MAZAMA, OKANOGON COUNTY — A full day of cross-country skiing isn’t just an excellent workout and a great way to tour the Methow Valley, it’s also impractical for most people.
“That’s something we’ve thought about a lot here in our office,” said James DeSalvo, director of the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association. “Unless they are really avid or really fit folks, they are only going to be out there for a couple hours before they are ready to put their boots up for a bit.
“So what are they going to do with those hours?”
The MVSTA, keepers of the Northwest’s famous 200-kilometer Nordic trail system, is working to make sure visitors have plenty of options, DeSalvo said.
But on the trails around Mazama, there’s not really that much work to do. “It’s already that way,” DeSalvo said.
“It’s a great place to go if you want to ski between different cups of coffee and scones,” DeSalvo said. “I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so popular with people visiting from the west side of the mountains.”
Mazama is as far west as you can travel on the North Cascades Highway in the winter.
At the trailhead, you’ll find the Mazama Store, where visitors and locals alike stop for huge sandwiches and hot soup.
Just outside the store, meticulously groomed trails lead to many other destinations.
“The terrain is definitely a little easier (than the other Methow Valley areas), and the conditions are typically better,” DeSalvo said. “But it’s not just about the trail. It’s about all the complementary businesses and lodges.”
Perhaps the most popular stop for skiers in Mazama is the 260-foot suspension bridge.
“It’s a classic destination,” DeSalvo said. “It’s 12 feet wide, so you can get the whole family side by side for a cool picture.”
Then you can race off for warm drinks.
The Free Stone Inn is about a 2-mile ski from the Mazama Store and offers lattes and pan-seared lamb chops.
North Cascades Base Camp serves locally roasted coffee and dishes prepared with ingredients grown in its own garden.
Shelters and cabins are available for rent along the trail. The North Goat Creek Bridge offers intriguing views of the ice formations below, DeSalvo said.
Mazama is also home to the Methow Valley biathlon course, and visitors can sometimes sign up to take a shot at this sport.
“They actually let you do a short biathlon,” DeSalvo said. “It’s really fun. Some people are a little gun-shy, but when they step up and try it, they have a really good time.”
This year’s Try Biathlon events (methowvalleybiathlon.com) are Jan. 1 and Feb. 15.
“Everybody can get their needs met here and that’s part of the allure,” DeSalvo said. “… You can ski all day, but you can’t go a mile or two without finding a unique place to stop.”
SKI THE MVSTA TRAILS
Passes: $22. Free for those 17 and younger, 75 and older.
Gear: The Methow Valley offers several places to rent Nordic ski gear and fat bikes (bikes with massive tires that allow you to pedal over compacted snow), including Methow Cycle and Sport and the Sun Mountain Lodge.
Stay here: The Methow Valley has numerous lodging options ranging from huts along the trails, bed and breakfasts such as the Methow Valley Inn in Twisp and the swanky Sun Mountain Lodge. For lodging information, visit centralreservations.net.
Eat here: When you play as hard as the locals do, you can get away with indulging in an occasional pastry. From the Mazama Store to the west, the Cinnamon Twisp to the east and the Rocking Horse Bakery in between, you’ll find no shortage of places to eat.
More info: Go to mvsta.com or winthropwashington.com.