Most folks who ski (and probably some that don't) assume that ski areas in the off-season months are bleak, bare, god-forsaken places. Once the snow melts, skiers normally abandon the lifts in search of other weather-appropriate activities. In the past, ski resorts sat empty all summer, even though many of them were in gorgeous mountain locations.
|Ticket booth, height adjusted for snowpack|
But now most ski areas have reinvented themselves to offer year-round outdoor activities. Some have retooled their winter ski runs into mountain bike trails (with bikers riding the ski lifts uphill) or adventure parks with ziplines and alpine slides. Others offer their venues for special events such as weddings or festivals. However, the best ski areas have created hiking trails through their boundaries, allowing people to discover that ski areas in the offseason are not ugly at all.
|Dry ski lift, waiting for snow|
This is what happened to my home hill, Mt Hood Meadows. Although Meadows already had two USFS hiking trails crossing through their permit area, (the round-the-mountain Timberline Trail and Umbrella Falls Trail) management decided to create an entire network of additional hiking trails. So during the summer of 2020, when the ski area couldn't open to the public due to COVID, Meadows put their crews to work constructing eight new hiking trails within their ski area boundary.
|The fireweed still had some color|
In June 2021 Meadows debuted these new hiking trails. Throughout the summer they received rave reviews on local hiking webpages and Facebook groups. By the time I finally returned home, I was dying to try them out.
|Trails were numbered and well marked|
On a sunny Monday in late August, I recruited my good friends Debbie and Barry for an exploration of the new Mt Hood Meadows trails. Since this was only my second hike post-surgery I thought it was a good idea to have companions. Besides, hikes are better when shared with a friend or two!
|Goldenrod and pearly everlasting|
It was a gorgeous late summer morning when we pulled into Mt Hood Meadows' enormous parking lot. With only a handful of vehicles here, we got a front row spot (which never happens during ski season). Besides rock star parking, my friends and I were delighted to discover the restrooms open. So much better than the stinky Forest Service pit toilets at most trailheads!
|More spent fireweed - still colorful|
Walking out towards the ski lifts, I couldn't help marveling at how different the base area looked without snow. The ticket booth was actually lifted a couple of feet higher to make up for the 5 to 6 feet of snow that is usually on the ground during winter. There was a flight of stairs leading from the patio to the lift area which I'd never seen in the winter, because it's always covered with snow. In the winter, there's so much snow this patio is normally level with the adjacent ground.
|Who knew ski runs in summer could be so lovely?|
One ski lift was operating, taking hikers up the first big hill to one of the hiking trails. Since I'm a season pass holder, I could have ridden the lift for free and gotten a jump start on my hike. But that felt too much like cheating. Besides, my friends weren't pass holders and would've had to pay to ride the lift. I don't mind climbing hills - that's part of hiking. (As I always say, hills build character!)
Although we had a map of the Meadows trail network, it still took a bit of searching to locate the start of Trail #1, dubbed "the Bear Grass Trail," our chosen hike for today. We finally located it just past the Express and Blue lifts. Despite our initial confusion, once we got going my friends and I found the trails well marked with nifty brown plastic paddles as signs.
|My companions pose for a photo|
|Fall color just getting started|
|Unusual twisted tree trunk|
|The beargrass bloom must've been spectacular!|
|Mt Hood says "hi!"|
|Another colorful ski run|
|Taking a side trail to Picnic Rock|
|Nice views of the HRM lot and Nordic Center|
|Debbie taking it all in|
|Arriving at Picnic Rock - where to sit?|
|Peek-a-boo Hood view from Picnic Rock|
|Thick forest on the return trail|
|Passing under the HRM lift|
|Lush meadow near the base area|
|Can't wait to see this area covered in snow!|