As the Northwest Express lift whisked us up Mount Bachelor, a stranger and I compared our central Oregon itineraries.
He said the day before he went for a bike ride and a walk along the Deschutes River. I’d spent the day hanging out with rock climbers at Smith Rock State Park and hiking about 12 miles.
“Yeah,” he said as we exited the lift. “You have to try if you’re going to get bored in Bend.”
Mount Bachelor is huge. Thanks to a recent expansion, its 4,300 skiing acres make Bachelor the sixth-largest ski area in the United States. But what really makes it special is beyond the resort boundaries.
“I think what people like most is the overall natural experience,” said Stirling Cobb, marketing manager for the ski area. “We’re on (U.S.) Forest Service land, we have so much skiable terrain, terrain above tree line, open glades and gullies, really fun tree skiing, great beginner terrain and when you combo that up with everything Bend and Sun River have to offer, it’s an unmatched experience.
(Mount Bachelor is) definitely more enjoyable for a lot of people than those ritzy, hoity-toity, ski-in, ski-out properties.
Stirling Cobb, Mt. Bachelor’s marketing director
“The area, in itself, is an amazing place where you can access any outdoor activity you want.”
And maybe even some you don’t want to try. When I was at Smith Rock, climbers and adrenaline addicts were jumping off cliffs, free falling 100 feet and then soaring across the sky on a colossal swing. I hung around and watched for a while, but when they offered me a chance to jump, I politely declined.
When it came to mountain thrills, I was sticking to the slopes.
Mount Bachelor was already the largest ski area in the Northwest when it unveiled 635 acres of new lift-serviced terrain on Dec. 16.
The new $6 million high-speed detachable quad called Cloudchaser is on the southeast side of the volcano and offers a variety of runs.
“It is really intermediate terrain,” Cobb said. “There is about 6 miles of groomed trails so that will be a great progression for more beginner skiers. And anything off piste will be slightly more challenging. But the actual slope angle is intermediate.
“It’s just fun, playful terrain.”
As part of the project, the resort shortened its nearby Rainbow lift in order to make it easier for beginning skiers. Skiers now can find a progression from easy to challenging runs.
“It really enhances the experience,” Cobb said.
While Cloudchaser could keep you busy for a while, make time for some of Bachelor’s classic runs.
If you don’t mind skiing for an audience, Thunderbird cuts under the Pine Marten Express lift. Ski double-diamond chutes off the 9,065-foot summit. The Outback Express lift offers enough intermediate and advanced runs to wear out your thighs before lunch.
And for those looking for a little more adventure, on the right day (and with the right gear and experience) you have 360 degrees of choices from the top of Summit Express.
“For advanced and expert skiers, anything off the backside is pretty special if you get it on a good day,” Cobb said.
And if you don’t mind hiking, Cobb said a nearby butte known as the Cone is worth the 10- to 15-minute climb.
NEITHER HOITY NOR TOITY
Bachelor draws skiers from around the Northwest despite not having the type of on-mountain accommodations you might find at other large resorts.
Lodging and the most popular après-ski destinations all require a drive. Sun River is a 20-mile drive and Bend is 22 miles.
“It’s definitely more enjoyable for a lot of people than those ritzy, hoity-toity, ski-in, ski-out properties,” Cobb said.
Bachelor doesn’t lack for amenities. It has four cafes, two bars and other dining options. The midmountain Pine Marten Lodge offers stunning views of the slopes and the surrounding mountains.
If there is one dining experience that epitomizes a trip to Bachelor, it’s a microbrewery. And the options are many once you make you arrive in Bend.
According to beermebend.com, as of December 2015 there were 22 breweries in Bend and seven more in the surrounding communities.
Deschutes Brewery might be the best known, but 10 Barrell and Cascade Lakes breweries are among those that also draw a crowd.
“The number of micrbreweries within walking distance of downtown is remarkable,” Cobb said. “It adds to the whole culture of the area.”
As spring gets closer and the days get a little longer and warmer, the outdoor recreation opportunities seem to multiply.
“A lot of people ski in the morning and then go play golf or go biking or whatever floats your boat in the afternoon,” Cobb said.
Smith Rock State Park, a rock-climbing mecca, is 26 miles north of Bend. The Deschutes River, famed for fishing and floating, runs through town. The High Desert Museum and Newberry National Volcanic Monument are south of town.
Near the center of town sits Pilot Butte. You’ll encounter local athletes (and there are plenty of them) running, biking and hiking up this hill year-round.
I found Pilot Butte to be a peaceful place to cap a day of play. I hiked to the top and looked back at the much bigger hill where I’d spent the day skiing.
Then I watched the sun set behind the Cascades while I wondered what adventures the next day might bring.
Lift tickets: $92 (ages 19-64), $76 (ages 13-18 and 65-69), $52 (ages 6-12 and 70 and older).
Vertical: 3,365 feet.
Lodging: Visitbend.com has information on lodging in and around Bend.
Dining: Bend’s Old Mill District has an abundance of riverside dining, shopping and entertainment options. Bend also is home to more than 20 microbreweries, include Deschutes, 10 Barrel and Cascade Lakes. theoldmill.com, deschutesbrewery.com, 10barrel.com, cascadelakes.com.