White River Canyon
One of the most exciting, yet often overlooked, venue for experienced backcountry enthusiasts is White River Canyon on Mt. Hood. You can enter the area from the 6,000' Timberline parking lot or at the 9,600' area at the top of White River Headwall, and can exit the backcountry area at the 4,200' White River West parking lot. For the ultimate convenience, your party should leave a vehicle parked in the White River West parking lot and then drive to the Timberline Ski Resort. Be sure to bring your avalanche transceivers and the key to your first vehicle!
Safety first! If you are not experienced in backcountry skiing and avalanche assessment, you are not yet ready for the backcountry and should take mountain safety classes, honestly assess your own ability, and do some practicing in bounds.
Anyone entering the wilderness country on Mt. Hood must obtain a wilderness permit, available around the clock at the Climbers Registry next to the Wy'East Day Lodge at Timberline. Wilderness permit systems are implemented to collect information on use levels, patterns, as an education tool for the Forest Service, and as a means of knowing who has entered the area in case of an emergency.
The beauty of White River Canyon is that your tour can begin immediately by just walking east from the parking lot, clicking into your bindings, and entering the lower slopes.
Between January and July you may be able to purchase a “climber’s ticket” allowing you one ride on the Magic Mile and Palmer and giving you access to upper White River Canyon without any work climbing. If you do decide to climb, the route will run parallel along the chairlifts of the Magic Mile and Palmer. Please respect the ski area and climb or skin outside the boundary and off the groomed trails. You can traverse east to enter the slopes of White River Canyon at any time.
Note that entering anywhere above the 7,000' elevation can be the most dangerous part of the tour. The upper faces can form crevasses and overhanging cornices, depending upon the snowpack and time of year.
Looking down the canyon, you will see all of the possibilities of where to ski: between three and nine slopes, with a variety of vertical from 20 degrees to 35 degrees. This makes for amazing skiing, but it also places this area in the highest danger category for avalanches. Once again, use extreme caution.
You cannot make any wrong turns, as White River is a canyon that naturally leads down to the highway—as you get lower the slopes will merge with the river and a small plateau. At this junction the canyon will take a hard turn toward the east/left, which will follow the river and take you out toward the highway.
The trail back to the road is the easiest part of the whole tour, as the slope follows the river downstream. Snowboarders will find this section considerably easier if they have collapsible poles for the flat areas. Stay to the east/left of the river, hugging the canyon walls, to Highway 35, where you will climb down the snow bank onto Highway 35, heading west to cross the bridge back to your car.
The Cheshire Cat will have nothing on the grin on your face! Just for that day, the turns were all untracked, the mountain was all yours, and you realized your dream for a memorable moment in your life.
Asit is a former top ten competitive freestyle skier. A number of races in the Alps that involved racing downhill from the tops of peaks, taking the fastest line possible, led him to realize his passion was first and technical descents that encompassed mountaineering, route finding, and “bad ass” skiing.
Asit spent 5 years skiing and climbing 200+ days a year between Chamonix, France and Las Lenas, Argentina, accelerating his skiing to the level it is today. He is a "suit and tie" by day but a big mountain skier at heart, having summited Mount Hood 107 times to ski down.
He is sales manager at Murray Mazda/Chevrolet, and is currently sponsored by Volkl skis, Oakley eye wear, Eider clothing, Shred Alert Gear, and Gleukos energy drink.
Note one thing. Back country skiing is amazing, but if you should need help, it can be long in coming and also quite expensive. Many areas are now charging you full fare for finding you, tending to you, and getting you out. Helicopters are not cheap!
So, have a plan, ski the plan, carry the correct gear, including a locating device. If you can, go with an experienced back country skier to learn the ropes.