|Ride to the summit at Mount Bachelor, Bend, Oregon. photos by Max Hartshorne.|
Mount Bachelor in Bend Oregon: The Big Mountain We Didn’t Know About
“Had you ever heard of Bend before you went out there?” asked a radio interviewer after my trip to Oregon in March 2012.
Yes, I answered, Bend had been on my radar for several years after a friend told me about visiting their son in this city of about 85,000 on the state’s high desert plateau. Places get stuck in my head, and I’m usually pleased when I finally get to see them up close. Bend sounded amazing, with the mild climate, outdoor enthusiasts, and great breweries.
My trip to Bend was primarily to report on the big mountain there, called Mt Bachelor. The volcanic 9000 foot mountain is striking because the ski slopes and trails go down in every direction from the summit.
A ski resort with 360 degrees of skiing, I’ve never seen it, and I couldn’t wait to do so. In the years ahead, Bachelor is poised to add another 600 acres to their ski terrain. For now, it’s huge at 3300 acres and it’s amazing that it’s been under the radar for so long.
In the National Forest
Mt Bachelor has other unique features that have kept it from getting the national attention a big mountain like this deserves. Namely, that it’s located in the Deschutes National Forest, and on top of that, there are regional development restrictions that keep the owners from building the kinds of slope-side amenities that are commonly found on other mountains of this size.
Nope, here you can’t sleep in a ski-in condo, nor can you visit restaurants and shops right next to the lodge. These factors may be limiting but they are also a big part of this 9300 foot mountain’s allure. Look around from the top of the windy summit, and all you’ll see are the dramatic peaks of the Three Sisters, and a whole lot of virgin forest lands.
Skiing from the Summit
Mt Bachelor’s summit isn’t open all that often, because of the incredible high winds that blow the mountain’s highest quad-lift’s chairs sideways. The winds up there are enough to require serious demolishing with machinery when ice builds up in the towers.
High winds at this high altitude are very tough on the lift cables so it’s not that often that the summit is open. The resort’s lift ticket prices range from $53-73, depending on whether the summit is available to ski. The worse the weather, the cheaper the day’s ticket.
|Dogsledding at Mt Bachelor with a team led by an Iditterod veteran dog.|
This ski season has been marked by tremendous snow dumps, of four or five feet in a few days, and with that tremendous wind they can get packed up.
When we first got to town, we checked into the Oxford Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Bend. This hotel, with xxx rooms, has a fine restaurant down in the basement called Ten Below, that serves three meals a day.
The service staff, from the valet parking guy to the desk clerks, are all friendly and courteous. I love a good downtown hotel, and this three-year-old property is part of the California-based Oxford Hotel Group.
They really do a good job in all aspects, and my room was spacious and well appointed. On the seventh floor there is a clean and well equipped fitness center, including a sauna and steam room. Nice!
On our first afternoon in Bend, we asked around for the best place to grab lunch. Brother Jon’s was the suggestion, and soon we were belly up to the bar tasting a local brewery called Boneyard.
We quickly learned that we were in the beer brewing capital of the Northwest—at the end of 2012 there will be 20 breweries, brewpubs and beer bars in this small city!
Beer and breweries became a theme of the visit—we kept visiting new brewpubs and meeting people who love living in Bend, even if they could live anywhere else in the world.
One man who definitely fits this description is Bend demi-celebrity Drew Bledsoe, who spent 13 years as an NFL quarterback, ten with my beloved Patriots in New England, followed by stints with the Bills and the Cowboys. Today, Bledsoe has embraced the town where his wife was born—he co-owns a wine bar, grows grapes and makes wine in Walla Walla Washington, and splits his time between Bend and his vacation place in Whitefish Montana.
Despite his wealth and fame, he’s treated like a regular, albeit very tall, guy here in the city. No special treatment—and he likes it that way. When we met him, he was wearing flip flops and a ballcap while sitting with five friends at the Cascade Lakes Brewing Co, on the edge of town.
“Where else can we go skiing in the morning, and then pull out the golf clubs from the trunk and hit the links after lunch?” he said, taking a sip of his beer. Surrounded by his ski and golf buddies, Bledsoe told us about how much he enjoys skiing at Bachelor and especially watching his young kids navigate the trails from the summit. Bledsoe retired from the NFL in 2006 to settle in Bend.
Bledsoe and his ski buds are pleased with the number of ski days that the summit has been open this year, more than the usual one-third of the time. The winds have calmed down a bit allowing that tippy top chair to run. The snow has been coming in huge dumps this year, one storm left five feet, and during 10 days in January it never stopped snowing.
