While every winter-loving northwesterner is likely familiar with the endless ski trails of Methow Valley and knows a thing or two about Bavarian-themed Leavenworth, the forest masses between the two are mostly untouched by tourists’ feet―or ski boots. Plain Valley, an emerging ski town only 14 miles north of the Christmas capital of Leavenworth, has sprung to fill the gap.
Yet, it wasn’t snow or mountains that initially enticed Seattleites to take on 2.5-hour journey into the deep Cascades. It was coffee. The long-time local general store, Plain Hardware, first added giftware, clothing and souvenirs to the traditional set of hammers and nails; then it started to experiment with the coffee corner. Today, the shop’s coffee has achieved the quality that, over busy weekends, brings in swarms of vacationers, giving tiny Plain a cosmopolitan spirit―an uncommon phenomenon for a town its size.
As a fulfillment of store owner Rob Whitten’s lifelong dream, the first miles of Nordic ski trails were added to the mix in 2012. The valley with a few hundred inhabitants, a small elementary school and a downtown that consists of a diner, a grocery and a hardware store got its own junior ski team with a coaching staff, summer camps and winter races, a vast ski park and the full attention of the local community. (As a former ski racer on the National Collegiate Athletic Association [NCAA] circuit, I have seen plenty of venues, but few where skiing has been built into a locale in such a short time.) While incredibly small―or maybe thanks to that―the community of Plain has embraced the town’s Nordic ski culture. Today, the ski team is everybody’s business and passion.
Just like the team, the trail system has been growing since its inception. What initially was a loop on a field is now more than 15 miles of trails meandering along the valley, past horse barns and sleepy creeks, through sparse woods and idyllic paddocks.
As part of its growth, the ski center hopes to add on steeper loops here and there, while the main trail is ideal for someone who has just discovered the wonders of cross-country skiing. The trails are wide and well-signed, feature both classic and skating tracks and are groomed daily. The field at the start of the course is maintained as a playground for skiers of all ages; the 1.6 mile loop includes moguls, jumps and slalom and obstacle courses. Those who are not into Nordic skiing can take advantage of the snowshoe trails. Plain Hardware does, of course, rent all the necessary equipment―and provides the après-ski coffee creations.
|Where to eat
Old Mill Café, oldmillcafeplain.com
Where to rent gear
Where to play