Three hours south
east of Portland Oregon is Mt. Bachelor, a veritable ice cream cone
for skiers and riders. Not only can you ski from the summit of this
breathtaking 9,065-foot mountain, you can ski 360 degrees off this
glorious snow covered crown - a dormant volcano. But wait, it gets better. The Summit
Express quad gets you non-stop runs on your choice of snowfields,
steep chutes, or wide open bowls.
Ten lifts access a leg burning 3,365-foot vertical. Well-located high-speed quads, 7 of the 10 total, map out 3,683 vast acres of skiing and riding. Add to all that terrain 350-500 inches annually and you garner a ski season that can stretch from November to Fourth of July.
Now for the bad news, Bachelor is plagued with its share of funky weather. Typical of the Pacific Northwest, storms, cloudbanks and fog can hover on the summit for days at a spell. This does result in huge snow dumps, but its tough to ski when you can’t see.
The summit is historically open only clear days mid winter, the hardened locals make jokes about their weather, commenting that the Pillsbury Doughboy sports a better tan than most Bendonites, the outdoorsy inhabitants of the local bed base of Bend.
Spring is a welcome change in late March through April, as the sun begins to make more common appearances, and the summit is open with greater frequency.
During our early April visit, our first day was one of those no visibility days. We were quarantined to the lower lifts and the below tree line skiing, after gawking at the summit shots in the press material and flying across the country for a taste. I crossed my fingers and ski boots, hoping for a glimpse of the awesome mountain and the opportunity to explore the vast snowfields.
Day two we scored big with a perfect “blue bird day”. We headed straight for the Summit Express, where we skied countless runs in every direction, making every kind of turn imaginable. Our first “milk run” turns on eastern exposed Cow’s Face were rimy but the snow softened to a creamy consistency as we descended each 1,000-feet of vertical.
Before heading off the backside, two ski patrollers lounging in the precious Oregon sun at the summit assured us that you cannot unwittingly ski out of bounds as the boundary is well marked and you will eventually “hit the cat track”. We found that to be the case and enjoyed every delicious angle of Bachelor’s sweet snow cone.
Off Bachelor’s backside, you can see forever or at least to Crater Lake and neighboring California. Skiing bowl after bowl, chute after chute of nature’s own half pipes, we descend to a well-marked boundary and cat track that wraps around the immense volcanic mountain back to the Northwest Passage’s awesome 2,400-foot vertical high speed quad.
My favorite adventure included a short hike to the Bachelor summit. I personally despise unwarranted hiking - but trust me here, this brief climb is worthwhile. From this highest vantage point, you drop into the north face and ski radical steeps or the long cruising west ridge that takes you directly to the posh mid-mountain Pine Martin lodge.
I was looking forward to lunch at Scapalo’s, located in the Pine Martin Lodge. A chance to pause, savor some fine vittles and admire our tracks.
With seven express quads averaging 2,000 vertical each, it is entirely possible to ski 30,000 to 40,000 vertical in a day. Even when the summit is closed, there are 5 distinct areas each with their own characteristic trail system. From East to West, the Sunrise Express is a beginner and intermediate delight. It is a protected sunny pocket with ego soothing trails like aptly named Marshmallow. This area even has its own Sunrise Lodge at the base.
The neighboring Skyliner Express services a handful of pleasant winding cruisers of the tame blue caliber. To the central base area is the Pine Marten Express, which launches you from the 5,700-foot base to the mid-mountain area. From Pine Marten’s peak you can reach all the terrain and lifts.
I should mention that the Pine Marten Lodge is stunning architecturally; it blends seamlessly into the mountainside, so much so that it is not visible from many angles of the mountain. The inside is equally tasteful, quite literally, featuring three gourmet restaurants, and a cafeteria. And the view is spectacular, on those treasured picture-perfect Oregon days.
Still two more fantastic lift pods cover the western most flanks. The Outback and Northwest areas each have their own high-speed quad, and thrilling undulating runs. The Outback is more of the upper intermediate variety, while Northwest has predominantly black diamond trails.
My personal favorite was Sparks Lake Run, fulfilling all my “great run” requirements; steep with big swells, and highly scenic turns winding through the magnificent pine forest. Anticipate your next GS turn, you generally have the trail all to yourself, as it abuts Bachelor’s right hand boundary, so you can plane out and have fun.
If you are wondering what the other draw back might be, here it is. Slopeside lodging is not an option. Bachelor is within National Forest, which lends a pristine allure to the area and explains our daily sightings of mule deer grazing along the access road.
The closest lodging is the Seventh Mountain Resort, where rooms and suites are available. Ironically, in springtime, as you drive the 14-miles from the snow covered ski area to the Inn, the grass becomes green, people are enjoying the resort’s tennis, outdoor swimming, and horseshoes. While you are peeling of your ski togs, your condo neighbor may be wiping down his golf clubs in the 70-degree afternoon sunshine.
Five minutes further down the road, the town of Bend offers the myriad of lodging from chain hotels to B&B’s like the classy Oxford Hotel, and even golf course resorts. The downtown is quaint, with oodles of cafes, galleries, and the locally popular Deschutes River Brewery and plenty of other Oregon micro-breweries. The Oregonians are a friendly, outdoorsy bunch. Almost three hours from major hub - Portland, Bend is fast becoming the in place to live, and the natives are trying to figure out ways to keep a lid on their discovery. There are more brewpubs per capita in Bend than any other western town. Bachelor - Beer - Bend, get it.
I recommend visiting in spring when skies are sunnier and the climate is prime for commingling of sports. Ski winter snow in the morning, golf or mountain bike the afternoon away. In sync with their seasonal diversity, Bachelor’s traditional ski operation of 8am-4pm shifts to 7:30am-1: 30pm from mid-April through July. In Spring, the snow, like my knees, gets pretty mushy after lunch.
So there you have the good, the bad, and the awesome. Oregon is a dessert buffet and Bachelor is the loaded hot fudge sundae, which nudged its way into my top ten of worldwide places to ski. Flying in to Redmond, just 16 minutes north of Bend, is convenient but only serviced by United Express and Horizon.
Portland, a major hub and a happening city to spend a day or two, is serviced by most major carriers, and is located 161 miles northwest of Bend.
If you go, bring your ski legs; this mountain has plenty of vertical and some of the fastest lifts on the globe to get you there. And although a snow dance is probably not needed (Bachelor has you covered from Thanksgiving to Independence Day), a prayer for a clear forecast would be prudent.