What’s to Love: In my opinion, taking into account all the factors of “family value,” Cooper Spur Mountain Resort (CSMR) is the best option for families looking for a night (or more) away from Portland, especially when combining it with beginning-level skiers and/or snowboarders. They offer a package deal that includes a lift ticket, and rentals that is far less than the cost of a single lift ticket at neighboring resorts. The trade-off is limited terrain served by a single lift. Despite that limitation, if you’re looking for a laid-back resort that is family-friendly, this should be your next destination.
CSMR has been on my radar for years. My wife and I (before kids) used to frequent the Tilly Jane Trail on the northeast side of Mt. Hood. Depending on the conditions, we’d hike, snowshoe, or backcountry ski up this lesser-traveled trail. Often times, we’d find ourselves high on the ridge-line of Cooper Spur, offering an up close and spectacular view of Mt. Hood. Whatever the activity, after a long day of being out on the Cooper Spur ridge, we’d always pass the CSMR on our way out, secretly hoping our car would break down so we’d be forced to stay in one of their beautiful cabins. After an incredible day of adventure, the long trip home (i.e., back to reality) is such a disappointment!
Well, it’s been twelve years since first laying eyes on this beautiful destination, and we finally managed an overnight stay after a great day of skiing/boarding at their ski area. Just like the many times before, I was tired and weary after skiing all day, especially with the kids along. The last thing I wanted to do was get in our car and drive 90 minutes back to Portland. The lure of the Resort’s cabins and a nice dinner at their restaurant was just too much to pass up this time. We didn’t regret our decision!
We were in Cabin #5, which was perfect! It had everything we needed for our family of four: fully heated, beautiful fireplace, two bedrooms downstairs, a loft upstairs for the kids (4 single beds!), kitchen with all the necessary pots/pans and appliances, satellite television, and wireless Internet. Each cabin has a similar layout, but you’ll want to call and talk over your requirements with their representatives. There are plenty of lodging options including a large log home and “The Cooper Spur Inn,” which is more like a hotel. There are even pet-friendly options so you can take the whole family!
The Resort features an old-school ski area that existed well before lifts, rope tows, and snowboarding. It’s a family-first-operation that will make you feel right at home. While Mount Hood Meadows does own the CSMR, the Resort still feels like an independent/family-owned operation. The people who work there often find themselves working several jobs during the day. For example, our waitress at dinner helped us with our ski rentals in the morning – we thought she looked familiar. Because they have a smaller work crew, everyone chips-in to help the place operate, which is refreshing to see as a visitor.
The ski area is a mile up from the lodging property on Cloud Cap Road featuring ten runs served by a double-chair lift. Overall, the terrain is perfect for beginning-level skiers with the upper part of the hill being the steepest. Midway down, you’ll have wide-open slopes with plenty of room to carve turns. The lessons we had were almost like having a private guide, and I would definitely recommend taking one if you’re new to skiing or boarding. A rope tow serves the bunny slope, which is the perfect grade and offers plenty of room to practice your turns.
Hungry after a long day of skiing? Head over to the Resort’s restaurant for a hearty meal in what feels like a comfortable cabin. The restaurant manager made his way out to greet the tables and explained their use of fresh local ingredients, which are used to formulate a new menu each week. We had some fresh ground burgers with thick-cut french fries that were quickly gobbled up by our crew. Fresh bread, local wine, and a nice grilled caesar salad helped round out the meal. Because we shared burgers, our family of four ate out at a nice place for around $50 (not including the tip). We would definitely stop back in to eat there again.
Caveats: CSMR doesn’t sit as high as Timberline, The Summit, or Mount Hood Meadows; thus, it can suffer from rain showers and dwindling snow fall. While the annual snowfall is reported at 100 inches, the 2001-2012 season has been a tough one. When we visited, they reported a 15″ base. Fortunately, with the gentle sloping terrain, even 15 inches was enough for some good skiing. Check the conditions before heading up!
The bunny hill is roomy (i.e., wide) but short, especially the section served by the rope tow. When your kids are learning, they’ll make just a few turns, and then they’ll have to head over to the rope tow. This is pretty standard at most resorts. The rope tow is hard for younger kids, but everyone is very helpful and nice when kids fall. If you’re new to the tow, make sure you let them know!
Website: Cooper Spur Mountain Resort
Distance from Portland: It’s about 90 miles via 84 through Hood River. It’s a shorter route on 26, but it will probably take closer to 2-hours to get there. I think the fastest way is 84 to Hood River and then 35 to the resort. Here is a Google Map.
Recommended Ages: All ages…excellent family destination! If you have some hotshot skiers/snowboarders, they will probably get bored with the limited runs/terrain. Mount Hood Meadows offers discounted lift tickets when staying at CSMR.
Parental Stress Factor: While it’s a very laid back place, skiing is always a bit stressful with all the gear, expense, and potential danger. Because CSMR is small, you’ll probably have less stress here than at any other local resort. On one run, my wife couldn’t get my son’s ski back on. I could see them from the base area and noticed them sitting in the same place on the hill for about 10 minutes. I just wondered over to ski patrol, and they quickly dispatched someone to help her out. Excellent service!
Physical Difficulty: Skiing is hard work, especially if you have beginning-level skiers. My 3-year old could not ride the rope tow, so I had to literally pick him up and carry him up the bunny hill, then run back down to catch him. This was physically exhausting work. Hauling gear around is never pleasant. Be prepared for a workout!
Family Fun Factor: Although expensive and physically challenging, skiing vacations rate up there with my favorite family adventure activities. When things settled down and you’re finally skiing, you will enjoy yourself, and your kids will have a ball! There are so many options at CSMR (see Insider Info below).
Pet Friendly: There are pet friendly cabins! Although the skiing area is not a good place for a pet, there are so many trails and open spaces around the resort for your dog to roam freely. If you have a dog, you’ll definitely want to bring him/her along for this trip.
Weather Considerations: If you’re skiing with kids, nothing beats a “bluebird day.” It’s nice to dress light and not worry about wearing ski masks. While powder skiing is fun, it’s easier to learn to ski on groomed terrain.
Insider Info: Your kids have to be 42″ to ride on the tubing hill. If they are under 42″, there is a tubing carousel that gently turns them in a circle over and over. The operator noted that the carousel is well known for its ability to lull kids right to sleep!
Not into downhill skiing or boarding? CSMR is the perfect spot for a family adventure basecamp! Within a mile radius of the Resort, there are many hiking trails. There are plenty of opportunities for on-site crosscountry skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling (nearby), and play at local snow parks. In pleasant weather, you’ll want to check out Tamawanas Falls or mountain bike the nearby trails of Post Canyon, or for the more extreme: Surveyor’s Ridge Trail. Make sure to leave some time to visit the wonderful town of Hood River.
Family Tips: Although skiing can be incredible fun, there is always the potential for misery…whining kids, bad weather, injuries, faulty gear, wrong clothing, etc. It’s all part of the adventure! My advice is to come prepared for almost any scenario: carry chains, bring something for adult-headaches (dehydration), carry water, sunscreen, sunglasses/goggles, snowpants, raincoats or rainpants, etc. Always carry a water bottle! I think you get the picture.
The cabins are well equipped, but if you are a master chef, you’ll definitely want to bring a few of your prized items. There are no dishwashers, so if you plan on making a feast, be prepared for the cleanup!
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