Laid-back Leavenworth runs at a different pace

LEAVENWORTH -- You really only need to know two numbers to understand how this faux-Bavarian village feels about winter recreation.

2,100: Leavenworth's population, according to the chamber of commerce.

1,200: The membership of the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club.

"The Ski Hill is like the local gym," said club President Dwayne McMahon. "... This is a big skiing community."

Ever since Leavenworth adopted its Bavarian theme in the 1960s, it has been a popular winter destination, primarily because of its Christmas tree-lighting ceremonies and quaint shops. But by February, the steady stream of visitors slows to a trickle until spring, says Nancy Smith, director of the chamber of commerce.

"But February is an excellent time to visit when it comes to winter recreation," Smith said. "Winter recreation is really heating up in February. There are so many things you can do."

The local ski club grooms 27 kilometers of ski trails and runs Leavenworth Ski Hill's two tiny alpine runs, a tubing hill and the state's only ski jump. The surrounding national forest and state parks offer snowshoeing and more cross-country skiing options. There are more than 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, ice fishing on Fish Lake, dog sled tours and sleigh rides.

Mission Ridge and Stevens Pass ski areas are each less than an hour away.

"There is pretty much everything you can think of," Smith said. "Everything from back-country ski tours to making snow angels."

As far as Eastern Washington winter recreation goes, Leavenworth has long been overshadowed by the Methow Valley.

"The Methow Valley is the Nordic mecca of Washington," McMahon said, "because of the length and quantity of its trails."

While the Methow Valley has more than 200 miles of trails, Leavenworth has a modest 27 kilometers of groomed trails. Not enough for a Nordic-only vacation, McMahon admits, but he's quick to point out that Leavenworth has more to offer.

It's a much closer trip for Washington visitors and it has more hotels, restaurants and shops.

"When you look at the big picture, Leavenworth has a lot to offer," McMahon said. "And if you look solely at the quality of the trails, we match up with anywhere in the country."

While the snow isn't as dry as the Methow, the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club recently spent $150,000 on a new snowcat for grooming its trails.

The trails around Leavenworth have produced some of the best Nordic skiers in the Northwest. Three-time Olympian Torrin Koos learned the sport on the golf course and still loves skiing in the area.

"I especially like the Ski Hill because of the rolling terrain and the fact that it is lit for night skiing," Koos told The News Tribune after the Torino Olympics. "It is one of the top three places in Washington."

Brandon Hall, a 20-year-old college student from Snohomish, and his friends make occasional trips to Leavenworth for a couple of reasons.

"My favorite part is the culture," Hall said. "It's small-town with a lot of culture. And they are into the outdoors any time of the year."

The centerpieces of the Ski Hill are its ski jump and the lodge. The skeleton of an old ski jump similar to what you'd see in the Olympics still sits on the hill above the ski area, but it is no longer used.

However, two smaller jumping hills still operate behind the lodge. The hills are small enough that visitors can use them with normal alpine gear.

The lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, is warmed by a large fire and decorated with historical pictures of the ski area.

"It is a great family place," Smith said of the lodge. "I think that's what so great about Leavenworth. We have winter recreation for people who are looking for adrenaline and for people who are looking for something mellower."

February in Leavenworth

By February the winter rush in Leavenworth has slowed, but the recreation opportunities are just heating up.

-- Nordic Skiing: The Leavenworth Winter Sports Club offers 27 kilometers of groomed ski trails at three destinations around Leavenworth. Go to Skileavenworth.com

-- Alpine skiing: Leavenworth is less than an hour's drive from Stevens Pass and Mission Ridge, two of the state's largest ski areas. Go to Missionridge.com; stevenspass.com

-- Snowshoeing: "People are snowshoeing to every remote piece of terrain in the area," said Rich Haydon, an Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest ranger. Call 509-548-2550

-- Fishing: There is fishing all year on Fish Lake and when it gets cold enough some anglers even go ice fishing, said Dwayne McMahon, owner of Der Sportsmann. Go to Coveresortatfishlake.com

-- Sleigh rides: Several companies offer sleigh rides around Leavenworth, typically for $18 or less. Go to Icicleoutfitters.com;


-- Sledding: There is a sledding hill at the Leavenworth Ski Hill ($15-17 for 1 1/2 hours), but many people use the hill at the downtown park. Go to Skileavenworth.com

-- Dog sled tours: SierraBlu Kennels and Lake Wenatchee Sled Dog Tours offer dog sled tours. One-hour rides are $75 for people weighing 80 pounds or less and $125 for those who weigh more. Go to Sierrablukennels.com; ncwdogsledrides.com

-- Snowmobiling: There are more than 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails around Leavenworth in addition to ungroomed forest service roads. Call 509-548-2550.

-- News Tribune