The Elkhorn Mountains in eastern Oregon look like a giant white ship plowing through the sagebrush plains and kicking up a wake of rolling forested hills.
As you pass through the farm country outside Baker City, the pine and fir trees stand like a gateway to the mountains and Anthony Lakes, a small ski area with big character.
From the base area, the pyramid peaks of Angel Mountain, Gunsight, Van Patten and Lee's Lookout loom above, and it looks as though you could hit them with a well-thrown rock. It's probably a trick of the light from the clear air, sapphire sky and sparkling sun.
Anthony Lakes boasts the highest base elevation of any ski area in Oregon, and the second largest network of Nordic ski trails in the state.
It has one chairlift that climbs a modest 900 vertical feet, but its 8,000-foot summit is higher than the summits of Bogus Basin, Brundage or Tamarack.
The ski area carves out an 1,100-acre swath of terrain with 21 groomed runs on 300 acres, so if you like to ski or snowboard an entire mountain, not just the groomed runs, there's plenty of terrain to explore.
"For a small ski area, there are really a lot of choices," said Bill Peal, a skier from Pendleton, Ore.
Powder pig paradise
The area also is famous for its powder. The mountain gets frequent storms that bring dry, Utah-style snow to the slopes.
Its motto is "Where powder is reality," and general manager Rick Pignone swears it's true.
"We're not lying," he says and good-naturedly grumbles about how often he has to groom slopes, plow roads, and get his snowcats unstuck from the deep powder.
During most of the season, the ski area operates Thursday through Sunday. (It's open daily today through Jan. 1, except on Christmas day.)
That means during most of the season there are three days per week on which snow can accumulate but remain untracked until the ski area opens.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the slopes were filled with skiers and snowboarders, but the lift line remained short. By late afternoon, there was still untracked powder.
Early season conditions meant there were rocks lurking beneath the surface, which scared some folks away from the billowy snow. But others carved powder turns with fearless aplomb.
Anthony Lakes is an unapologetic throwback to the days before many ski areas became corporate-driven businesses that resemble a shopping mall on a mountain.
Glen Plake, one of the godfathers of extreme skiing, skied the area in 2004 and described it as "one of the most unique gems."
"We want to run a ski resort like they used to be run when skiing was fun and affordable," Pignone said.
People have been skiing near Anthony Lakes since the 1930s. In 1967, the area got its first chairlift, which replaced an existing platter chair. It now has a modern triple chair and a "Magic Carpet" that whisks beginners up the bunny hill on something that resembles a conveyor belt.
"I skied here in 1968, and this is the first time since then," said Jay Roundtree of LaGrande, Ore., who was there in early December. "It really hasn't changed much."
The lodge is unintentionally retro, with an upstairs cafeteria that sells cheeseburgers for less than $5. If you spent $10 on lunch, you probably couldn't finish all the food.
Downstairs, there's a comfortably dark bar called the Starbottle Saloon, where you can get a glass of Tumble Off Pale Ale, a gold-medal-winning microbrew from a local brewery that named the beer after one of Anthony Lakes' ski runs.
Fun for all snow lovers
Aside from Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, Alpine skiing and snowboarding, backcountry skiers are welcome to use the lift and hike to nearby mountains. Anthony Lakes also offers snowcat skiing on the opposite side of the mountain from the lift-served area. It even hosts monthly snowmobile drag races January through April.
"We cater to everybody who wants to play in the snow," Pignone said.
Anthony Lakes gets most of its customers from the nearby Oregon communities like Baker City, LaGrande and Pendleton, but it's not uncommon to see license plates from Washington and Idaho.
Skiers describe the area as "family oriented" and "friendly."
Full-day lift tickets cost $35 for adults and $31 for youth and $22 for kids, and you can ski for half price on Thursdays. That's a double deal, considering the snow goes untracked Monday through Wednesday.
There are special events several times a month that add flair and festivities to the skiing, including a Super Bowl party where anyone who wears football attire gets a $10 discount on a lift ticket.
The Anthony Lakes crews also paint a football field on the snow near the lodge, and they have a football game that anyone can join in.
Anthony Lakes is not a big, corporate resort, so the management doesn't try to run it like one.
Pignone said one thing that attracts skiers to Anthony Lakes is its down-home feel and comfortable atmosphere.
"It's not just going skiing. It's going for the whole experience, and to top it all off with champagne powder," he said.
Contact reporter Roger Phillips at email@example.com or 373-6615.Special events
• Jan. 6: Free Nordic ski pass and free rentals.
• Feb. 3: Beach party, $5 off your lift ticket if you wear beach attire. Live music in the Starbottle Saloon.
• Feb. 4: Super Bowl Sunday, $10 off your lift ticket if you wear football attire, an on-snow football game, the game televised in the saloon and live music.
• March 17: Snow Blast, barbecue, bonfire and fireworks after dark. Live music.
For a full list of events, log onto www.anthonylakes.com.
Getting there: Take I-84 west from Boise to North Powder Exit 285 in Oregon and follow signs 19 miles to the ski area. It's about 150 miles from Boise and about a three-hour drive.
Lifts: One triple chair, one handle tow; one Magic Carpet.
Lift capacity: 1,200 people per hour.
Skiable acres: 1,100 acres (300 developed).
Vertical: 900 feet.
Slope difficulty: 20 percent beginner, 38 percent intermediate, 42 percent expert.
Top elevation: 8,000 feet.
Night skiing: No.
Longest run: 1.5 miles.
Average skiers per day: 300.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, and all major holidays. (Pacific time, so set your watches.)
Daily lift ticket prices: Adults $35, teens and seniors $31, college students $28, children (ages 7-12) $22. Younger than 6 and older than 70 are free.
Specials: Half price on Thursdays.
Equipment rental prices: Adult alpine packages, $22; children, $17. Snowboard packages are $33 for children and adults.
Cat skiing: $190 for full day. Book 12 seats, get one free.
Lessons: Free lesson with a full-day rental package; register an hour before the 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. sessions. Group lessons start at $25.
Other cool stuff: Free RV parking with electric hook ups. Great backcountry ski terrain nearby and one-ride lift tickets are available.
General info: Call (541) 856-3277, or log onto www.anthonylakes.com.