Sleeping Lady, a mountain resort near Leavenworth, gets everything right in a very Pacific Northwest way, from its rustic-luxe log beds and heated towel racks to its rain forest–friendly fair-trade coffee. But the best reason to shack up at the eastern Cascades resort is its proximity to off-the-radar skiing. Just out the door on a forested valley floor are 16 miles of groomed XC trails paralleling Icicle Creek and a dormant golf course along the Wenatchee River; up the road is one of the state’s most challenging backcountry tours, on Mount Cashmere (guide recommended; $180; mountainschool.net). And then there’s the Leavenworth Ski Hill, where two—count ’em, two—groomed trails are lighted three nights a week and accessed via rope tow ($10; skileavenworth.com). And if you’ve got a bit of Eddie the Eagle in you, the hill offers a ski jump, with coaches on hand to talk you through your first flight.
The very big wave (up to 50 feet) at Mavericks off Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay is a Very Big Deal when it builds in December, culminating in an annual surf competition that’s confirmed only 24 hours in advance (check maverickssurf.com for updates). When the word goes out, the world descends (front-row seats are on boat tours). But winter brings plenty of calm days too—ideal for crossing the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve with Half Moon Bay Kayak Co. On a four-hour paddle across the sleeping giant, you’ll see harbor porpoises, sea lions, and the occasional humpback whale ($100; hmbkayak.com). The new and very green Oceano Hotel is your base camp for either experience (doubles from $509; oceanohalfmoonbay.com).
The San Andreas Fault may keep Southern Californians plenty nervous, but few outsiders realize that it’s "not a hole in the ground like the one Lois Lane fell into in Superman," says Mary Dungans of Desert Adventures. Instead, the fault, as it skirts the desert near Palm Springs, is a tortured landscape of steep mountains, deep canyons, weird uplifts, and dense palm oases. It’s all made clear on a half-day Desert Adventures tour of the company’s private thousand-acre ranch ($129; red-jeep.com). The winter months are also a great time to explore the trails in nearby Joshua Tree National Park—for instance, the mountainous, 6.2-mile loop to the ghostly ruins of Lost Horse Mine ($15; nps.gov/jotr).
A hidden alternative to hulking Mount Hood and its mega ski operation, three cozy huts sit within Mount Hood National Forest southeast of the big mountain. Each sleeps eight and is furnished with lanterns, sleeping bags, propane heating, and a modest kitchen ($150 by advance reservation only; cascadehuts.com). The cabins are spaced several miles apart at Barlow Creek, Barlow Butte, and White River. Ski or snowshoe a few miles through old-growth Douglas fir forests on marked trails to any one of the three from U.S. 26 and Oregon 35; or, if you’re feeling ambitious, make the longer trip from hut to hut.