By Kim Cooper Findling
The Warner Mountains rise nearly 10,000 feet above the high desert plateau in south central Oregon, remote, rugged and incredibly beautiful. In the winter, steep peaks are blanketed in snow, surrounded by acres of frosty sagebrush. Here, tucked in a stunning rural canyon just four miles from Lakeview, is one of Oregon’s best-kept secrets for lovers of snow and slopes.
Warner Canyon Ski Area is the second-oldest ski area in the state, established in 1938. From the beginning, the hill has been a family-favorite pastime, a community affair and a local labor of love. It might be the friendliest ski area you ever visit.
Largely volunteer-run and only open weekends, Warner Canyon makes up in beauty and access what it lacks in fancy equipment or luxurious amenities. A friendly, small-town atmosphere extends throughout the ski area. There’s just one lift here—a triple chair that came from Squaw Valley and is experiencing its second life here in Southern Oregon. Twenty-two runs splay out from the summit, some easy, some black diamond runs tough enough for advanced skiers. The runs have regionally-appropriate names including Cougar, Coyote, Gully and Canyon. Views from the top, at 6400 feet, are of the Warner Valley below—acres of grassland without a developed structure in sight. It’s never crowded, and the lift lines are almost nonexistent. A lift ticket will run you $32 for adults in high season; kids are just $10.
At the bottom of the hill is Warner Canyon’s little lodge, a cozy and modest gathering place. Guests warm up by the wood stove and refuel at the snack bar. It’s not uncommon for locals to gather on a sunny day to grill food and share a beverage outside at the base of the hill, as kids take every last run that they can.
After a day on the hill, the small town of Lakeview is a great retreat for food and lodging. It’s just as friendly here as it is on the ski mountain, and just as charming. Lakeview boasts the title of tallest town in Oregon, sitting at 4800 feet on the Warner’s western flanks, with a view of the great open valley and the Oregon Outback to the west.
In the summer, the Lake County Round Up is the big draw in Lakeview. In winter, it’s a little sleepier, but still so welcoming and beautiful. Any time of year, grab a room for the night right in town at the Fremont Inn, which offers spacious rooms and a large common area for gathering. If you’re after a ranch-like lodging experience, try Aspen Ridge Resort, 30 miles west of Lakeview; a restaurant and a bar round out this lodging option. Back in town, check out local’s favorite Happy Horse Deli and Antiques for lunch. Mario’s Dinner House is rural western fine dining at its best, with an amazing bourbon glazed prime rib on the menu.
This winter, come to Lakeview for the charming ski hill at Warner Canyon, and stay for the friendly people and hospitality!