Oregon’s Mount Bachelor
Oregon’s Mount Bachelor

A cascade of spring snow sports at Oregon’s Mount Bachelor

The New York Times recently pointed to the Cascade Mountains as the beneficiary of 110 inches of precipitation during March and April each year, declaring Stevens Pass “a prime place for spring skiing.” Well, some years. Other years, what falls is rain. The snow gets slushy. I know. It’s my neck of the woods. I live an easy two hours’ drive from Stevens.

Look southward, because there’s better skiing a few hundred miles from Stevens Pass. The slopes you want to set your freshly waxed skis down on are in central Oregon, where the Cascade Mountains meet the interior high desert, and the snow is dry and powdery. Mount Bachelor is by far the finest destination in the Pacific Northwest for all winter snow sports. I know about that, too: I used to live in a mile-high cedar home in the Ponderosa pines, minutes from Bachelor, which–while we’re on the subject of errant geography–isn’t actually a mountain. It’s a butte. Westerners take their mountains seriously. The U.S. Geological Survey, keeper of such designations, says a chunk of earth must rise 10,000 feet about sea level to qualify. Bachelor, while impressive, never got beyond 9,065 feet. Still, it has what counts: an average annual snowfall of 370 inches and a solid winter base of more than 100 inches.

The Bachelor Butte ski area opened in 1958. Back then, you paid $3 a day to hang onto a 3,000-foot rope and be towed on your wooden skis up 1,000 vertical feet. By 1983 the first summit chairlift appeared, then one of only two high-speed detachable lifts in the world. That same year the Bend Chamber of Commerce, with an eye toward public relations, pulled off a hat trick by convincing the cranky Oregon Geographic Names Board to start calling the dormant snowy volcano Mount Bachelor.

Today it is the second-largest single-mountain ski resort in the U.S. (Vail is first) and the sixth largest overall. From a base elevation of 5,700 feet, a dozen lift systems transport skiers to the top of 71 ski runs over 3,683 acres. The highest run is the Summit Express, which descends 3,000 vertical feet; the longest run is 1.5 miles. The resort also features 35 miles of groomed Nordic or cross-country trails. In recent years Mount Bachelor’s 400-foot “super pipe” has attracted snowboarders internationally. Snowshoeing and dog sledding are also increasingly popular.

Twenty years ago, I spent a Christmas morning in Deschutes National Forest. It was what the U.S. Forest Service calls an “unimproved”–a hiking trail by summer, cross-country ski trail by winter. The boughs of ancient orange-bark pines were thick with fresh, fluffy snow. I gulped clean, cold air and squinted into the sun shining through a clear cobalt sky. No dogs barked. No doors slammed. The only sound was the snow sifting through branches, punctuated by the occasional guttural call of a December raven. My trail needed no improvement.

Other Ways to Play in Oregon

Mount Bachelor is the high point of the Deschutes National Forest, which–together with the nearby Ochoco National Forest and the Crooked River National Grassland–offer 2.5 million acres open to a wide range of outdoor adventures. Eight wilderness areas beckon the back-country explorer. More than 100 lakes and mile after mile of rivers invite the angler, kayaker and rafter.

You can also take the “Bend Ale Trail” tasting tour of 14 craft breweries, most within biking or walking distance of the Old Mill District of this artsy alpine town of 80,000. If you enjoy getting to know the natural history of an area, pay a visit to the High Desert Museum, the remarkable Newberry National Volcanic Monument and the Lava Lands Visitor Center. It was no accident that astronauts shaping up for the Apollo 15 mission trained in this otherworldly basalt landscape resembling the lunar surface. Rumor has it that one took a piece of Oregon rock with him and left it on the moon. 

If You're Planning a Trip

Mount Bachelor’s ski season, one of the longest in the U.S., runs from November through May. Lift tickets cost $76 per day or $550 for 12 days. For more information, visit www.mtbachelor.com or call (800) 829-2442. For lodging and dining info, see www.visitbend.com or call (877) 245-8484. For outdoor maps and recreation ideas, visit www.fs.usda.gov/centraloregon or call (541) 383-5300. Bend Municipal Airport has a 5,200-foot paved runway and FBO services from Professional Air, (800) 261-0019. Also nearby is Sunriver Airport, which has a 5,455-foot runway. FBO services here are provided by Sunriver Resort, (800) 593-4603.

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