Earlier this month, I was on a ski vacation with extended family in the St. Anton am Arlberg region of Austria. It was just as you would expect: absolutely amazing. Skiing, family, and good food comprise the perfect vacation.
More than anything, the trip stressed how spoiled I truly am. Not because I got to visit Austria on a ski trip, not because St. Anton is one of the premier ski areas in the world, and not because we had access to seven different ski areas from our ski-in/ski-out chalet (although, those are all proof of my being spectacularly spoiled). No, I’m spoiled because we have a stellar hometown ski hill.
Don’t get me wrong, St. Anton was phenomenal. They had excellent snow, stunning scenery, and more terrain than we could ever fully experience with our six-day ski passes. But there is a distinct advantage to skiing at our hometown hill.
Mission Ridge Ski and Snowboard Resort is only twenty-five minutes from our house, and there are so rarely lift lines that I think I suffered a little culture shock in Austria when I had to wait to get on one of their many gondolas crisscrossing the region. I’m used to skiing right up to the lift and lapping runs all day. It was Winter Break for several European countries and St. Anton was understandably busy — I had to relearn how to dodge people on slopes. Mission Ridge absorbs people so well that we rarely have to alter our line and we almost always have the opportunity to ski at our preferred pace (Mach 2 with our hair on fire) until our legs give out.
The map of St. Anton’s ski areas was impressive . . . and sometimes confusing as you could be several towns away from your start point by lunch. At Mission Ridge, I know the runs. I know the world-class grooming will result in perfect corduroy. I know exactly how many runs I can sneak in before getting back to work. I know where to go to get a quick hit of speed, where to blow out my knees on some moguls, and where to find secret stashes of freshies. On low visibility days, even if I can’t see it, I know and can anticipate the terrain to avoid it bucking me onto my face. I even know which beers are on tap – they’re all good, but some days are a little more Irish Death than Liberator Amber.
Our hometown hill encourages community. Wenatchee is a small town, so I’m just as likely to ride up the chair with an acquaintance as a stranger. Either way, my chair mate is almost always as smitten with Mission Ridge as I am. Our hill inspires a fierce loyalty while still remaining approachable. It’s not the snooty, popular kid; it’s the unassuming kid who gets along with everyone. Mission Ridge offers terrain for all skill levels and embraces whoever shows up with enthusiasm.
The lift operators cheerfully helped my son onto the chair for two (very!) long seasons, and often send me on my way back up the hill with a joke. At bigger resorts, the attitude is also friendly, but more businesslike. Although to be fair, I did enjoy the lifts with heated seats and windshields that come with the big resorts (Chair 2 could benefit from both on cold, windy days).
In Austria, I almost felt a little frantic trying to get as much skiing in as possible, knowing it may be our only chance to visit that particular area. At Mission Ridge, there’s a more comfortable pace. It’s close, it’s easy, and it’s always an option. I often just go up for half a day. I get my downhill fix and can still get home in time to get my work done or do some chores in the daylight hours.
The Saturday after we got home from our vacation, I went skiing with my husband and son at Mission Ridge. We had brilliant sunshine, blue skies, and a few inches of magnificently light powder. The view may not have included as many peaks as St. Anton, but was stunning in its own right and expansive enough to include the Wenatchee Valley, the Columbia River, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Stuart.
We all agreed that Austria was amazing and we definitely want to go back, but on a day like that, it didn’t have anything over the skiing at Mission Ridge! We’re spoiled by our hometown hill, and I’m okay with that.