White Pass Winter Carnival

by Heather Larson | Photo © Heather Larson

White Pass normally takes a backseat to Washington’s larger ski areas, such as Mt. Baker, Snoqualmie and Crystal Mountain. Except on the first weekend in March. That’s when the snow-swathed area, just 22 miles east of Packwood, pulls out all the stops for its annual Winter Carnival.

You’ll see the star attraction as soon as you enter the ski area—a gigantic snow castle sculpted from more than 60 tons of snow. Kids wait in line, eager to navigate the icy structure’s interior and to glide down the snow slide, a feature that’s always incorporated into the design. Best of all it’s free.

Volunteer builders erect the foundation and frame to ensure safety while professional snow sculptors adorn the exterior to match whatever theme has been chosen. In 2013, the castle kept to a pirate theme. The construction process takes two weeks. Then everyone crosses their fingers and hopes a weather occurrence doesn’t destroy all their efforts before the carnival ends. Rain can be deadly for a snow castle.

Daytime activities include sports competitions for all ages, a kids’ carnival and the traditional downhill skiing. If you don’t ski, rent some snowshoes. Staff at the rental shack help even the novice get the right size and put them on. Then you can navigate the serenity of the snow-covered landscape across the street from the lodge. A little quiet time and you’re ready for the exhilaration the evening brings.

Saturday night showcases the focal entertainment. Dine on a prime rib or spaghetti dinner while tapping your feet to the live music. After the dishes have been cleared you’ll want to stake out a good vantage point for the remainder of the evening. The fanfare begins with the volunteer ski patrol carrying torches and traversing the slopes in their version of a torchlight parade. After the last light is extinguished, don’t give up your spot just yet, because you’ll want to see the spectacular fireworks display that marks the end of the carnival.

For information about the event, go to visitrainier.com or Skiwhitepass.com.

Where to Stay:
From Seattle or Portland you can make this a day trip, but if you spend the night, here are a few options.
>> TMC Vacation Cabin Rentals, tmcproprerties.com
>> Hotel Packwood, packwoodwa.com/Hotel%20Packwood.htm