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Below treeline at Mt. Bachelor: A regional escape brings this lifelong skier a new perspective on the mountain

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Below treeline at Mt. Bachelor: A regional escape brings this lifelong skier a new perspective on the mountain

WORDS — Josh Malczyk
PHOTOS — Grant Gunderson

A stretch of excessive screen time and pandemic-imposed travel suppression demanded a regional escape. Setting my GPS south from my home in Seattle, I beelined it to the multi-sport adventure hub of Bend, in the high desert of Central Oregon, the home of Mt. Bachelor and its famed 360-degrees of skiing from the summit of a perfectly conical stratovolcano. 

Familiar with the locale through years of industry events and late-spring ski testing, the mountain always left me wondering what more it had to offer. Bachelor is certainly no secret; stories and images have come from this area for decades, but the common storylines I knew too well. Despite so many trips to Bachelor, I still felt that I had just scratched the surface, and it was time to see if I could have a new experience at this familiar place.

Landing in Bend, a Pilsner-drenched night gave way to a morning fueled by high-test local coffee, jumpstarting the trip 20 miles east to the resort. Navigating through town, past quaint craftsman homes, contemporary mansions and wetsuit-clad locals surfing a river wave, the path suddenly turned serene. The road, devoid of civilization, cleared my mind as it wound through the Deschutes National Forest, its thick timber shooting up along both sides of the road, gently rising in elevation and adding snow depth at every mile. Glancing in and out of view, the picturesque monolith presented itself in sharp contrast with the vast green forest surrounding it. The weather in Bend can be dramatically different from what’s forecasted at the resort, adding to the anticipation of getting eyes on the hill. Webcams have taken some of the fun out of the speculation, but whether it’s blue, grey, fresh, tracked, or even bulletproof, Bachelor’s variety delivers something interesting during every visit. My gaze locked onto the lower portion of the mountain, deep in the trees, in the heart of Bachelor’s old growth.

Exiting the summit station, topping out over 9,000 feet above sea level, I pried open the oyster—Mt. Bachelor in all its glory, all 360-degrees of the volcano a potential descent thanks to a latticed trail and lift system, and one very long (yet surprisingly fun) cat-track. Past visits to this PNW mecca were filled with sessions on the oft-discussed wind-lips, rallying high-speed groomers and lapping the superpipe in the Woodward park. All enjoyable snow sliding activities, sure, but on this particular day, with greybird visibility and a storm system that swept through a few days prior, I kept my attention on the goods below treeline, a literal and figurative angle of Bachelor I had yet to discover.  

SKIER: KC Deane
PHOTO: Grant Gunderson
LOCATION: Mt. Bachelor, OR

Since the storm, wind had loaded the westside bowls with snow, offering creamy, buffed turns from the top to the edge of the forest. Entering the massive acreage of old-growth ponderosa pines dotting the mountain’s flanks, the evenly spaced glades and consistent pitch invited exploration with no right or wrong way down. Floating and slashing my way towards the Northwest lift by way of West Bowl, milking the flowy terrain set me on a path of repetition. Bachelor’s many options were enticing, but lapping the Northwest zone until the closing bell was the path to a wholly powder-filled afternoon. Late into the day, I found heavenly stashes just off of Sparks Lake and Brookie’s Run and, at times, my path seemed reminiscent of that speeder-bike scene in “Star Wars,” when the Jedis jet through the Ewok forests.

These must be the happy little trees that Mr. Ross conjured in his paintings all those years. Pillow-popping and tree stump-hopping my way down the mountain, I marveled at the zone’s perfection. “This is what I’ve been missing,” I thought to myself. 

Crossing the imaginary finish line to the West Catchline traverse back to civilization, I acknowledged my personal mission had been accomplished. After a decade-plus of visiting Bachelor, this was the totally new experience I had yet to discover.

This story originally appeared in FREESKIER Volume 24.
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