Top 5 Beginner Ski Tours

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, discover the best beginner-friendly ski tours recommended by Mountaineers staff.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
December 10, 2022
Top 5 Beginner Ski Tours
AIARE student in the Baker backcountry. Photo by Hannah Michlmayr.

You’ve got the gear, taken the avalanche classes, found some friends, and are ready to hit the slopes. But where do you go for your first self-directed backcountry ski tour? Finding a safe place to explore, especially when you’re new to touring, can feel overwhelming. To help you on your way, here are five favorite ski (and splitboard!) tours for beginners, from our enthusiastic backcountry-loving staff. Be sure to check the local weather and NWAC forecast before you go, always pick tours within your ability level, and of course carry a beacon, shovel, and probe (and know how to use them).

Snoqualmie Summit Ski Resort

Recommended by: Kristina Ciari, Membership & Communications Director

Ideal Time: As soon as snow falls until it melts away

When you’re new to anything, it’s nice to be able to dip your boots in with relative comfort. Snoqualmie Ski Resort offers just the learning environment you need for your first self-directed trip: safe ski conditions, an easy grade to practice with your new setup, a warm place to soothe your ego and tinker with gear, and nearby emergency services should you need them. Be sure to abide by their uphill policy and watch out for out-of-control sliders. I recommend going on a weekday - Snoqualmie is a great place to do your first Dawn Patrol. Keep in mind that half of being comfortable in the backcountry is getting your layering system dialed, so bring extra clothes (you can even leave them in the car!) to nail down the perfect setup for your next tour.


Recommended by: Ethan Metzger, Associate Program Manager - Partner Programs & Gear Library

Ideal Time: December-March

If you like mellow slopes, nice glades, and plentiful options, check out Yodelin in the Stevens Pass area. Located just a couple miles east of Stevens Pass Ski Area, Yodelin was once a ski area of its own and now serves as a great tour location for both beginners and experts. From the parking lot, old forest road grades lead you to a bench area (a great place to practice digging pits and analyzing snowpack), where you can find remnants of the former ski area. From there, you’ve got options for gentle low-angle terrain, tree skiing, or following slightly steeper glades. Yodelin offers the opportunity for multiple laps throughout the day and a beginner-friendly, lower risk option for honing those risk management and decision making skills. Make sure to arrive early on weekends and powder days, as the parking lot can fill up quickly.

Muir 2.jpgSkiers climbing near Panorama Point on Mt. Rainier. Photo by Sara Ramsay.

Baker Backcountry

Recommended by: Tom Vogl, CEO

Ideal Time: December-May

Baker backcountry is such a popular destination in the wintertime because it has something for everyone: family snow play, day-long snowshoeing trips, and abundant backcountry skiing. From the Heather Meadows trailhead, backcountry skiers can experience a variety of terrain from easy to expert. Baker’s location and elevation contribute to some of the highest snowfall totals in easily accessible places in the Cascades. However, the combination of frequent winter storms and proximity to avalanche terrain require backcountry travelers to plan ahead, ride within their ability and experience level, and exercise good judgment. Always be aware that even in low-angle areas, the terrain above you may be steep enough to slide.

Pineapple Pass

Recommended by: Devon Schoos, After-School & Summer Camp Coordinator

Ideal Time: December-March

The Alpental Valley boasts some of the best backcountry ski terrain you could ask for. Winter enthusiasts can find endless tours ranging in length, difficulty, and type of terrain. A great option is a tour up to Pineapple Pass. Pineapple Pass is a slightly more challenging intro-level tour, so make sure you feel confident with your skiing, navigation, and avalanche skills before heading out. Skin out to Source Lake via the Lot 4 trailhead at the Alpental ski area. From Source Lake you’ll travel through an area dotted with old growth trees (affectionately known as “Big Trees”) before eventually reaching Pineapple Basin. Your tour ends at the saddle with a sprawling view of the valley below. For a more conservative day, cut your tour plan short and ski laps in Big Trees. Be aware that there is no way to avoid avalanche terrain in the Alpental Valley as the out track crosses numerous avalanche paths.

Camp Muir

Recommended by: Sara Ramsay, Associate Director of Leadership & Operations

Ideal Time: March-June (sometimes July)

Have you heard about volcano season? It’s a special time in the PNW when backcountry skiers flock to the high alpine in search of “corn” - that perfectly slushy hero snow that’s soft without being sloppy, but still firm enough to carve big arcing turns down wide open snowfields. If you’re looking for your first volcano objective, Camp Muir on Mount Rainier is a great pick, as it does not require mountaineering experience. The route can be crowded on peak season weekends making it relatively easy to follow the flow of traffic, but make sure you have navigation tools to know where you’re going, as skiers getting lost on the open snowfield in inclement weather is a common occurrence. My favorite thing about this tour is that the pitch is rarely steep enough to require kick turns or a boot pack. The Muir Snowfield can be likened to a sustained “green/blue” run for most of the 4,500 vertical feet up and down. With views the whole way, you can turn around any time you get tired. If the weather is clear, don’t forget to pack all of your sun protection - there’s no shade in the wide open (beginners often sunburn their kneepits, armpits, under their chins, and inside their nostrils!).

AIARE students enjoying the view in the Baker backcountry. Photo by Tom Vogl.jpgAIARE students enjoying the view in the Baker backcountry. Photo by Tom Vogl.

Bonus Tour: Meany Lodge

Recommended by: Sara Ramsay & Kristina Ciari

Ideal Time: December-March

Want an easy tour with some exciting action at the end? Take a cruiser tour out on some cross-country ski trails to Meany Lodge, The Mountaineers very own ski resort! Nestled in the mountains surrounding Stampede Pass, Meany Lodge has three rope tows to provide hours of gravity-fueled fun. If the rope tow - which can max out at a whopping 17mph - isn’t exciting enough, the Meany Lodge volunteers can point you towards additional touring opportunities from the lodge. Don’t forget to pay for a day ticket to ride the rope tow. And know that the exit back to your car is about the same amount of skinning (or skating!) as it was on the way in, so save some energy to get back home.

This article originally appeared in our winter 2023 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.

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