Snow in Portland: Urban skiing & sledging for groceries

Winters in Oregon are fun for winter sports enthusiasts. Just look at the ski resorts of Mount Hood or Mt. Bachelor, where skiing is possible year round. Snowfall in Portland – in contrast – is a rare event. The city only gets an average of 3 inches (7,5 cm) snow per year. But every few years winter arrives in the city and stays for a couple of nights. While this spectacle takes place you don’t want and don’t have to drive anywhere. Just put on your skiers on your front porch and use roads to ski, sledge and snowshow.

What are winters like in Portland?

The Pacific Northwest is known for warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Portland is no exception. Winter in Portland typically starts end of November and lasts through March, sometimes early April. Winter temperatures range between 40° and 60° Fahrenheit (4° -15° Celcius) with frequent rain showers and cloudy skies. The coldest months in Portland are January and February, when snowfall is possible in Portland and surrounding areas. Significant snow within the city limits is indeed a rare event, only happening every few years. But if winter arrives in PDX it turns the entire citylife upside down.

Sofa in the streets of Portland, covered in snow
snow covered bikes at Alberta Street Portland

I’ve seen snow flakes falling on the streets of Portland before, but they are normally gone after 24 hours as temperatures don’t stay below freezing point for long. 2021 was ment to turn out as a year where winter storms and blizzards eventually arrived in Portland turning the city into a winter wonderland for a couple of days in mid February.

Snow in Portland droneshot Northeast Portland covered in snow

Winter activities in Portland

Skiing the city and sledging for groceries

Whenever this happens, everyone prepares for the extraordinary. Restaurants and shops – even big supermarkets – close their doors and people put on their skiers and microspikes to navigate the city. This might sound weird, but Portandians know what they are doing!

snowy Alberta Street Portland
skiing atim Fernhill Park, Northeast Portland

For me as a German it’s fun to watch that an entire city will shut down because of a few inches of snow. But snow plows are as rare as the actual event of snow coming to Portland itself. Roads aren’t cleared, salt isn’t used to prevent black ice and noone owns winter tires in Portland. Slippery and icy streets are the result, only navigatable with snow chains or proper winter shoes. Portlandians would rather wait 3 days until the thaw takes care of everything, before going back to normal. So you are definitely better off leaving your car at home and dive into the winter wonderland unfolding in front of your doorstep, watch cross-country skiers from your front porch, go for urban exploration in your neighbourhood or sledge for groceries.

snow covered carss in Portland, Oregon
red Ferrari, covered in snow and parked in Portland
blizzards and snow in Portland

Portland wouldn’t be Portland if there wasn’t a spontanious event happening around this. Saturday, February 13th 2021 a pop up ski race invited hundreds of skiers into Downtown Portland. We stayed in our hood Northeast. In case you fancy some impressions from Portland’s 2021 ski race, check out the blog EmbraceSomePlace by Antonina, a Portland local, who captured the fun event.

winter in Portland, Oregon: snowy neighbourhoods

While many people have fun in the snow outside, it can get dangerous in the streets. During the last couple of days nearly 250.000 people in Portland metro area have been affected by days-long power outages. Falling trees caused by high winds and the weight of frozen branches are blocking roads. This tree came down just one block away from our house. Fortunately we haven’t been affected by power outages or any damages. But if you are, here are some do’s and don’ts:

uprooted tree after winter storm in Portland, Oregon
fallen tree after snow and ice in Portland

Affected by a power outage? Do’s:

  • Disconnect all your appliances
  • Put rolled-up towels at the base of your doors leading outside
  • Double-check your circuit breakers and reset any that might have tripped
  • Close your curtains and blinds
  • Make sure you have a flashlight and batteries handy
  • Move your vehicle away from any large trees (which can be a challenge in Portland as the city is full of huge trees.

Affected by a power outage? Don’ts:

  • Open fridge and freezer, except when neccessary
  • Taste perishable food to see if it’s safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Use your gas stove to heat your home
  • Only operate your generator outside, at least 15 feet away from any structure
  • Call 911, unless there is a medical emergency
snow-covered car after winter storm in Portland

And today, on Thursday, February 18th? Portland average winter temperatures of 40°/50° Fahrenheit made the snow thaw and we are back to typical grey skies and rainy days. Fortunatley there are a lot of winter activities and events happening thoughout the city that will get you out of the house, even without the fun event of having snow in Portland is over already.

icy branches after blizzard hit Portland

If you fancy a daytrip from Portland the Columbia River Gorge with its hiking trails and waterfalls is a great option. Especially in winter and spring waterfalls carry a lot of water. You might even get lucky to see some falls or the mountain tops covered in snow. The popular Multnomah Falls are only a 30 minutes drive away from Portland by car and make an easy half day trip, especially on a weekday when the attraction is not as crowded.

Multnomah Falls in winter
Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge

More winter adventures in Oregon:

5 reasons why the Oregon Coast is your perfect winter travel destination
Gateway to the Great Outdoors: Things to do in Bend, Oregon
Heceta Head Lighthouse: Sleep extraordinary at the Oregon Coast


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Snow in Portland - winter activities

Snow in Portland - skiing the city

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