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Discover Hurricane Ridge @ Olympic National Park

Hidden Gem of the PNW

By Matt Schonwald & Sam Luthy
Have You Visited the Abode of the Gods?

As hard as it is to believe, Deer Park and Hurricane Ridge were at one time under the ocean. Geologists believe that roughly 35 million years ago, the tectonic plate carrying the Pacific Ocean’s floor crashed with the North American Plate forming the Olympic Mountains. For more than 8,000 years, native people have inhabited this land along with wolves, elk, and bison. The Duwamish of the Salish sea refer to the mountains as ‘Sun-a-do’, and the ancestors of the Klallam have been living, hunting, and gathering in the region for just as long. In 1977, a farmer digging a pond just outside Olympic National Park unearthed remains of a mastodon where a broken piece of bone resembling a spear point was found in its ribs. In 2011, scientific dating revealed that the spear point was 13,800 years old. It is the earliest evidence of human presence in this region. The Spanish sailed along the coast in 1774 and named the highest peak Cerro Nevado de Santa Rosalia. In 1788, the British explorer Roger Meares renamed the highest peak, Mt. Olympus because it looked like the ‘abode of the gods’. Just like that, the Olympic Mountains became part of the European map.

Guide and author Matt Schonwald assess weather and snowpack for NWAC on a blustery day.
Sporting the Simple, Refreshing and Original Ski Scene

Today, Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area is located in the Olympic National Park, 17 miles south of Port Angeles, Washington. It is one of only two remaining ski lift services that are located within the boundaries of a national park. Rising a mile high, Hurricane Ridge offers a variety of winter recreation activities and features winter vistas unmatched anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. It is a small, family-oriented ski area, providing a quality winter sports experience to residents and visitors alike, without the high cost or congestion of most ski areas. With a summit elevation of 5,240 feet, the average annual snowfall is 400-plus inches, and the  smooth, steep slopes create an exciting setting for high quality skiing.

Sampling the goods near Maggies
From Deer Park to Hurricane Ridge

Before occupying Hurricane Ridge, this ski area was actually located in Deer Park. There was a multitude of reasons why it was moved from its original location. For one, the microclimate of Deer Park made for remarkably light snowfall while the slopes were exposed to the sun, restricting the length of the skiing season. When it comes to infrastructure, the only road to Deer Park in the winter was quite narrow and the cost to expand it was too much to justify the potential benefits. Additionally, the parking lot was not made to accommodate large crowds as it could only fit 50 cars. After mulling over where to move the ski area, officials from the National Park Service and the Region Four Winter Use Committee decided that once the new road was completed in 1957, Hurricane Ridge would be the best place for it. 

The view of Mount Angeles briefly opens up while Schonwald and crew dig a pit.
Technical Terrain for a Variety of Experience Levels

One of the unique aspects of the Olympic National Park area is that the majority of the backcountry terrain is considered to have moderate exposure to avalanches with options to reduce or eliminate ones exposure with careful route finding. This terrain is known as ATES 2: CHALLENGING by the ATES scale (Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale) and may include exposure to well defined avalanche paths, starting zones or terrain traps. For the even more experienced backcountry skiers, there is a fair share of ATES 3: COMPLEX zones that require more technical skills to access. These include Rocky Peak, Klahhane Ridge, Darkside, Elk Mountain, and Lillian through Moose. These zones may include exposure to multiple overlapping avalanche paths or large expanses of steep, open terrain; multiple avalanche starting zones and terrain traps below; and minimal options to reduce exposure. For those seeking less risk in the backcountry, Deer Park South is a good option for runs that stick to ATES 1: SIMPLE terrain.

Publisher-in-chief Andy Sovick does quality assurance on “Wrinkles” mid-storm.
Where Respect and Humility are Paramount

Matt Schonwald, The author of Beacon’s original Olympic National Park guidebook, has a pretty special connection with this area and he has been able to share his love for it throughout the years:

“My first tour on Hurricane Ridge was the Mt. Angeles Circumnav with my friend to research the tour for a book he was working on. Standing on the summit, I saw Baker and the Coast range; my jaw dropped. When NWAC offered me a position as one of the professional observers assigned to the Olympics, they asked if I would mind the drive, I laughed. I said I would be happy to make the commute because I knew how good the touring was and how beautiful the sunrise was over the Salish Sea on the ferry. A true “sea to sky road”, the Hurricane Rudge Road was a visionary project by Olympic National Park to give all people access to the alpine and one of the most sublime mountain vistas on the planet. Every day I went to work with the Rangers of Hurricane Ridge was a chance to touch the sky, to witness where weather meets land and earns its name. Winds pick up faster than a Porsche, snow flies in, building cornices like an alien invasion. Cold clear nights bust the “Myth of the Maritime Snowpack” as I have tracked persistent slabs across the range year after year when it was supposed to be stable and homogenous just like the Cascades. Learning the personality of the snow, the mountains, and the community who live and play here, continues to fill me with wonder and respect.”

Schonwald and park staff take in a calm moment while collecting data.
Get the Forecast, Get the Gear, Get a Guide!


“Discover Hr about Us Stay Connected Directions Parking.”Hurricane Ridge Ski And Snowboard Area,

Zelenka, Peter M. Skiing at Deer Park and Hurricane Ridge Peter Zalenka.

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