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By Pete Gauvin
For California snow sliders afflicted by an acute case of early-season skier’s flu – that annual bug which worms into a skier/boarder’s cerebral cortex when the days grow short and trees turn bare – a potential remedy may be found at the end of a long (but surprisingly sane) drive up Highway 97 in central Oregon.
Here, where the Cascades slope down to meet Oregon’s high desert, you’re likely to find that big mountain of white gold you’ve been fantasizing about. Thanks to its northerly latitude, Mt. Bachelor is a snow magnet. Its nearly symmetrical 9,065-cone often gets clipped by early season storms that may miss Tahoe resorts.
A Tahoe Alternative
Even when the Sierra is coated in its own white blanket, Bachelor provides a fine big mountain alternative and change of scenery for those willing to put in a few extra hours behind the wheel. From the Bay Area, it’s about an eight-hour drive.
With an average of 370 inches annually and typically one of the deepest bases in the West, Bachelor rarely hurts for snow. The mountain offers 3,600 acres of terrain and a 3,365-foot vertical drop with plenty of challenging terrain – 35 percent is rated advanced and 25 percent expert.
You’ll need to be in shape to ski a full day at Bachelor because you won’t find much rest between runs. With seven express quad chairs and three triples, there’s rarely a lift line. The Summit Express
quad accesses the mountain’s above-treeline advanced terrain, including ungroomed backside bowls that provide a spectacular in-bounds backcountry experience when conditions are right. Flanking the mountain, the lower lifts offer more sheltered runs, including some great tree skiing.
Nordic skaters and striders will find 56 kilometers on 12 groomed trails at Mt. Bachelor’s Cross Country Center. Most of the terrain is rated intermediate.
A lesser known skiing option for Central Oregon visitors is neighboring Hoodoo Mountain (www.hoodoo.com), near the town of Sisters on Highway 20. Lots of locals like Hoodoo. It’s small but not too small (800 acres),
has good steeps (40% advanced terrain), and a great local vibe. You’ll find just over 1,000 feet of vertical served by five chairs, including three quads. Hoodoo also has 16 kilometers of Nordic trails.
Bend, 20 miles east of Bachelor, is the epicenter of action off the mountain. A growing town that’s managed to maintain a lively mix of mountain culture and Western grit, Bend has an attractive downtown core that offers a walkable menu of après-ski grub and pub options. Among them, you’ll find one of the best brew pubs north of Chico, the Deschutes Brewery (1044 NW Bond St.), revered for its Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Obsidian Stout, and winter’s seasonal Jubelale, among others.
In fact, Bend is about as close to nirvana as an outdoorsy beer lover could hope to find. In addition to the Deschutes Brewery, the oldest and best known, there are four others. Bend Brewing Company, also downtown, overlooks the Deschutes River at Mirror Pond and has a reputation for good food as well as brews. The other brewpubs in town or nearby are Silver Moon Brewing, McMenamins, and Cascade Lakes Brewing (in Redmond).
Beyond beer, Bend has many good, home-grown eats. The Alpenglow Cafe (next door to Deschutes Brewery) is popular for breakfast; the eggs benedict and granola are to die for, according to an ex-local. For morning jet fuel,
drop into Cosmic Coffee on 3rd St. For post-ski carbo loading, try John Dough’s Pizza (35 Century Drive).
Winter Rocks at Smith Rock
Another way to burn off beer calories is climbing and hiking at Smith Rock State Park, 25 miles northeast of Bend on the high desert plateau. The park’s multi-hued formations of ‘welded tuff’ (compressed
volcanic ash) tower up to 550 feet above the Crooked River and make for some of the best sport climbing in the world.
Winter can be one of the best times to climb at Smith. There are no crowds and, being in the rainshadow of the Cascades, it’s usually snow free – albeit cold. Bring a down jacket and a thermos of hot tea. The
park and campground are open year-round. For more information, call (800) 551-6949 or visit www.oregonstateparks.org.
From the Bay Area, Bend is about an 8-hour drive – shoot straight up Interstate 5 to Weed, then veer northeast on Highway 97. There are no major mountain passes to cross or traffic-choked urban zones to slow you down.
The dashboard weary can also choose to fly into Redmond, about 20 miles north of Bend. It is served by Horizon, United Express and Skywest. Direct flights are available from San Francisco. Shuttle buses provide transportation between Bend and Mt. Bachelor.