Bledsoe is also a partner in a boutique company called Montana Ski Company that makes a line of powder skis. “Four guys in Whitefish, making these custom-made skis.” Drew is a serious skier, like any professional athlete, keeping himself in great shape with regular workouts and a lot of time on the slopes. He also coaches his kids on the school football team in Bend.
Oldsters on the Slopes
|Mt Bachelor is perfect for intermediate skiers who like long runs and no lift lines.|
One of the things I noticed at Mt Bachelor was howmany silver-haired skiers I saw in the lodge. The other thing was how much fewer snowboarders there were compared with skiers.
According to Marc Guido, editor of the ski website First Tracks Online, the pendulum has swung back to skis over boards, and more young people are getting back on skis and giving up the boards.
I learned a few of the things that make Mt Bachelor different from many of Colorado’s better known resorts…people here ski more, said the resorts PR chief, Andrew Goggins. “Here we have an average of 26 ski visits per passholder. In some Colorado resorts, it’s maybe six.”
So people here are using their passes much more than Colorado, and despite this, there are still virtually no lines during the week and
Mount Bachelor shows its snowy dome, with skiing around the entire perimeter of the big former volcano.
minimal lines during the weekend. On an average weekday just 2000 skiers are sharing these 3300 acres of terrain. WOW!
From an Expert’s Point of View
Here is what Guido, had to say about Mount Bachelor ski experience.
Mount Bachelor’s marquee terrain, however, sits above its 7,500-foot treeline on the mountain’s summit cone. Pitch gradually increases with elevation but there’s nothing here that’s steep enough to give a true expert pause.
Bachelor’s distinct advantage lies instead in its unique topography. With the Summit Express lift ascending to the mountain’s pointed 9,065-foot top, the highest lift-served elevation in the Cascades, skiers can head in any direction on the compass rose to take advantage of every aspect, finding the best snow available after both the sun and wind have had their way with it.
And the central Oregon wind often does. Bachelor’s summit is frequently afflicted by stiff breezes, rendering the Summit Express inoperable some two-thirds of the time. Thick rime coats lift equipment in ice so thick that staffers sometimes have to blast it free with dynamite, and trees are transformed into solitary snow ghosts.
That’s when experts migrate to the more sheltered Northwest Express, which at 2,365 feet has the highest verticaThick rime ice coats the top terminal of Mount Bachelor’s Summit Express (photo: FTO/Marc Guido)l drop of any lift on the mountain. Starting below the resort’s main base at 5,700 feet and rising to just above the tree line, the narrow runs off Northwest Express dip and tumble down the fall line in a way reminiscent of classic New England skiing.
The widely spaced giant lodgepole pine and mountain hemlock trees, though, produce top quality tree skiing that New England resorts could only dream of.
We were lucky. Although winds gusted to 60 mph and higher during our visit, Summit Express operated for two of our three ski days to double the average, and clear skies afforded vistas that reached past the Three Sisters and other Cascade volcanoes stretching off to the horizon.
It was the perfect time to explore Bachelor’s famed Backside.
Terrain for the Whole Family
There are no lifts on Bachelor’s west-facing Backside. Instead, a four-mile “catch line” carries skiers and riders back to the front side lifts. With a pitch sufficient to carry snowboarders at speed this cat track heads in two directions from a height of land that divides the east and west catch lines. A plethora of signs on what seems like every tree ensures that visitors don’t ski into the wilderness beyond.
Skiing the Backside
Lava flows from the volcano’s early years create a series of shallow canyons running down the fall line. Even though the mountain hasn’t been seismically active for 8,000 years, thMount Bachelor’s Backside (photo: FTO/Marc Guido)ese flows have created a unique terrain playground of ridges and gullies, and a skier can traverse from one to another to find the best snow.
The Cascade Lakes wilderness stretches in a series of lakes and forests beyond the volcanic crater of nearby Tot Mountain. The big-mountain feeling of remoteness is second to none.
It’s a far cry from the lower runs of the mountain’s front side. Here, gentle slopes rise above a second base area anchored by the resort’s Sunrise Lodge, which serves as the hub of Bachelor’s snow sports school programs.
While we were buffeted by ferocious gusts at the summit, the air was dead calm on the slopes above Sunrise. Novices and children learned to carve turns as park rats played on the features in Bachelor’s entry-level Sands terrain park. Seaside, Cannon Beach, Pacific City and The Point provide a natural progression to the largest of terrain features.
That leads to Bachelor’s forté: family skiing. There’s more than enough here to keep a diverse family of snow sliders of all ability levels satisfied for an entire week. That leaves one scratching their head to try to understand where the destination visitors are; that is, until your eyes scan the base area without a condo in sight.
Max Hartshorne is the editor of GoNOMAD, he writes a daily blog called Readuponit.
Paddleboarder and kayaking in Bend…on the same day that we went skiing.
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