Destination: Mt. Bachelor, Oregon
As seen in the October 2011 issue of Freeskier Magazine.
Words: Henrik Lampert
PICTURE THIS IN SLOW MOTION: YOU’RE SHREDDING IN AN OPEN FOREST OF BEAUTIFUL DOUGLAS FIRS, THE BARK ADORNED WITH THICK GREEN LICHEN. YOU BOB UP, POLE PLANT AND BOOM GOES THE SNOW. YOU SINK DOWN, POLE PLANT, FACE SHOT AGAIN.
Having never before visited the Pacific Northwest, I expected abundant pow and never-ending tree runs. So this past March, when I headed to Mt. Bachelor, Oregon, I anticipated big things.
On our approach into the Redmond airport, I gazed out the window and wondered to myself, “Where are the mountains? Where is the snow?” All I could see was green-yellow flatlands. None of the fluffy white stuff I fervently desired was in sight.
After landing I rented a sporty, mid-sized something or other, and sped off towards Bend, 10 minutes down the road. I checked in at the Oxford Hotel, an eco-friendly boutique establishment situated in the heart of downtown. I felt like a king as the bellman highlighted the features of my lavish room. The ultimate topper-offer was a pillow menu, complete with a handful of options that suited even the pickiest of sleepers.
Skier: Aaron Karitis | Photo: Brian Becker
Before I could check the contents of the mini fridge or lay my head on my specially selected pillow (I found an affinity for the “luscious” after trying all seven styles), Andy Goggins, a pal at the Bachelor marketing department, popped up on my caller ID. “You’ve gotta’ get up here, man. We’re hosting our Friday Pine Party. You can ski until 7 p.m.” So I hopped right back in the car and made the trek up to the ski area.
As I cruised through beautiful downtown Bend, the air was warm and the sun shining bright. I passed an assortment of quaint shops, eateries and breweries before crossing the famed Deschutes River. I found it hard to believe my envisioned powder Mecca lay nearby.
Moments later I reached the outskirts of town where a wall of clouds loomed on the horizon. Cars whizzed past me heading back to town, each carrying a heavy load of snow. Somewhere in that towering void I knew I’d find the goods.
I passed a sign that read, “Now Entering Winter Recreation Area” and, on cue, the pleasant Bend weather instantly became heavy snowfall. I suddenly wished I’d gone with an SUV or at least an all-wheel drive whip.
Twenty minutes and 22 miles later I arrived at Mt. Bachelor’s parking lot. It was 5 p.m. and the hill was still bustling with people. I booted up and headed off for some runs with Goggins. He gave me the low down on the ski area and its surroundings while we lapped the Pine Marten Express lift.
At 9,065 feet, Mt. Bachelor boasts the highest skiable terrain in all of Oregon and Washington. The mountain lies on the eastern flanks of Oregon’s Central Cascades, an area known for light, dry snow and diverse terrain. A dormant volcano, Bachelor offers the unique possibility of skiing 360 degrees off the summit.
Once you drop in, you’ve got 3,683 acres at your disposal—3,000 of which are lift accessible, while the others require a quick hike. Bachelor has no giant ski-in-ski-out condos nor luxury hotels, just plain ol’ wilderness. The skiing usually lasts well into May.
Many of the trails at Bachelor were naturally formed by lava flows. Magma carved through bedrock over the years, creating huge ditches reminiscent of natural halfpipes, like spokes on a wheel. These trails are conducive to large, sweeping turns. Natural wind lips and terrain features litter the sides of the trails. If you feel so inclined, you can catch air and find perfect tranny over and over and over again.
“You don’t ski Bachelor, you surf it,” Goggins remarked. This became increasingly apparent as I explored the mountain. There’s a flow to the terrain I’ve never experienced anywhere else, so I wasn’t surprised at all when Gerry Lopez, a pioneer of Hawaii’s Banzai Pipeline, pulled up right behind us in the lift line.
And remember those rumors I’d heard about plentiful pow? They were true. The mid-mountain base was an impressive 177 inches when I arrived smack in the middle of spring break. Snow had been falling all day but with only a few trails open for the Pine Party, the slopes were pretty tracked. A ten-minute hike to the top of the popular “Cone,” visible from the West Village parking lot and accessible from Pine Marten, provided fantastic turns. With a little effort came a great reward. And I could expect more as that evening’s forecast showed nothing but little snowflake icons for days to come.
Skier: Jossi Wells | Photo: Nate Abbott_PBP
The next morning, I met up with loc dogs Peter Alport, formerly of Poor Boyz Productions, and Lucas Wachs, a 16-year-old skier. Seven inches of new snow had fallen overnight so we arrived at the hill bright and early to take advantage of the fresh.
Alport led us straight to the Outback Express, and I discovered that those seven inches skied more like 17. We ripped through the trees all morning, encountering more natural wind lips and rolling terrain on every run. Jump, land, accelerate through the transition and repeat until exhausted.
Hungry for more, we made our way over to Northwest Express. I’d normally describe it as “far skiers left” on the mountain, but, thanks to the 360 degree access I mentioned, there is no real “skier’s left” at Bachelor. A traverse at the top of the lift unlocked vast possibilities in open bowls and stashes. The further we trekked, the less tracked it became. Towards the bottom, I found myself shredding amongst those famed trees—you know, the Douglas firs adorned in thick green lichen. Not even the best sponge out there could have wiped the shit-eating grin from my face.
Eventually, to get the full Bachelor experience, we headed over to the terrain parks. As with most mountains, a horde of park rats was frothing over jumps and jibs, indifferent to the fantastic powder day. The snow blanketed a sizeable, well-shaped line of jumps. Left and right, up and down, all around, I encountered a slew of fun jib features. Bachelor had things dialed.
For the next two days, weather conditions barred me from exploring the summit and “backside,” as it were, of the mountain. Everyone muttered, “Man, I wish you could get up to the summit,” and the buzz around the ski area revolved around speculating when ski patrol might give the A-OK. With all the new fallen snow, people were fiending to get up top. Nevertheless, I took comfort knowing I’d had plenty of fun skiing the same pow that stopped me from skiing off the summit.
Although I missed out on some of Bachelor’s best terrain, as I sit writing this I can’t help but play the scene in my head again and again in slow motion:
I BOB UP, POLE PLANT, AND BOOM GOES THE SNOW. I SINK DOWN, POLE PLANT, FACE SHOT AGAIN.