powder Pigs at Snoqualmie!
My husband goes with my younger kids to Crystal. The kids get free season passes with an adult. He is really into skiing and looked at all the deals, and this is the best one. Also good snow and parking. Parking is an issue at some of the other resorts . . . I agree that all day lessons are the best and easiest on parents. Last year we did all-day lessons at Stevens Pass Ski Resort for all three kids. All got to be basically good skiers, and one of my daughters really took off and is now skiing black diamond and above runs (she no longer even needs lessons). One year of dedication for kids is what it took for us . . . And Whistler of course is the creme de la creme…but harder to get to. 😉
Highly recommend the MI ski bus to Crystal Mountain. The Crystal Mountain ski school program is fantastic. Buy [equipment/gear] from Sturtevants or Evo followed by REI. Rent from REI or Sturtevants.
Mini Mountain offers the best program for adults and kids year round. Improved my skiing, on indoor ramp and on snow. My kids started at 2 with them year round. They are family run and rent also. Wonderful way to learn to ski and also keep your skill level. Good prices too. They have lessons on the snow too. We did it all and always rented from them.
The Snoqualmie Junior Nordic 8-week program is an excellent way for kids to learn classic and skate skiing in a wide variety of challenging terrain. The same instructors have been teaching at Hyak for years and make it really fun for kids. It’s even produced some olympians. It’s not unusual for kids to reject cross-country skiing as too much work, but the JNP really motivates them, and they come out of it with a whole different perspective on snow sports.
Powder Pigs is a wonderful program, operating for years, and is just the BEST! I think what sets them apart is the attention and education re: developmental age of kids AND ski skills. If you have kids, this is the best.
My son took lessons for a few years at Snoqualmie Pass. The program is called Powder Pigs, and it is outstanding. They have great teachers and is easy to get to. Now, in middle school, he’s doing ski bus. That’s a great program too.
Our girls have been doing lessons at Alpental. Such a great community. The only school on the mountain so lots of run!
Whistler Kids Ski School is my fave! Best quality instructors, and my kids come out learning a ton! Now that is a far way to go, so for local, we’ve done Snoqulamie. It is super convenient! Literally 45 min from my garage to parking lot there. We never felt the need to drive extra to Stevens or Crystal while the kids were young and still learning. We’ve done ski school through the Summit at Snoqualmie (the mountain itself) and also through Ski Masters, which is a 6-week program. I don’t think either of those lessons were as quality as Whistler but my kids are now able to ski blues easily with us!
Sun Peaks is a good family vacation spot with good instructors. Highly recommend a weeklong immersion with follow-up lessons at a local mountain. We’ve also done Whistler for a week and Sun Peaks was better for lessons.
If the kids have never tried skiing, Snoqualmie offers a 1/2 day lesson/rental/ticket deal and it’s usually with just a couple of kids. It’s a good way to see if everyone is ready to jump in to full lessons.
If [kids have] never been on skis or used ski gear, try Mini Mountain in Bellevue for indoor lessons on a carpet. It was great to do that a few times before heading up to the slopes and doing it for the first time in cold and snow.
We would love to hear from you! What are your favorite ski destinations, schools, and experiences. Please share in the comments!
Photo credit: Big White Ski Resort