A Wintery Staycation

o destination in the Northwest is more emblematic of our shared outdoor culture than majestic Mt. Hood. Ever present on the horizon beyond the Portland skyline, it beckons us to enjoy fresh air and alpine activity, just a 90-minute drive away.

For this installment of Road Trip with About Face, we set a course for Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort and its sister property Cooper Spur Mountain Resort—the definitive destinations to enjoy all that the mountain has to offer.

For transportation, we chose a luxury vehicle evocative of Northwest environmentally conscious values—the 2013 Range Rover Evoque. Bold and compact, the Evoque utilizes advanced materials and technology to make it the most fuel-efficient Land Rover ever.

While Land Rover is the manufacturer, only a few elite flagship models receive the premium brand name designation of Range Rover. The model trim package provided for our trip was the Dynamic—the boldest expression of the Evoque, with aggressive body moldings, blacked-out body vents, wicked-looking dual exhaust integrated into the body lines, stunning 20” shadow chrome alloy wheels, and a sporty stitched black leather interior, accentuated by gloss black detailing.

Appropriately, the Evoque does much to evoke a sense of luxury and British sophistication, at the same time shedding itself of the vestiges of English stuffiness. Blue neon lights illuminate the Range Rover logo on the door threshold. Though the British heritage of Land Rover vehicles is ever present, the feel is less tweed jacket and Grey Poupon, and more ski parka and triple-shot espresso.

Range Rover Evoque -2The full-length glass ceiling, comfortable heated leather seats, extremely quiet interior, 360-degree camera system, and premium 17-speaker sound system were so pleasant,it felt like the vacation getaway had begun before I turned on the ignition. One can easily imagine the Beckhams sporting this around Aspen, just for the fun of it.

In five-door form, the Evoque offers contemporary design features, while maintaining practicality, and accessibility. I immediately found convenient ledges, pockets and compartments to hold my phone, house keys and notepad, while the photographer along for the journey found the rear compartments to be perfect for all his equipment. Once on the road, it was clear this car is engineered in Europe. The power, handling, and braking of the Evoque are the result of more time and effort going into the design process, and the rewards are immediately evident. In sport mode, the instrument dials turn red—an indicator of the additional punch the Evoque is about to deliver. Pressing the accelerator in sport mode is a pulse-quickening experience, brought to you by a lightweight all-aluminum direct injection turbo-charged 2.0-liter engine. It is just this feature that makes the Evoque special amid the sea of “cute utes” available on the market. Fuel economy and lower emissions are achieved by the small displacement of the transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine and responsiveness of the six-speed transmission, but there is no dearth of power to remind you you’re driving an eco-friendly SUV. Paddle shift controls allow you to shift manually if so desired, further enhancing the sportiness of this techno-wonder.

Handling performance may be the area in which the Evoque excels the most. The advanced Terrain Response System offers five driving modes that adjust for specific road conditions. Even in difficult cornering, acceleration and braking conditions, I felt no oversteer or loss of grip, even as road conditions deteriorated. The suspension is truly nimble when cornering, and adaptive to the terrain, helping to differentiate this vehicle from the larger lumbering SUVs on the road.

Considering mobile phone service was spotty on the mountain, it was great to see the on-board navigation in the Evoque never lost its signal. Once we arrived at Cooper Spur, I was a bit disappointed the drive was over, but glad to be at the mountain’s most inviting destination. One look at the parking lot and I could tell that Land Rover is the top choice amongst the ski family set, and rolling through in the stunning new Range Rover Evoque elicited curiosity and more than a touch of envy, especially from those already familiar with the brand.

Night SkiingSituated on the north face of Mt. Hood, Cooper Spur Mountain Resort is just minutes away from Mt. Hood Meadows ski area, and just 30 minutes from the town of Hood River. The rustic peeled-wood log cabins represent over 50 years of family-friendly outdoor fun and relaxation. The resort includes a lodge with three two-bedroom condos, five deluxe two-bedroom cabins, and one four-bedroom log home. When we arrived we were immediately greeted by friendly and knowledgeable staff members, including resort manager Cynthia Steele, who offered an enthusiastic recommendation to dine at the lodge restaurant later in the evening. That was a suggestion we would later be glad we did not ignore.

I’ve always wanted to try cross-country skiing. I’ve been to all the resorts on Mt. Hood, either downhill skiing or snowboarding, but this was a chance to try something new. The resort was bustling with activity all around, as families swished about from lodge to trail to cabin on Nordic skis and snowshoes. Just up the hill from the main lodge, the Cooper Spur lifts were teeming with tykes revving to race in a youth ski competition.

