You can be assured of two things if you teach your kids how to ski and snowboard at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.
First, you are going to save a small fortune.
Second, your kids are going to be a little tougher than they would be if they’d learned someplace with extravagancies like chairlifts.
At Hurricane Ridge a family can ski all year for $375, but they’ll have to ride rope tows and be content with never seeing the best runs groomed.
"Kids who learn to ski here, can ski anywhere," said Lori Lynn Gray, head of the Hurricane Ridge ski and snowboard school. "You have to hike to get to the good stuff.
"Hurricane Ridge is not for wussies."
In fact, Gray isn’t opposed to poking some good-natured fun at those who flock to the big mountains in the Cascades to cruise groomed runs.
"You go to a place like Crystal and ride up the hill on those soft, couch-like chairlifts and then ski down a trail that’s been groomed for you," Gray said. "That’s not skiing."
Regulars at The Ridge, as they call it, buy their ski gloves at the Port Angeles True Value hardware store.
"New people come up here with their new ski gloves and tear them up on the rope tows," said Kelly Gouge, a volunteer ski team coach. "We use leather work gloves."
Leather gloves, a poma lift that drags skiers and boarders up the longest run (less than 500 feet) and ungroomed backcountry runs. This is all part of the charm of this little ski hill that rarely draws more than 250 skiers in a day.
"I definitely like skiing other places too," Gouge said. "But this is our home ski area. On clear days the views are as amazing as any ski area. We love it here. We have a blast."
But as much as the locals love The Ridge, they almost lost it before last season.
The stress of paying the $13,000-per-year insurance bill and the cost of diesel fuel to power the lifts meant the ski area, which opened in 1958, was losing about $10,000 per year.
"We started a grass roots effort so we didn’t have to shutter the place for good," Gray said.
Before last season 20 people who grew up skiing on the hill took over The Ridge. Volunteers worked the ticket booth, coached the ski team and patrolled the slope.
Gray managed the website, ran the ski and snowboard school and organized fundraising efforts, all without pay.
"We just want to keep it going because it’s the best thing around for our kids," Gray said.
The primary fundraiser for The Ridge is a steak and oyster dinner and auction followed by a screening of the latest Warren Miller movie. This year’s event is Nov. 11. Last year the auction raised $35,000.
And, at the end of last season, The Ridge had a positive balance in the bank account, Gray said.
While the Port Angeles and Sequim communities make sure the Olympic Peninsula’s only ski area continues operating, it’s unlikely to ever expand beyond its modest operation.
And that’s just fine with the locals.
"When the ski team travels around we get a lot of ‘Where is Hurricane Ridge?’" Gouge said. "But that’s OK. We like have a nice little ski area where we all know each other."
On Saturday mornings kids on the ski team sometimes get to the area early for first tracks on the backcountry runs. They ski down to Hurricane Ridge Road then look for a friend to hitch a ride with back to the base area.
They rarely have trouble finding a ride.
"That’s one of the great things about a small town ski hill," Gouge said. "We think Hurricane Ridge is wonderful."
(This article was originally published in The News Tribune Jan. 24, 2008. Photo by Peter Haley.)