Anthony Lakes is one of our favorite destinations in the winter. Its fantastic terrain, cold dry snow, and down home feel make it a very special place to visit – a far departure from your typical northwest ski areas. Located about 35 miles northwest of Baker City, Anthony Lake Ski Area is off the beaten path for most (unless you happen to live in Baker City or La Grande), but that is part of it’s appeal. Up here you’ll find a vibrant skiing community made up of passionate individuals who enjoy the sport for the outdoor pursuit that it is, not a status symbol or a fashion statement (this isn’t squallywood). You’re likely to share a chairlift ride on Anthony Lake’s one triple chair with a wide variety of amazing people – young local shredders, old timers who have skied Anthony Lakes since it opened in the 60’s, or folks like us that have driven for many hours to ‘get away from it all’. And it really is away from it all; the nearest restaurants or hotels are located in Baker city (more on that below), there is little to no cell service, and with an elevation of 7,100 feet you are at the highest base area in the northwest. Again, this is all part of the amazing Anthony Lakes’ experience.
But its not just about good people and a mellow vibe. The skiing is fantastic! And while there really is only one chair lift – the real magic of Anthony Lakes is in the backcountry. That one chairlift gives you access to an abundance of out-of-bounds terrain off the backside of Anthony Lakes that is truly amazing. Being far inland and buffered by a couple mountain ranges, combined with the high elevation, provides Anthony Lakes with a cold dry snowpack unseen pretty much anywhere else in Oregon. And with no one else around, all that powder can be yours. You can pretty much pick any direction in the 360 degree panorama of fantastic ski lines that surrounds you at the base area and at the top of the lift. The difficulty rating ranges from mellow glades to steep exposed chutes, you have only to choose your adventure. But be safe out there! Outside the ski area boundary help can be very very far away. As usual, proper training in backcountry skiing and avalanche safety, as well as skiing within your limits and abilities is a must!!
One of the tough parts about Anthony Lakes is where to stay. If you have a small RV or Adventure Van, the parking lot is friendly for those types of vehicles – but be warned: most times that we have been to Anthony Lakes the night time temperatures have dipped below 0°F. So you’ll want to be equipped with some kind of heater (don’t count on having access to electrical hookups). Otherwise, Anthony Lakes has Yurt Rentals which are a fantastic deal and keep you from having to drive nearly an hour to the nearest hotel in Baker City (which is great if you plan on enjoying some warming apres ski beverages).
The yurts are fully outfitted with a wood stove for heat (including cut and split firewood), propane stove for cooking, small kitchen with cookware and kitchen basics, lanterns for light, bunks with comfy sleeping pads, large table, cooler, games, and access to an outhouse restroom.
Speaking of beverages – there is a reason that Anthony Lakes’ Starbottle Saloon took 3rd place in the Top 5 apres ski drinking establishments in Eastern Oregon, as polled by the Oregonian in this article, beating out some other establishments in town. This place is wonderful, with a great vibe, decent foot (say yes to nachos!), a great beer selection, and some of the finest people you will ever meet.
Starbottle takes its name from an old sign used as a movie prop in the 1969 film,”Paint Your Wagon,” which chose Baker County as its primary outdoor location. It was a Western musical and featured two of Hollywood’s biggest cowboy genre-stars, Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood.
Before we had an adventure van, we stayed at some dive hotels in Baker City. These are dive hotels as hotels go, but for the price, a warm room, and a comfortable enough bed there really isn’t anything to complain about. Just having to make the drive back down the hill (and back up the next day) can be a bit taxing (and limits your responsible enjoyment of the Starbottle Saloon).
However you decide to get or stay there, I highly recommend a visit to Anthony Lakes.
Essential Tools of the Trade – DO NOT enter into the backcountry at Anthony Lakes (or anywhere else, for that matter) without the following:
- Realizing the limits of your abilities and your training. Regardless of what tools you have in the backcountry, knowing how to use them and knowing how to be safe (how to avoid having to use them) is the most important thing to bring in the backcountry.
- Avalanche Beacon. I have always been a fan of the Mammut beacons, but my wife has been very pleased with her Backcountry Access Tracker DTS beacon.
- Avalanche Probe.
- Collapsible Snow Shovel. Must be metal and stout.
Here is a map of a nice tour you can do from the Anthony Lakes Ski Area parking lot, up to the Angel basin: