Pea Gravel Ridge, also sometimes called Newton Canyon, is one of the most popular touring locations on Mt Hood. This popularity is not undue, as it’s steeper, longer, sheltered slopes can host some of the best skiing on Mt Hood. However, it’s popularity also means that on weekends, company is guaranteed, and you may find yourself surrounded by people making unsafe decisions. I prefer to ski here early in the morning or on weekdays to get the goods and get out before the bozos arrive.
Park at the Mt Hood Meadows HRM lot, near the nordic center. Here, a cat track is groomed north out of the parking lot and up the canyon. Follow the cat track until it crosses Clark Creek after about 1/4 mile. This crossing must be made on a narrow log bridge in early season. Once across the creek, follow the cat track up-canyon for no more than about 100 yards before leaving it to climber’s right and moving into the trees. This area is nebulous, and navigation can be dictated by the vegetation. In general, continue to travel up-canyon and uphill until you reach an obvious increase in pitch. Climb uphill here until reaching the ridgecrest and then follow the ridge upwards. You will feel lost at some point here, but so long as you continue moving towards Mt Hood and always go uphill, it is challenging to get truly lost.
Once on the ridge, continue uphill, avoiding cornices and avoiding straying onto the slope to climber’s left. The trees to the right may be tempting, but wait to drop in until you reach the obvious clearing and identify Peagravel Glades, as it is the woods just downhill of this area that are most mature and make for the best skiing.
The area can be divided into three skiing zones based on tree density. Lower on the ridge are Jill’s Trees, a zone of mature timber that, while steep, is often more protected and safe when avalanche conditions prohibit travel on more-exposed slopes. Devoid of open glades, these trees require tight turns but can make for good runs when the snowpack has thoroughly buried deadfall.
The area around treeline, designated Pea Gravel Glades on the map, offers a compromise between dense trees and full exposure, and it’s where the crowds will gather. The snow here is often well protected and of high quality. Be aware that as you ski here, others will drop in on top of you and/or shamelessly link turns down your skintrack. This area is not intrinsically safe, and human-triggered avalanches happen here with relative frequency. Still, if you’re the first here and the hazard is right, this area has great skiing.
Above the glades at the end of the trees is the main bowl. From here and continuing up the ridge, Pea Gravel offers large, untreed slopes of reasonable length and with room for lots of turns. The snow is often more wind affected and is definitely more prone to wind-loading. Make avalanche safety decisions carefully, as these are large slopes.
Any descent will end at the bottom of Newton Canyon. On busy days, only skintracks through Jill’s Woods and at the upper end of main bowl will survive the onslaught of downhill skiers. On weekdays, a tight skintrack up through the glades is a quick way back to the ridge.
Exiting could be as simple as reversing the climbers track, though few choose this option. This is because reversing this track would be a bit painful and should be reserved for conditions that don’t permit other exits.
The ideal exit from Peagravel Ridge is to ski off the opposite aspect from Peagravel Glades down into Heather Canyon. So long as Heather Canyon is open to downhill skiing via Mt Hood Meadows, a cat track is groomed out the length of the valley and back to the car. Make sure this road exists before committing to this option, as in early season exiting out Heather Canyon is tedious and requires multiple creek crossings. It is important to note that this exit uses an aspect opposite of what you’ve been skiing, and though this slope is often wind-scoured it is also cross-loaded by down canyon winds and is subject to considerable avalanche hazard. I have personally had a close call on this slope and I recommend cautious evaluation before mindlessly skiing down into Heather Canyon. Skiing down the ridge a ways before dropping into Heather offers more dense trees and better safety.
A third option is to ski out of Newton Canyon. From the bottom of the Pea Gravel ski pitches continue down-canyon and wrap around the base of the Pea Gravel ridge. It is good to be familiar with this route in case of an emergency that requires evacuating a skier from the bottom of Newton Canyon. The trees make navigation challenging, and you will have to skin most of the way out, but so long as the slope to the skier’s right is used as a hand-rail, you will eventually return to known territory. GPS and map recommended.