The next stop was just minutes away at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort. Situated on the southeast flank of the mountain in a sunny and wind-protected enclave, Meadows offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the Northwest. With six high-speed quad lifts, and eleven lifts total, there isn’t a lot of standing around even on the busiest of days. Even though the snow had been somewhat sparse for about five days, the runs were perfectly groomed and there was no shortage of skiers and snowboarders to enjoy the sunny weather and panoramic views on over two thousand skiable acres with 85 runs.

Pan Roasted Chicken
Pan Roasted Chicken

Back inside the lodge, the photographer and I decided to take a load off and watch Super Bowl XLVII in the Vertical Restaurant and Sports Bar. Also renowned for night skiing, the slopes were spectacular to see from the bar as the sun went down and the lift lights came on. Unlike the half-hour blackout at the Superdome in New Orleans, the lights at Mt. Hood Meadows reliably provided illumination for night skiing on over 140 acres that night, as usual. After watching the Ravens withstand an impressive 49ers rally, we headed back to Cooper Spur for a much-anticipated dinner.

Executive Chef Joe Silliman was to provide a dining experience unparalleled by anything available on the mountain. Though not classically trained, Silliman’s ethos about fresh ingredients and unpretentious plating is as refreshing in its simplicity as it is delicious to taste.

The atmosphere of the restaurant at Cooper Spur is historically quaint. Its rustic rough-hewn wood and rock features, and photographs of bygone Nordic expeditions honoring early pioneers to the area elicit ski-lodge charm. But all of this belies the unexpected caliber of food about to be served. A host of planned renovations to the dining room will be needed to keep pace with the emerging talent in the kitchen.

First to arrive at our table via our excellent server, Summer, were unbelievably delicious croquettes—a meld of applewood-smoked bacon, potato, Rogue River Smokey Blue Cheese, herbs, and roasted garlic aioli. They had me at bacon. It’s not an exaggeration to say it is one of the best small plates I’ve ever had. Next out was a petite sirloin—cooked to perfection—from the Après Ski menu, a European tradition of small entrees traditionally served after skiing. This was thoroughly enjoyed with a nice malbec wine from Argentina, in anticipation of the main course.

Chef Silliman soon emerged from the kitchen with a beautifully prepared and plated pan-roasted chicken breast, mushroom risotto, and asparagus in a house demi, demonstrating great talent in a little known place. The mélange of tastes were reminiscent of Mom’s home cooking, while also bringing added original flair with locally sourced herbs and carefully selected ingredients.

After our main course, Silliman took the time to join us at our table with an outstanding digestif from winemaker Patrick Taylor at Cana’s Feast Winery in Carlton, OR. This accompanied a decadent array of desserts to try, including fresh-baked apple pie with Tuaca and spiced cider mix, whipped cream, and a cinnamon stick, as well as crème brûlée served with fresh strawberries, and a surprisingly unusual and delicious marionberry empanada.

Cooper Spur SignWe talked food, and we talked wine, and then we had a nice glass of bourbon to conclude the dining experience. Après ski and après football, as it was, the result was a conversation that could warrant an article unto itself. Despite a local clientele more interested in standard fare, Chef Silliman is determined to bring new tastes and experiences to the mountain in an engaging way. It’s clear that while this up-and-coming restaurant and chef are relatively unknown to the Portland culinary scene, this will not remain the case for long.

The cabin provided to us was spacious inside, and appointed with truly comfortable beds that are a sight for sore legs. After a long day of fresh air, skiing, and enjoying incredible food and drink, there’s nothing quite as inviting as a warm cabin with a nice, roaring fire inside and a comfy bed. Amenities included a large flat screen TV, large fluffy couches and chairs in front of the fireplace, a bundle of complimentary firewood, full kitchen if you choose to cook for yourself, and ample windows to enjoy the scenery.

The return trip through the town of Hood River offered picturesque scenery during the drive, and once in town, some of Oregon’s most exciting wineries and restaurants. Naked Winery provides a wide array of truly outstanding wines branded in an unusually ribald and humorous way, serving to increase the accessibility and fun of the Gorge wine scene. Denizens of this sometimes sleepy town enjoy playing tour guide to travelers and led us to another great meal at the stylishly designed Celilo Restaurant and Bar. Its excellent service, ambience, wine list and menu offerings were a definite treat.

At just over 28 miles per gallon for the entire trip, factoring in a lot of vertical gain and windy roads, the Range Rover Evoque delivered us to Mt. Hood and back not only economically, but also with style and panache unrivalled by any other crossover SUV on the road. When you visit the dealership at 720 NE Grand Avenue in Portland, ask about the carbon neutral initiative unique to Land Rover of Portland, and their contributions to the Conservation Fund. Performance, style, and responsibility go hand in hand at Land Rover of Portland. Join us next time as we journey to another great destination in the Pacific Northwest.

About The Author: Justin Fields