Two years ago I wrote about snowboarding for the car-free family when I rented a Zipcar to hit the slopes in Seattle. I toyed with the idea of trying out the ski bus, but never made it happen…until now! However, it was just on my own as a first step in getting the whole family up to the slopes again. The “test run” was worthwhile and yielded a lot of information not available from simply reading the website. I’m not 100% decided I want to brave the bus with the kids in tow, but at least now I know exactly what I’d be getting into.
This was my first visit to Mount Hood Meadows ski resort and I took the Meadows Park & Ride “luxury motorcoach” (tour bus) from the Gateway Transit Center. Since it was just me going, I biked the six miles to the bus stop, but with the kids things will be a bit trickier. Our closest bus doesn’t operate early enough to get us there the suggested 15 minutes before the 6:50 a.m. departure time and six miles is a very big ride for them, especially before 6am! So as a family trip, we’d probably bike two miles to our closest MAX station and ride the train to Gateway. And I think we’d take our three bikes on the light rail with us so we could secure them in a locker at the Gateway Transit Center…which is what I meant to do with my bike, but since my planning started a whole year ago when I got my electronic bike locker card and I haven’t touched it since then, I discovered upon trying to open a locker that I had needed to activate it either online or via phone to get a first-time-user PIN code. Oops! But I had my U-lock with me so I locked my bike and it was still there when I returned 12 hours later. And I saved 60 cents ;) And now I know that there are indeed available lockers and it looks like an adult bike and two kid bikes will fit in one…though my cargo bike is definitely too big.
So my timing was this: I woke up at 5:00 a.m., left the house at 5:50 a.m., got to Gateway Transit Center at 6:25 a.m., got my bike walked over to the bike racks from the locker and myself to the bus stop a block away at 6:35 a.m. per the “arrive 15 minutes early” advice on the skihood website. Most of my fellow bus riders did not arrive that early, by the way. The bus then arrived at 6:56, six minutes behind schedule. We loaded up, big things under the bus (ski boots aren’t allowed to be worn on the bus, though snowboard boots are) and remember which bin you put your stuff in (Gateway was farthest back of three luggage bays) in order to put it in the same bin for the ride home. Then we simply signed in on a passed-around clipboard, which I thought was odd, but the bus driver eventually mentioned he usually has a “chaperone” (a Meadows ski instructor) who boards the bus at Gateway and checks everyone’s ticket receipts for him. We waited until 7:04, but said chaperone never showed so we motored off. The bus was not full on this holiday Monday, by the way. Sounds like the chaperone gets a free ride, but the rest of us had to purchase tickets online over 24 hours in advance.
Our friendly driver, Eric, gave us a snow report, road conditions, and warned us we’d need to stop to chain up just before arriving to Meadows, and that our ETA was 8:30 a.m. or a bit earlier.
Just after driving past an amazing view of Mt. Hood we pulled off the road to chain up. This was at 8:23 a.m. and it took seven minutes. Soon enough we reached the Meadows parking lot and drove all the way to the front, passing rows and rows of parked cars, occasionally honking at people to clear the way. It was 8:44 a.m. when we arrived.
Ours was the only ski bus there, but Eric had us memorize #51 Blue Star bus in case he happened to have company at the end of the day. Eric scared us by sharing that once a kid (a teenager, I guess?) got on the wrong bus at the end of the day and his parents were alarmed when he didn’t deboard when and where they expected. I’d imagine they’re reunited by now, but we all memorized #51 Blue Star after hearing that. We were welcome to return at 3:30 p.m. and find the bus unlocked, but we weren’t required to return until 3:45 p.m. and the bus would leave at 4:00 p.m. with or without us. However, he would check with the first aid clinic at 3:45 p.m. before abandoning anyone. Sometimes people catch rides home from friends and let Eric or the front desk know ahead of time.
I loved Meadows, inside and out! My first stop was the women’s restroom and I thought I took a wrong turn into a members-only lounge as there was a huge sitting area before reaching the regular restroom stuff. The lounge area contained lockers, coin-op warming stations for gloves, coin-op clothes dryers (50 cents)…I know because I gave my only two quarters to a woman who had gotten her gloves wet on the way up and had no coins (turns out my gloves had gotten sweaty from biking in them and I hadn’t noticed yet so next time I’ll wear different gloves for the bike ride and also bring more quarters.)
After changing bits and pieces of my outfit to make my layers more snowboardy and less bikey and stowing all my extra stuff, I checked out the lesson area. The main purpose of this test run was to see if the bus delivered people early enough for morning youth lessons, which yes it did! I also wanted to see if the 9:15 a.m. check-in cut-off required rental gear being fitted beforehand, which it doesn’t so I could definitely stick the kids in a morning (10am-12pm) lesson, meet them for lunch, and then all board together a bit before catching the bus home.
I haven’t hit the slopes much since having kids so dynamic lift ticket pricing was new to me. Adult lift tickets can be as low as $49 when purchased in advance on a weekday (or maybe even on the spot on a slow weekday), but my day-of holiday Monday lift ticket was $99 this day. They can go all the way up to $109.
I got lucky with the snow: it was wonderfully sunny with some powder! The previous day was horrible and rainy according to someone I rode the lift with. I’m not a very adventurous snowboarder, and often do the same run over and over (I’m also not a very good snowboarder so practicing the same stuff a bunch of times is exciting enough) so I can’t speak to the whole mountain, but I really liked the Cascade Express quad lift (trail maps here) and rarely had to wait (granted people not snowboarding solo and racing through the singles lift line had a bit of a backup at times). The view from the top of Cascade Express (7305 feet) was magnificent and it connected to several blue runs and the terrain park. I personally don’t do terrain parks, but I like watching people in them from the lift and while boarding by. This one didn’t blare music this day, but that’s another nice bonus of being terrain park adjacent. After five warmup runs I Strava’ed most of the rest of my day so I could remember what I did.
The Cascade Express lift also put me close to slope-side dining at Mazot Eatery “Sky High Snacks, Have a beer and hot dog at 6000 feet!” so I only had to wait in the sort of long hot dog line rather than an incredibly long lodge line for more options. There were a couple stools inside Mazot, but the sun shone on the plentiful Adirondack chairs outside.
I finished up, exhausted, a while before my time to reboard the bus so I could rest, snack, and explore the lodge. The ski bus schedule seems perfect for an out-of-practice, out-of-shape blue-run snowboarder as well as for anyone wanting to take a morning (10-12) lesson. I would even work for an afternoon (1-3) lesson, though that leaves a bunch of morning time to kill.
Eric checked with first aid, finding no injured passengers, and with the front desk, finding a message from one passenger who caught a ride with someone else. He shared that passenger’s name with we remaining bus riders in case anyone knew him and had noticed his absence. And then we motored out at 4:06 pm. Traffic down the mountain was at a snail’s pace; it turns out this was the busiest day of the season. Everyone (except for Eric) slept until 6:30 p.m. when we neared town. We finally reached Gateway at 6:45 p.m. and I made it all the way home at 7:30 p.m.
I think I’ll do it again next year, probably once without the kids again and once with! Feel free to leave me any tips in the comments.