Mt. Bachelor: Size Matters
By William Triplett
It’s difficult to look at Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor in all its glorious mass and think size doesn’t matter. With terrain falling from a summit of 9,065 feet and spreading out over nearly 3,700 skiable acres – rivaled only by maybe six other U.S. resorts – the effect can be alternately inspiring and intimidating. A total of 88 runs may not be huge (Vail, for instance, has 193), but each one seems to go on forever, including one that stretches 3.5 miles. And when I was there late last March, each one I skied seemed virtually empty. There’s a lot of mountain to go around for everybody.
Still relatively little-known outside the Pacific Northwest, Mt. Bachelor, on the eastern edges of the Central Cascades, isn’t your typical destination ski spot. There are no sleeping accommodations either on-mountain or at the base. Best place to bunk is about 20 miles away, in Bend – and that turns out to be an advantage in at least two ways.
One, most of that 20 miles is a loping highway through the Deschutes National Forest, full of pines, hemlocks and some dramatic rock formations, all of which make the drive go by not just quickly but scenically. Two, Bend is at lower elevation, and in the springtime it’s balmy and full of things to see/do in normal clothes. Hit the slopes in the morning, and in less than half an hour be back at your hotel wondering where to sit outside to have lunch. Or maybe go play nine holes on one of 26 golf courses in the area.
Or, as I did my first day there, just stay at the mountain, chow down at one of the several eateries, and take on some more runs. Trails are slightly tilted toward advanced/expert skiers – 60 percent are black or double black diamond. But the remaining 40 percent for intermediates and novices are likely to keep them busy quite a while. Me, I tend to stay on blue or double blue, with an occasional single black diamond if it doesn’t look too terrifying.
But a note for extreme adrenaline junkies: You can ski 360 degrees off the summit, taking any of the more than a dozen double black diamonds that essentially reserve the crown of the mountain for you. And cross-country buffs: 35 miles of trails await you. Did I say this place was big?
If I skied the same trail twice all day, I didn’t notice. And yet, as large as the place is, I found different parts of the mountain extremely accessible mostly because of numerous cat tracks allowing easy traverses from one area to another. The many treelined chutes and turns are not only fun but help preserve shade on the snow as the sun bears down during the afternoon – no small thing in spring. Because of its eastern location in the Cascades, Mt. Bachelor gets a fairly dry snowfall during the regular season; conditions I encountered were classic spring corn, as good as pretty much anything I’d experienced in Colorado or Utah that time of year.
Next day I wasn’t so lucky. A quick, unexpected warm-up generated some heavy fog, including one lengthy whiteout and even some rain. Them’s the breaks with spring skiing, though I later learned this was highly unusual for Mt. Bachelor. With its size and elevation, the place almost has its own weather system. And when the fog and rain were gone, it was back to seemingly endless carving and schussing under blue skies.
The Bend area at large is an outdoors-enthusiast’s version of heaven. In addition the golf, there’s rock climbing, mountain biking, white water rafting, fly-fishing (the 2012 national fly-fishing competition was held in Bend), hiking, and more – along with about 300 days of sunny skies every year. Downtown Bend has its own mountain-hip atmosphere emanating from a four or five block stretch along the two parallel main drags – Wall and Bond Streets. Boutique shops featuring many locally made products, from pottery to jewelry, are nestled among charming restaurants. One of the finest luthiers in America – Breedlove Guitars – is also in Bend; the factory tour is well worth the time.
Overall, my favorite place to hang was Cafe Sintra on Bond, where I could sit on a sofa with a fresh pot of tea and read amid locally made artworks adorning the walls. Not that I ignored the more than 10 microbreweries in Bend. I sampled as many as I could, and was not disappointed once.
Places to stay abound. I settled into the Pine Ridge Inn, which overlooks the Deschutes River and is maybe two quick turns off the highway that runs straight to Mt. Bachelor. Pine Ridge is a luxury rustic lodge with a contemporary – and very welcoming – feel. Balcony views of the river are stunning. But there are all sorts of hotels, motels, B&Bs, camp grounds, and RV parks available as well, all catering to a wide range of budgets.
So, a trip to Mt. Bachelor is really a two-fer: That incredible mountain, and then the Bend experience. You’ll likely need to rent a car, but that’s a small price to pay compared to the enormous good time you can have.
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