The year of 1969 was a banner one for Anthony Lakes: SKI proclaimed it "the most lovable ski area in America." And Paint Your Wagon, a musical romp starring Anthony Lakes' gorgeous scenery (as well as Clint Eastwood, Jean Seberg and Lee Marvin), hit the big screens. Little has changed since. There's still just one lift servicing all 21 runs, and you can still sidle up to the Starbottle Saloon in the day lodge, where the film set's fictional "Starbottle's Hotel" sign hangs along one wall.
There are advantages to this slow-moving simplicity. For example, Anthony Lakes is the kind of place where you can turn your little ones loose. With just one lift, they can't get lost. Nor will they get wet and cold, because, unlike other Oregon ski areas, Anthony Lakes tends to get its weather from the dry south, not the blustery Pacific Ocean. Kids can't even get into trouble here: The snow is so dry that snowballs fall apart in your hands, and snow piles collapse like heaps of feathers before they can be fashioned into jumps.
The dry powder is partly a function of elevation. From its 7,100-foot base to its 8,000-foot summit, Anthony Lakes feels more like Colorado than Oregon. And the view is spectacular: The 8,000- to 10,000-foot Elkhorn Range and Eagle Cap peaks rise all around; below, stand 2.3 million acres of the pristine Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. You can explore these remote wilds on a snowcat outing from the summit. The Anthony Lakes permit area encompasses more than 2,000 backcountry acres, where steep chutes and gentle glades await skiers with the stamina to take 1,700-vertical-foot runs.
Out here, it's easy to see why skiers trekked to Anthony Lakes as early as 1938 (although the ski area didn't officially opened until 1963). The current owners are three couples who bought it out of nostalgia: All had fond memories of skiing here when they were young.
But they aren't trapped in the past. If U.S. Forest Service approval is forthcoming, ground could be broken as early as next summer on the kinds of upgrades most resorts would have implemented long ago: two more chairlifts, expanded parking and day lodge, new sewer and water systems, and a mountaintop concessions yurt.
The aim is to bring Anthony Lakes up to date for present-day skiers...without losing a bit of that 1969 lovability.