It can’t possibly still be snowing. The snowpack can’t possibly be this deep. My luck can’t possibly this good. Then I remember—this is the Cascades, where a 200-inch base by midwinter is average. Luck has nothing to do with it.
There are a few things that you can always count on in the Central Oregon Cascades. Snow—lots of it—is one. So skiers in Bend, Ore., about 3.5 hours southeast of Portland, consider themselves lucky that Mt. Bachelor, a 9,000-foot volcano in the Deschutes National Forest, sits just 23 lonely miles southwest of town. Ten lifts—all powered by renewable energy—whisk skiers around 3,683 acres of runs through old-growth hemlock glades, through U-scooped moraines and up to a summit with 360-degrees of singular terrain beneath their tips. Views of quiet lakes, folded lava fields and the icy chain of Pacific volcanoes are just a bonus when you’re enjoying one of the longest ski seasons in the country.
“You can always find something to ski up here because we have every aspect,” says David Wachs, who’s been mining Bachelor’s riches for 90 days a season since 1992. “We always get snow. It may be late or heavy, but we get it.”
A white winter and plenty of ways to enjoy it are two things, like many aspects of life around here, that haven’t changed in the 50 years that Bachelor has been open. In 1958, when Bend was a thriving timber town, a businessman named Bill Healy and some local investors raised $75,000 to install the first lift on what was then known as Bachelor Butte, one of five volcanoes that dominate the skyline just outside town. In the 1970s, workers added lifts on the western side to offer steeper treeskiing. By the 1980s there was a chair to the summit, boosting the total vertical to a solid 3,365 feet.
Like many timber towns, Bend went through the boom-bust-boom ritual. Today swanky bars occupy defunct mill buildings. Ski bums and software execs mingle over creamy pints at no fewer than five microbreweries. Old-timers drink $2 PBRs alongside all manner of fried grub at the D&D, while next door, the newly opened Volo serves foie-gras brûlée and “Oregonzola” crusted filets. Kids can make their own pizza at Flatbread Community Oven.
It’s no surprise that, for a while, one person was moving to Bend every two hours. The great influx has slowed, but the reason most of them came remains: the bounty of a Pacific Northwest winter.
“With this kind of snow, it’s practically surfing,” surf legend Gerry Lopez remarks. Lopez, who makes surfboards in town, moved to Bend for the snowboarding in the early ’90s. “It’s just a great mountain.”
A lot has changed at the mountain since then, including an expansion last season that added 160 acres of expert terrain. Lifts once plagued by mechanical issues are benefiting from multimillion dollar upgrades. And Bachelor has amped up its nonskiing diversions. This season, dogsled rides will travel deep into the national forest. And 200 kilometers of nordic trails ring the mountain, served by warming huts stocked with firewood.
At the heart of it, Bachelor remains decidedly low-key, where the ambience is down-home and the bars close early. There are no condos or hotels at the base. Looking for après? Head to town.
Folks come for the skiing. And I’m reminded why on a morning when it’s so stormy most people would stay in bed. But the old-growth glades off the Northwest Chair are calling, and soon I’m whipping through a silent forest. It clears up in the afternoon, and my buddy Ralph and I traverse to the north side to ski the chutes tumbling off the summit. We sear our quads with laps down Cows Face, a slope as exposed as the moon.
“One more cone!” Ralph shouts as we click out of our skis for the five-minute hike up the cinder cone. In the distance, kids blast around four terrain parks, where Olympic gold medalist Shaun White once milked so much air from the halfpipe he seemed to soar above the lift.
I let Ralph go first and he disappears in a cloud of snow. It’s the end of the day and we’re skiing untracked lines right to the parking lot. No need to pinch myself. The first face shot felt real enough.
SIGNPOST: Mt. Bachelor, Oregon
3,683 skiable acres; 3,365 vertical feet; base elevation 6,300 feet; summit elevation 9,065 feet; 370 annual inches; 71 runs; 11 lifts. Tickets: $58; $49 teens (13–18); $35 youth (6–12).
Lodging: Nearest the slopes is Seventh Mountain Resort, 20 miles away. Ski-and-stay packages start at $255 (seventhmountain.com; 800-452-6810). In Bend, 23 miles away, McMenamins Old St. Francis School has been retooled into a hotel. Stay in a renovated classroom ($114–$175; mcmenamins.com; 877-661-4228).
Dining: Volo serves excellent Northwest cuisine, such as Oregon beet salad and crusted filet in fig sauce (volobend.com; 541-749-2460). Flatbread Community Oven often lets kids toss their own pizzas (flatbreadpizza.com; 541-728-0600).
Après: Deschutes Brewery is a landmark. Get a hand-pulled pint of Bachelor Bitter from the cask (deschutesbrewery.com).
Getting There: Fly into Redmond Airport, 14 miles north of Bend. From Portland, it’s a 3.5-hour drive.
Info: mtbachelor.com; 800-829-2442
- SKI MAGAZINE, FEBRUARY 2009