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Hitch a ride to a snowbound cabin

Elk Lake Resort in central Oregon shuttles guests 11 miles to their snowbound cabins via snowcat or a Suburban on tracks.
Elk Lake Resort in central Oregon shuttles guests 11 miles to their snowbound cabins via snowcat or a Suburban on tracks.Elk Lake Resort

Book your snowbound cabin nestled in the woods, pack your food and cross-country skis, grab the kids — and don’t forget to reserve the snowcat.

A handful of snowbound lodges and resorts in the Northwest are making winter adventures more accessible for families by throwing in a little help: Stocked cabins, reached by burly snowcats.

Skiers and snowshoers can rent rustic to luxury log cabins loaded with linens, cookware and firewood — and an option for a snowcat to carry in up to 12 people plus food and gear. Young kids and those not up to getting there on their own can ride in the snowcat while others ski or snowshoe the usually three to 10 miles from the nearest road in to the cabins.

Tucked in the Cascade Mountain range about 35 miles south of Bend, Ore., the snowbound Paulina Lake Lodge operates 11 rustic huts roughly three miles from a snow park. Visitors have a few options for reaching the cabins, which range from $100 to $265 per night: ski or snowshoe in, ride in a snowcat or rent a snowmobile.  

Bend residents Jenny Blechman and Tim Carney have cross-country skied in to the Paulina Lake huts two years in a row with their two young boys, along with other families. The second year, two parents rode with all 5 kids in the snowcat while the other adults enjoyed skiing in. The three families split the $150 round-trip snowcat cost, rented a cozy cabin together, and during the day tag-teamed, with some adults skiing while others played in the snow with the kids.

“The snowcats give us the freedom to continue our adventures with the kids in tow,” Blechman said. “It’s doable without the extra transport, but it sure makes things easier — and for travel with kids, easier is always best.”

In addition to food and gear, Blechman said the snowcat hauled in the kids’ skis, travel cribs and baby seats — things they wouldn’t have been able to carry on their backs while skiing.

Paulina Lake Lodge co-owner Karen Brown said most families have been coming for years and making full use of the snowcat shuttle.

“We have kids that I’ve watched grow up,” she said. “We only see them once or twice a year, but it’s really a family atmosphere up here. We have one kid graduating in June that started coming as a little one.”

Paulina Lake Lodge also rents snowmobiles for guided tours or for visitors to ride in and keep at the cabins. The lodge, built in the 1920s, is now a full cocktail bar and restaurant, which gives guests the option to eat there as well as cook in the cabins.

Nearby, Elk Lake Resort offers 13 snowbound cabins ranging from very rustic ($29 per night, sleeps two) to a 3,000-foot luxury cabin ($459 per night, sleeps 10). Resort staff shuttle in guests — those not skiing the 11 miles in — on a snowcat or hefty Suburban on tracks for $40 per person roundtrip. 

“A lot of families wouldn’t be able to come here without the snowcat or Suburban,” said co-owner Mitch Cole. “We’re passionate about making this resort accessible to families, mostly because my partners and I have kids, too. It’s amazing to see kids up here for the first time in their own private, snowbound resort. They have a blast.”

Those looking for a really special, snowy treat for a family reunion or big gathering can rent Silcox Hut perched above Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge, about an hour’s drive from Portland, Ore. At 7,000 feet, it’s Oregon’s highest hotel. For $175 per person per night during the weekend (kids a little less), you get lodging, dinner, breakfast and snowcat transportation. Kids too young to downhill ski can romp in the snow outside the hut or down at Timberline Lodge, which also offers ski and snowplay programs for kids.

Other backcountry huts are scattered throughout the Northwest, but few come with snowcat services. The Rendezvous Huts in Washington’s Methow Valley along the eastern flanks of the North Cascades are dotted about every five miles along 21 miles of groomed Nordic ski trails. While the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association doesn’t have snowcat transportation, it does offer a freight hauling service for food and gear. This can lighten parents’ loads so while cross-country skiing, they can pull young kids in to the huts on their own Chariots (kid trailers on skis attached to a waist harness).

The snow season for these resorts and lodges starts in mid-December and lasts through mid-March, depending on snow level.  

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Colleen McBrinn, a freelance writer in Portland, Ore., strives to maintain an active lifestyle of outdoor sports and travel with two wee ones in tow.