Mount Bachelor in Bend Oregon: The Big Mountain We Didn’t Know About
By Max Hartshorne
“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 9065 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 ski it. In the years ahead, Bachelor is poised to add another 1100 acres to their ski terrain. For now, it’s huge at 3000+ 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 big volcanic 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. That’s what they’re offering here, gorgeous undisturbed views of wilderness…and a lively little city for all of your amenities (and fun!)
Skiing from the Summit
Mt Bachelor’s summit isn’t open two-thirds of the time because of the incredible high winds that blow the mountain’s highest detachable quad-lift’s chairs sideways. The ice and rime 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. 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.This ski season, 2012, 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. Marc Guido, editor of the ski website First Tracks Online, had this to say about the skiing.
“This lower mountain terrain in front of the West Village base area is largely intermediate in nature, and Bachelor’s morning corduroy was impeccable. The warmup the day before was hardly noticeable as we screamed down the hill in huge, fast arcs across the dry and chalky snow.
Bachelor sits east of the Cascade crest and as such avoids the “Cascade Concrete” commonly found elsewhere in the region. An annual average snowfall of 387 inches ensures ample cover and our visit coincided with a season in which Bachelor avoided the radically decreased snowfall plaguing other regions of the U.S.
While we had the runs to ourselves until 9 a.m. there was little detectable change once the lifts officially opened. Bachelor midweek affords ample elbow room.
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 to find the best snow available after both the sun and wind have had their way with it.
Welcome to the Oxford Hotel
When we first got to town, we checked into the Oxford Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Bend. This hotel, with 59 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 Bend-owned 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 brew made by Boneyard. We quickly learned that we were in the beer brewing capital of the Northwest—that 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. Among our favorites were Cascade Lakes Brewpub, Deschutes Brewing Co, and Ten Barrel Brewing with their fireside outdoor patio.
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.
One trail is named after his father in law, Bill Healy, who helped founded Mt Bachelor back in 1958. 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
One of the things I noticed at Mt Bachelor was how many 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, the pendulum has swung back to skis over boards, and more young people are getting back on skis and giving up the boards. Below are his thoughts on the skiing at Mt Bachelor.
Terrain Diversity to Satisfy the Whole Family
There are no lifts on Bachelor’s west-facing Backside, says Guido. 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.
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.”
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 marketing director Andrew Goggins. “Here we have an average of 26 ski visits per passholder. In some Colorado resorts, it’s maybe six.”
Oregon trail of Dreams
We enjoyed meeting the owners of Oregon Trail of Dreams Jerry Scdoris and his daughter Rachel, an Iditarod veteran, before taking an hour-long ride through the forested trails surrounding Mount Bachelor.
Gabe Dunham, our female musher, said she hopes to run the Iditarod some day and that our lead dog had run the big race a few times before.
Besides the appeal of this big mountain because of what it doesn’t have, it is growing.
A plan is being reviewed that will open up 1100 additional acres of skiing. A new lift called Cloudsplitter will service the new terrain, including many gladed trails around the Juniper trees.
The town of Bend has grown considerably, residents told us, as the ski and leisure market for the town, a great stop over for those traveling to Portland. Much of the building has taken place closer to the mountain.
The Old Mill area was once dominated by a giant power plant. Three iconic smokestacks remain, now it’s the Bend REI store. There is a bike walking trail that winds next to the Deschutes river and takes riders to this nicely laid out mix of shops, cafes, outdoor benches and a fire pit. Across the river are the outdoor music arenas where Death Cab for Cuties played last summer. This year Nora Jones and others are performing.
Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel in South Deerfield Mass since 2002. He worked for newspapers and other sales positions for 23 years until he finally got what he wanted and became the editor at GoNOMAD. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and does exactly what he wants to do every day.