Pacific Northwest Snow Bendor
By: Jason Tross
The last of three consecutive winter storms just finished pummeling the entire Pacific Northwest region. After trips to White Pass, Alpental and Mt. Hood in March, I decided to press my luck by venturing further down for this most recent storm cycle.
This time, I battled Portland traffic and a winter storm over Mt. Hood to the southern-most ski area in the region, Mt. Bachelor. My plan was storm riding Friday, morning pow and afternoon park Saturday, followed by a sunny cruiser Sunday.
My timing was perfect.
I arrived to a sunny Bend, Ore., mid-morning Friday. The warm sunshine seemed out-of-place for the Pacific Northwest. The landscape is a high desert with red dirt and sparse pines, unlike the rain and lush evergreens of the iconic scenery up north. The mountain was a different story with several feet of fresh snow, and more still falling at a heavy rate.
I had it nearly all to myself. My fortunate loneliness was most likely due to the gale-force winds across the summit and high ridges with bitter cold below. Overnight gusts were recorded at 174 mph.
Now that wouldnâ€™t stop you and it certainly didnâ€™t stop me and a few others from slaying the lower trees off Northwestern for more than four hours. The overhead winds mixed with heavy snowfall made for fill-ins every two runs. Visibility was rough along the top, but fantastic in the trees â€“ just what you expect for storm riding in the Pacific Northwest. Even as the last chair turned on Northwest, the snow hadnâ€™t stopped falling. The vast upper-mountain powder fields and Summit Chair never opened and no one at Mt. Bachelor or in town seemed to care. Weâ€™d had enough to hold us over till morning.
Friday nights in Bend are exciting. This particular evening was supercharged. Thousands packed downtown for the weekly art walk, where locals mingle and get down on free drinks.
You read correctly. Free drinks! Booze wasnâ€™t the only reason to rejoice. The previous week of straight snow and wind ended overnight, making way for a blue-bird Saturday morning.
Everyone gets a shot at first chair when summit stays on wind hold all week â€“ even weekend warriors. Rather than chance my luck asking powder-thirsty locals to guide me, I played a safe bet. Marketing Director Alex Kaufman and Marketing Assistant Jenn Simon agreed to bring me around to the best spots of the day. According to Kaufman, Mt. Bachelorâ€™s unobstructed 360-degree wind exposure means the stashes move with each storm.
â€œDepends on how the wind blows,â€ Kaufman explained.
â€œ[It all] depends the type of storm – whether it comes in from the north, south, east or west means a lot. Especially on Summit, because certain areas will get scoured and others will fill in. Every individual storm will create the best powder in the certain areas. Thatâ€™s what made The Bowl and Cowâ€™s Face the spot for us,â€ said Kaufman.
He wasnâ€™t lying either. Our first 12 laps were freezing cold and bright with sun as we found untouched powder anywhere from 12 to 30 inches deep. Less than five minutes hiking bought access to the burliest terrain Mt. Bachelor had to offer â€“ a cornice as deep as I was willing to take it and cliffs definitely out of my range. That run was a burner going from the gusting winds at 9,065 feet to the warm sun at 6,300 feet and the descent between. Our best snow was skierâ€™s right of the Summit Chair into Cowâ€™s Face where it really piled up, making super-fun rollers and cornices.
Saturday was turning out just as I hoped â€“ lots of pow for the first half of the day, followed by a bit of jib in the afternoon sun. Too bad some had to cut it short. A skier at heart, Alex Kaufman has a pseudo real job and headed back to his computer after a few very short hours.
â€œI do get out a lot,â€ Kaufman admitted after throwing a surprise 360 off a powdery drop.
â€œBut itâ€™s usually for a couple runs and then maybe a few days a month I get a half day. This was the once or twice a month. Itâ€™s like eating at your own restaurant,â€ he added.
â€œIt was pretty cool to have some folks in town who could rip and give me a reason to get away from my desk. Itâ€™s only a few times a year when we can catch snow all week and it clears up for the weekend.â€
Late afternoon brought more great turns with new guides, Bend-based photographer Tyler Roemer and one of Mt. Bachelorâ€™s young shredders, 18-year-old skier Eli Odegaard. They were getting the shot in the lower trees off the backside all morning and continued after I showed up.
The week of supersonic winds on the upper backside left some of the most terrifying ice formations Iâ€™ve ever skied over. This is where our great snow on the front side came from. Even the killer tree skiing on the lower backside couldnâ€™t keep us off Cowâ€™s Face, where we spent the next couple hours. According to everyone I skied with, the backside is usually the best spot. Itâ€™s this storm that was unusual.
Just before we went for the park skis, Eli spotted a beautiful cornice just below the ski area boundary. We gained an audience as he teed off for his first hit â€“ ski patrol. Some smooth talking and we all got to hit it. One failed zero spin and I put on the park skis to scope for tomorrow.
Mt. Bachelor has two parks. The biggest jumps and only superpipe face the main lodge under the Pine Marten Lift. Easy take offs and long landings are the name of the game here. Just make sure your game is up to par because your right under the most popular chair. The other park is off Skyline express. The features vary, but were in great shape considering the previous weekâ€™s weather. More jumps and jibs are in the Skyline park than Pine Marten. Pick your poison.
After scoping the parks, it was time for some relaxing. Jenn Simon volunteered to show me around the town. We had dinner at local bistro The Blacksmith. The contemporary dining room clears out after hours with a full bar and two DJs in separate rooms. We skipped out on the drinks and decided to nurse our bruised selves in the Turkish bath at the McMenniman brothersâ€™ latest addition, the Old St. Francis School. Just $5 gets you as much time as you want in the incredibly ornate hot pool. Check out the stars through an opening in the lofted ceiling. I hear this is incredible when it snows. The facility also has a Jerry Garcia cigar bar â€“ and they really only play Jerry Garcia. They also have a movie theatre where you can order beer and food!
My last charge off the cornice, a full tummy and too much time in the Turkish bath put me to bed early. Unfortunately it kept me from skiing Sunday as well. Fortunately Mt. Bachelor is inviting me, and everyone else, back for what Alex Kaufman calls the â€œBendOr.â€
â€œThe Bendor is basically just built upon the fact the last five years â€“ for people like me across the country. We eat and breathe the ski life and weâ€™re stuck in one location all year. Most places close in April and I always want to get away and do it on a budget. And we donâ€™t make a lot in the ski business. So my brain started turning,â€ said Kaufman.
The remaining days of the 2009 season are his solution.
â€œItâ€™s summer in Bend and winter at Bachelor. You can get an $89 spring pass and come here. Iâ€™ve lived in steamboat, Jackson, Vail and New England. Bend is not your average mountain town. If you wanna get some skiing and some recreation in while itâ€™s still cheap, come here. We are helping people on our Bendor webpage by offering our locals nights to locals from other mountain towns.â€
See you soon in Bend.