By Jules Older
The easiest skiing to access is usually your local ski hill. Right. You knew that.
What’s next easiest?
Utah, without doubt. In His wisdom, the Angel Moroni placed the mountains near the airport and later added easy public transport from said airport to said mountains.
In second place, probably Vermont. Again, airport and biggest city are handy to, in this case, Smugglers’ Notch, Stowe, Sugarbush, Mad River Glen and more snowy mountains.
Not even a contender? Bend, Oregon and its home hill, Mt. Bachelor. While there are direct flights to nearby Redmond from Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle, from anywhere else you need to change planes or drive long highways.
So if it’s not convenient, why ski there?
Let me count the ways …
- Bachelor has one of North America’s best learn-to-ski-and-ride programs. Thursday through Sunday, that includes unlimited free rides on the beginner’s chairlift. Bachelor’s Ski or Ride in 5 is one of the country’s outstanding programs for never-evers. And the lower-mountain terrain is gentle and rolling, ideal for advancing from tyro to solid intermediate. Bonus: no crowds; thus, no intimidation from a too-close ski pole or steel edge hurtling by.
- Folks in your party who think sliding down precipitous mountains while balanced on a board or a couple of planks defines reckless madness can cross-country ski, snowshoe with a ranger, or enjoy a backcountry hike in the vast and wild national forest that surrounds the mountain.
- With 460 inches of annual snow falling on 3,683 skiable acres, the odds of finding a sweet surface to slide your board or planks down are pretty much excellent.
- That sweet surface is natural snow sent straight from Ullr, not GMS, (genetically modified snow) that comes from a cannon or chemistry set.
- Less than half an hour from Mt. Bachelor, the city of Bend, Oregon is a lodestone for lovers of cool and unusual things.
What are the attractants of Bend? Five is the magic number here, too.
Though it’s a city of 80,000 (who knew?), Bend is surrounded by the great outdoors. If you’re into, say, mountain biking, road biking or fat-tire biking; canoeing, kayaking or paddle boarding; rock climbing, windsurfing or bird watching, you’re in the right place. Like the locals, you will love it. Beware, though: Many locals started as visitors and lost the will to go home.
Second, Bend sits in an environment you’re probably unfamiliar with — high desert. Below the surface, lava tubes snake through soil and rock; a mile-long cave awaits exploration. Up top, the exemplary High Desert Museum helps you understand the peoples and the creatures that abide here.
Third, in the middle of Oregon, near almost nothing at all, Bend has become a culinary destination: Three Thai restaurants, including Wild Rose, a northern Thai delight. Zydeco, a genuine Cajun restaurant plunked down in this far-northern outpost. Sunriver Brewery and Carson’s American Kitchen, a few miles from downtown. CHOW and Sparrow and Victorian for outstanding breakfasts. Some of this fine dining is found in Bend resorts: Carson’s at Sunriver, 10 Below at the Oxford Hotel, and Tetherow Grill at Tetherow.
Fourth, for craft-beer lovers, Bend is Mecca. At last count, greater Bend had 26 breweries and climbing. Benders argue their beer with the same passion Daytonans fight about NASCAR drivers: Stout vs. porter. Boneyard Beer vs. Deschutes Brewery. Comatose Imperial IPA vs. Pre-Prohibition Lager. “Wait — let’s try another round of those two again.”
And, last but certainly not least, welcome to Oregon, a birthplace of legal marijuana. In a clean, well-lighted place, a.k.a. a dispensary, you can inhale the aroma — and discuss the virtues — of Thai, Afghan, Mendocino, homegrown and other varieties of ganja legal delights. Make your choices, then surprise Mom and Dad with the gift that keeps on giving.
Jules Older is a contributor to and publisher of another gift that keeps on giving, the ski book ebook, SKIING THE EDGE: Humor, Humiliation, Holiness and Heart.