Friday, April 16, 2010

McMenamins Edgefield: Kick Back and Party in Troutdale

Urban Portland gets all the fawning media attention, but if you want an authentic Oregon weekend for less $$ than downtown, head east to McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale on the western edge of the Columbia Gorge.

Sometimes when you’re not paying attention, the unexciting small town where you grew up can evolve into a truly interesting place.

Consider Troutdale, Oregon.

When I was in elementary school, the school bus passed by a forlorn collection of institutional brick buildings near “downtown” Troutdale. It housed a nursing home and, before that, the Poor Farm. The place gave us kids the creeps, and I vowed never to end up there. In fact, the Edgefield was built to house the indigent and poor of Multnomah County back in 1911.

In the early 1990s when the Edgefield was threatened with demolition, the visionary McMenamin brothers saw its potential as a fun and lively destination. They reclaimed the facility and renovated it in a quirky, artsy, funky, comfy style. Similar to historic Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, many local artists were recruited to paint and decorate in unique flourishes.

Today the Edgefield features overnight lodging, a winery, distillery, brew pub, cinema, pool hall, spa, soaking pool, concert venue, nice restaurant, tea house bar, golf course, artist glass and pottery studio, herb garden, and more. Besides guests like me who stop by for a meal or an overnight getaway, lots of weddings and events and festivals take place there. It’s always a party!

So after all those years since grade school, I have ended up at the Edgefield–more than once in fact.

On a recent visit, I check in shortly after 3 p.m. and discover I’ve lucked out with an room upstairs in the southwest corner of the main building. Although many lower- to mid-priced rooms share communal bathrooms, my spacious room has its own bathroom (sans shower).

My tentative plan is to get settled, then head into downtown Portland and meet a friend for the evening.

Didn’t happen.

I take a short stroll over to check out Ruby’s Spa, passing the cute little wood and glass tea house bar.

“Do you have an opening for a facial or massage this afternoon?” I ask the two attractive young women behind the counter.

“We do!” Lucky me, it’s a weekday and not too busy.

I indulge myself with a Rejuvenating Facial. Under a soothing mist of steam, my friendly aesthetician Cynthia slathers on my face and decolletage an exfoliating mask, smooth gels, and cool lotions. While she pampers my skin with all-natural Eminence Organics products, I get whiffs of citrus, sweet floral plumeria, and lavender.

Afterwards, I ease into the large outdoor soaking pool next to the spa building and relax even more. Right now I just don’t feel the need to hop in my car and drive 15 miles to a busy, crowded city. The snow-covered Cascade foothills across the Columbia River look just fine from the warm pool.

Then I lounge on the balcony outside my room, overlooking a grove of trees.

By 7:30 I am getting hungry. First I pop my head into the Power Station Pub behind the main inn. It’s a bit too crowded and noisy for me after my spa splurge. Instead I grab a table in the warm and cozy, wood-paneled Black Rabbit Bar.

With a focus on seasonal, fresh food and herbs from local onsite gardens, meals at the Black Rabbit are generally excellent. Tonight is no exception. I get a generous green salad dressed lightly with a tart-sweet balsamic vinaigrette, followed by a spring asparagus risotto topped with a bright green crown of delicate watercress. A glass of Edgefield’s own Willamette Valley Pinot Gris is a perfect pairing with the green-centric meal.

There’s live music in the winery, but since I’ll be up early tomorrow morning (spring skiing) I wander back up to my room. Within 30 minutes of reading in the comfy bed, I drift off to sleep. Early-to-bed, light sleepers take note: bring earplugs–the rooms aren’t that soundproof and the sound of the hallway door opening and closing woke me up several times.

I’m up and out early. Another great thing about the Edgefield is its proximity to dramatic scenic landscapes in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which begins just a few miles down the road beyond Troutdale’s old main street.

When You Go
Rooms range from hostel-style at under $50/night to suites with private baths at $150/night. I paid $80/night for my large room. My facial was $95 for 60 minutes. Dinner with wine was under $25 in the Black Rabbit Bar. The Edgefield is right off Halsey Street just a mile or so east of Wood Village and west of downtown Troutdale. It’s easy to reach off of Interstate 84.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Late Season at Mt. Hood’s Ski Bowl: Plenty of Snow, Cheap Tickets

Hey Northwest skiers and riders, what are you doing today? There’s tons of fresh snow in the Cascades. Lift tickets are a mere $25/day at Ski Bowl.

What are you waiting for? Go on and get up there.

Let’s face it—it hasn’t been the best ski season here in the Northwest. Whether climate change in general or simply El Nino is to blame, we’ve endured some marginal, icy days on the slopes.

But true to form with El Nino years, late season storms have blown in, dumping several feet of fluffy stuff in the Cascades. The result: Great skiing without the crowds.

Ski Bowl isn’t flashy. But the Upper Bowl has some great terrain (steeps, glades, chutes, tree skiing) worth a trip any time of the year. Plus when it’s clear, you can’t beat the view of Mt. Hood not much more than a (long) snowball’s throw away.

Call it a scrappy little resort, but Ski Bowl has the most expert runs in Oregon. I learned to ski at Mt. Hood Meadows, but I really became a skier at Multorpor-Ski Bowl. Local Northwest ski areas like Ski Bowl, Hoodoo, and Alpental breed great skiers at a fraction of the cost of high-end resorts like Whistler and Sun Valley.

When we arrive today, it’s 28 degrees and snowing like crazy (and has been all night). We head straight up to the Upper Bowl to catch whatever snow is left untracked.

It doesn’t matter that the slopes are fairly cut up by the time we arrive. We’re not disappointed. With all this fresh, cold new snow (over a foot), we slice ‘n dice and float down the slopes like a dream.

James charges off through the trees like a madman always on the verge of wiping out, but he beats us to the bottom most of the time. Sporting a polyester leisure suit jacket and disco-era polyester shirt, he sets the fashion tone and seems to stay drier than the rest of us in Gore-Tex and rain gear.

For a couple hours in the morning, we have run after great run across the bowl.

Lift lines? Nada.

Okay, so this is Mt. Hood. We are getting a tad wet by late morning. “I’m ready for a break,” I say to the guys.

We ski down to the historic Warming Hut that lies between the Upper and Lower Bowls. When I was a kid, this charming little hut was neglected and used for storage. Fortunately the owners restored it in 2005 as a perfect spot to grab a bite or beer and warm up by the rustic stone fireplace.

(Foodies take note: The sausages served here hot dog-style are excellent and locally made.)

By early afternoon it warms up and the snow is more Mt. Hood mashed potatoes than powder. But that’s okay. In the Northwest we ski it all. You think good skiers are born on always-perfect snow?

Think again.

Matt and Richard slither through the crud effortlessly as if the conditions haven’t changed. Me, not so much. I’m getting tired and call it a day around 1:30.

But with cheap tickets and a not-very-long drive from Portland, I more than got my money’s worth.

Go on now! Get going!

When You Go
Check Ski Bowl’s website for deals. On Friday, April 2, we skied for free by donating several cans of food for a food drive.