Issue: January/February 2013
Destination: Winthrop, Washington
Snow-covered trails and cozy comforts make for a balanced winter escape.
The Methow Valley provides a portal to escape during any season, but hunkering down in winter feels especially fine. Snow sweeps across the fields, settling in between the cottonwoods. Patterson Lake freezes thickly enough to support outdoor skating under dependably blue skies, while the steady crackle of firewood warms the area's rustic pubs and restaurants.
No less an explorer than David Thompson wrote about the Methow (Okanagan for "sunflower" or "sunflower seeds"), calling its people the Smeethowe in his journal after meeting them here in 1811. The Methow Valley's history includes a gold rush in 1868, when placer gold was discovered near Slate Creek, and its central township, Winthrop, served as the setting for The Virginian, considered America's first Western novel. Today Winthrop is the hub for a different type of trail blazing: more than 100 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails.
The trails pass most of the valley's accommodations, including two of the finest options, Sun Mountain Lodge and Mazama Ranch House. Spectacular vistas await nighttime snowshoe enthusiasts, especially when a full moon hangs in the desert sky. Swishing down the sledding hill under moonlight fills the dark gaps in the sky with laughter.
We can understand why those who stay at Sun Mountain Lodge often never make it beyond the Wolf Creek Bar and Grill, but there are plenty of reasons to head out into the crisp winter air for dinner and entertainment, beginning with the Arrowleaf Bistro. Set under an unassuming pitched roofline, the Arrowleaf celebrates the Northwest bounty with such offerings as pork tenderloin from Portland's Tails and Trotters and handmade pasta with Cascade-foraged mushrooms. The Old Schoolhouse Brewery offers more casual interpretations of regionally sourced foods—and housemade beers. As with most of the pubs in the Methow Valley, musicians perform here on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Methow by day is every bit as pleasing, especially when you start the day with sour cream coffee cake or fresh bagels at Rocking Horse Bakery and stock up on "Trail-Ready Sandwiches." The latter include a hummus combo called "Scarlet Begonia," the "Aqualung" albacore tuna mélange, and others similarly named for rock anthems. All are prepared fresh each morning and can be wrapped to go. Pizzas, soups and salads round out the eclectic menu.
Though outdoor recreation defines the Winthrop lifestyle, cultural offerings are never far away. Methow Arts Alliance presents a variety of concerts, speakers and public art exhibits throughout the year inside the Winthrop Barn and Twisp's Merc Playhouse, while the Winthrop Gallery rotates a variety of exhibitions each month.
Whether you're casting off for a half-day of skate-skiing or a visit to observe the casting of sculpture at Fharnham Bronze Studio, the adventurous, aesthetically vibrant Methow Valley provides all the essential elements of a perfect getaway.