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Skiing Chelan Butte

 

 

In my family, Christmas vacation is a busy stretch. There usually isn't time to venture far from home or take all-day ski tours. This year there was much talk of ski tours with my brother, my friends and other ski acquaintances. I've had a busy and rough few months and I yearn for some time when I can get outside and enjoy winter the way I like best, on skis.

 

Late last week there was talk of a possible tour on New Years Eve or New Years Day.  The Wenatchee Outdoors Group that was organized last season has certainly created some connections.  I had to decline as I would be spending those days with family. 

 

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to spend time with family.  In fact, this Christmas we have had some great times outside. I spent two beautiful sunny days skiing with my daughters at Echo Valley.  To them, Echo Valley is the best ski area on earth.  For a five and seven year old, Echo Valley is a great place to ski and we are blessed to have it here in the Chelan Valley. 

 

Saturday afternoon, however, I got a call from a friend who is new to town and was interested in skiing Chelan Butte on Sunday.  I, of course, had more commitments in the morning, but thought maybe we could give it a shot on Sunday afternoon.


 

The top of the Chelan Butte is just over two miles from Main Street in downtown Chelan.  For the most part it still looks like it did 100 years ago and gives a great view for the residents of the city.  The butte has fantastic places to wander and explore year around.  There are old mines, homesteads, creek beds, ponds, rock outcroppings ,and a lot of wildlife that resides here.

 

From a recreation standpoint, the butte has hosted multiple World Hang Gliding Championships; it's a grand place for an walk or mountain bike for much of the year; and every now and then in winter, it's even a great place to ski.

 

Over the years I have tried to ski Chelan Butte quite a few times.  I have traditionally found good snow near the 3,800 -oot summit.  Nonetheless, I have also usually found the closer you get to town the more frequently your ski bases and edges are gouged and nicked by rocks, dirt, barbed wire fences, sage brush, invisible logs, and rusty farm implements. 

 

This day, however, I could see we had several inches of snow and hoar frost on a relatively firm and deep base--deep for the Chelan Butte, that is.  As morning became afternoon we were both able to leave our respective families and go skiing.

 

We parked a car in South Chelan at the PUD parking area for the new Chelan Gorge Trail.  After transferring gear to the second car, we headed out to Lakeside and up the Chelan Butte Road to where the plowing ends at about 1800 feet above sea level.  A  little after 2:00 pm, we had backpacks on and were skinning up the road in sunshine.

 

After a few minutes we headed off to the southeast working our way up one of the Butte's many ridges.  We followed a nice wide track set by a group on snowshoes.  We climbed quickly, but took time to turn around and look up lake at Stormy Mountain and the Navarre's. Before long, we could see the Stuart Range, Cashmere Mountain and the Chiwaukum's.

 

 

As we got closer to the group on snowshoes, we recognized they were dragging plastic sleds for their descent -- it's another great way to recreate on the Chelan Butte that I will have to try!

 

As we passed the group the pace slowed a little, but there was nice firm windblown snow on the ridgeline which made for quick skinning.  We hoped the northeast facing bowl a mile or so to our east would offer better skiing conditions.  As we crossed various aspects we found an interesting variety of conditions.  En route to the top we found wind scoured snow, wind scoured dirt, shallow hoar frost, deep hoar frost and ice.  Fortunately, as we skinned on the northeast side of a knob on the ridge, we also discovered nice deep old powder.  As we climbed the last few hundred feet up the ridge toward the towers of the Chelan Butte, the winter sun was dropping toward the horizon offering golden light that highlighted the trees, rocks and brush covered in rime.

 

The view from the top was as spectacular as ever with views of Lake Chelan, the Columbia River, Moses Mountain far to the northeast, the Waterville Plateau, Mission Ridge and everything beyond and in between.  We enjoyed the view for a while and as the clock closed in on 4:00pm we had skins in our packs and were ready to descend. 

We quickly skied down the wind-packed ridgeline out toward town.  As we reached the 3500-foot level at the head of the northeast-facing bowl, the sun was gone and we hoped to find the snow good enough for a quick plunge to the car.  I was surprised to see that we weren't the only ones who were crazy enough to brave the hazards of the Chelan Butte to find good skiing.  Another group of skiers and snowboarders had already climbed to this point and skied the area recently.

That is, first rate for the Chelan Butte!  We worked our way through the various obstacles of the descent and I was surprised to find we were actually able to link turns all the way to the car.

We arrived at the parking lot about 15 minutes before dark.  As we looked back up the slope we considered it an afternoon well spent. 

 I plan to find more skiing close to home this year.  With the lack of plowed roads to higher elevations in the Chelan Valley, along with the long distance to undisturbed wilderness, this may not be an easy task, but I am up for the challenge!

We found great skiing as we carved turns through majestic ponderosa pines.  As with past trips, we found the top 1200 vertical feet offered splendid skiing and first-rate snow. 

That is, first rate for the Chelan Butte!  We worked our way through the various obstacles of the descent and I was surprised to find we were actually able to link turns all the way to the car.

We arrived at the parking lot about 15 minutes before dark.  As we looked back up the slope we considered it an afternoon well spent. 

 I plan to find more skiing close to home this year.  With the lack of plowed roads to higher elevations in the Chelan Valley, along with the long distance to undisturbed wilderness, this may not be an easy task, but I am up for the challenge!

The Chelan Butte is not always easy to ski nor always worthy of skiing, but on this day we had a fantastic afternoon with spectacular panoramas, exercise and enjoyment, all just a few minutes from our homes.  I was back to my house and had everything put away long before my wife even had time to worry.