Like the mouse that roared, Mt. Hood Meadows is a day area (just 67 miles from Portland) that thinks big. With 2,150 skiable acres (that's more than at destination resorts such as Sun Valley and Breckenridge) and 430 annual inches of snow, Meadows has "a lot more than initially meets the eye," as one reader observes. Experts while the hours away in the wide-open steep-and-deeps of Heather Canyon, with its four chutes and 15 bowls. Intermediates cherish the convenience of cruising off the high-speed Cascade Express, Mt. Hood Express and Shooting Star Express chairs. "Great diverse terrain," sums up a reader, capturing the sentiments of many. The thrills don't always come cheap, however. "It's a small ski area that acts world-class and charges for it, too," writes one disgruntled reader. (Adult lift tickets will be $44 this year.) Then there are those who grumble that "it's often crowded" on the slopes, due in part to the fact that "busloads of kids regularly show up on weekends." To alleviate the crowding, Meadows plans next summer to install Vista Express, a new chair that will open up mostly intermediate terrain on the south side of the ski area. Although conditions can be vexing at times-"Cascade concrete" and "white-outs" are familiar refrains-they can also be splendid, particularly in spring, when the crowds have thinned and the overnight snowfalls are drier: "Great spring skiing-big mountain when it's all open." It gets even bigger when the SuperBowl Snow Cat gets stoked up. For just $10, this high-altitude ride adds an additional 1,700 vertical feet to your day. Pretty impressive...for a day area.
WHAT'S NEW A new exit on the right side of the highway eliminates the risky left across incoming traffic into the resort (and traffic jams on Hwy. 26). Also, the Resort Road is newly straightened (no more scary hairpin turns).
A GOOD DEAL Everyone who stays at one of 25 inns in the nearby town of Hood River gets a $25 lift ticket the next day-even if your room is as cheap as $49 per night; 800-754-4663.
HIGH/LOW PACIFIC RANK On-Mountain Food (9), Lifts (10), Grooming (13); Scenery (29), Lodging (33), Weather (35).
DON'T MISS A juicy hand-cut Angus steak, along with farm-fresh Hood River Valley vegetables, at the Inn at Cooper Spur restaurant, 12 miles from the resort. For dessert: homemade Dutch apple pie, made with Hood River Valley apples.
READER REMARKS (+) "Interesting terrain and an outstanding ski school." "Tons of snow, easy drive, good cruising mountain."
(-) "Lodging is too distant; snow's moisture content is high." "Iffy weather: fog, wind, white-out."