It’s the behemoth that defines the Seattle skyline, daring anyone with a penchant for snow and summits to come see it up close. Those who do, discover that the slopes of Mt. Rainier – the 14,411-foot volcano that springs up from its surroundings to stand alone – hosts some of country’s most rewarding backcountry touring.
What Makes It Great
A great introduction to skiing Mt. Rainier is to skin up from the Paradise Visitor’s Center to Camp Muir at 10,080-feet (the basecamp for 90 percent of expeditions to the mountain’s summit) on the Muir Snowfield, on a ridge between the Nisqually and Cowlitz glaciers. The hike ascends 4,600 feet over 4.5 miles on the mountain’s southeast side and takes you past extraordinary lookouts like Panaroma Point, which shows off sightings of the Tatoosh Mountains to the south, and an impressive view Rainier itself. And then comes the best part: carving turns down the broad Muir snowfield will deliver you right back to Paradise. The skiing is well suited to anyone who feels comfortable skiing intermediate runs. It’s for good reason that this is one of the most popular ski mountaineering areas in the Cascades.
Snow can be found on Rainier’s flanks year-round, but the ultimate backcountry challenge is to tour them in winter. Remember to check avalanche conditions before you go, available from the Northwest Avalanche Center and the Mount Rainier Recreational Center. Winter trail conditions are updated irregularly throughout the winter; note that conditions may have changed since the last report. If there is no specific report, conditions are unknown.
Keep in mind that this mountain is no joke: given its tendency for fierce storms and possible avalanches, Mt. Rainier can be deadly. Be prepared for full-on winter conditions and be aware of fast-changing weather. Those considering embarking on an extended backcountry tour on Rainier should have the appropriate experience and skills. If you’re still looking for a way to build them, consider taking a backcountry touring class offered by guiding companies like RMI or International Mountain Guides. Their highly experienced instructors teach tour planning, avalanche awareness and forecasting, and skiing techniques.
Who is Going to Love It
Seattle-ites who have long seen the great Rainier loom over their city will get a particular thrill out of visiting the mountain in person. The skiing from Camp Muir is a great introduction to backcountry touring for anyone who has been curious to take their skills outside of the resort.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The National Park Service ask visitors to avoid skiing on land with less than five feet of snow in order to avoid damaging delicate vegetation. For extended trips, a wilderness camping permit is required year-round. To trek up to Camp Muir, park at the Paradise Visitors Center.