LEAVENWORTH SKI HILL
THERE’S NO POLITE way to say it: The town of Leavenworth, which in the 1960s decided to turn itself into a Bavarian village (right down to a lederhosen-wearing octogenarian who blows an alpenhorn each morning), is a weird place. Like, really weird. But amid the Wiener schnitzels, the nutcrackers in the windows, the oompah bands playing in the town’s gazebo and the ski hill just a mile and a half from downtown, it’s also the kind of place that can make your kids as giddy for the onset of winter as they are for the school year’s end.
On a typical winter weekend, some 500 visitors tromp around this gingerbread hamlet, where wealthy, fur-clad Seattle vacationers once arrived by train to watch ski-jumping competitions and take a thrilling turn on the toboggan run. Today the 70-year-old Leavenworth Ski Hill, tucked into a sun-catching North Cascades notch, manages to pack four surface lifts, two alpine runs, a slalom course, a tubing hill and two bona fide ski jumps onto its lowly 400-vertical-foot slope.
While other ski areas have endeavored to expand and glamorize, Leavenworth remains a humble place: Duck into the single-room 1932 Civilian Conservation Corps-built lodge, and you’ll likely find apple-cheeked kids drawing their woolen socks before the great stone fireplace. The whole outfit is kept running by volunteers from the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club, and on winter weekends and Wednesday and Friday nights (the only times the ski hill is open), they cheerily staff the lift-ticket booths and the lodge’s snack counter, where a hot dog and a hot cocoa can be had for the change in your pocket.
While other ski areas have endeavored to expand and glamorize, Leavenworth remains a humble place.
Eventually, however, you might have to explain to your kids what’s going on, what with all the tuba music and short leather pants. Here’s the deal: When the local Bavarians noticed that their surrounding Cascade peaks—soaring 7,000 feet above the valley floor—resembled the arduous landscape of the Austrian Alps, a handful of businesses decided to refurbish their façades in Alpine style. Lo and behold, some tourists found the idea of a Bavarian village fashionable, and soon the rest of the town followed suit.
The Bavarians don’t have a lock on the town’s Euro vibe, however: Leavenworth is also a small-time destination for Nordic skiing (more than 15 miles of groomed trails weave through the valley) and also Nordic ski jumping. Although the original 90-meter-long competition ramp was dismantled long ago, the hill still boasts more doable 15- and 27-meter jumping hills where you (yes, you) can test your aerial mettle. Ask around the lodge for Kjell Bakke, the wiry, 74-year-old local jumping guru—whose father, Magnus Bakke, helped build this place—and he’ll gladly show you the finer points of launching yourself into the Cascades’ frosty mountain air.
Afterward, hit the town center to explore shops filled with goofy Germanic gewgaws, or perhaps to have a pint of ale at the München Haus, an authentic German beer garden and a fine place to raise a glass in appreciation of the locals who, after all, are willing to live in a real-world Grimm’s fairy tale—all for your pleasure.