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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 10.15.2009

Winter Getaways

Bachelorhood in Oregon

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Bachelorhood in Oregon

by Erik Soerflaten

Courtesy Mount Bachelor

The temperature is 24 degrees, but the blistering wind makes it feel like 10. At 9,000 feet this weather is natural, but the view is still the same — as if all of Central Oregon is within eyesight. I’ve taken the Summit Express lift all the way to the top. Now, it’s time to get some snow under my skis again. I’m the last person to ski down from the summit this day. As I start off, the first 200 yards are blue ice, and I thank the powers above for the steel edges on my skis. “It wasn’t like this an hour ago,” I think while looking over at the young woman I’m skiing with this day. She has a snowboard and slides slowly downhill. A few hundred yards further down, the powder is back, and I speed up. 

Mount Bachelor exceeds my expectations as a ski area. Eugeneans know that Bachelor’s an excellent place to ski, especially if you’re wary of steep prices in California or Colorado but still want to experience great nature, long runs and lots of snow.

“There’s a lot of variety here,” says 22-year-old Megan Donnithorne, from Salem. “You can go skiing on the backside of the mountain, and it feels like you’re all alone when, in fact, you aren’t.” The size of the mountain is one of the best reasons for coming here. With more than 3,600 acres of skiable area, 360 degrees of trails and 71 runs, Mount Bachelor is not only the largest ski resort in Oregon, it is also the sixth largest in the country.

Donnithorne also believes that Bachelor is a great mountain for intermediate skiers such as herself. I feel the same way, which makes it surprising to find out that 60 percent of the trails are rated black and double black ­ meaning that the advanced and expert skiers should be satisfied as well. On top of that comes a 400 feet long superpipe and a large slopestyle area for the freestylers and snowboarders out there.

Bachelor is surrounded by wilderness in all directions, making it different from resorts such as Whistler, BC, or Vail, Colorado, where chaotic condos and hotels have been built practically on the mountain.

There is no need to worry about accommodations, though. It’s close to Eugene, but for a full getaway experience, Bachelor is only 22 miles from Bend, a city known for being a gateway to the outdoors. Bend’s a real, authentic city of its own, with a number of restaurants, shops and hotels. Some even offer free transportation to the mountain. Bend is more than just a tourist destination. Compared to other ski towns, it is not solely dependent on the mountain. That is, of course, a big part of what goes on in the winter, but it’s not really what defines Bend: Mountain biking, hiking, white-water rafting, fishing, camping and golf in the summer, skiing in the winter. “Bend is so outdoorsy, and there are a lot of things to do here. Bachelor is one of them,” says 18-year-old local Emily Eland. 

 “That’s not necessarily for everybody,” says Alex Kaufman, the marketing director at Mount Bachelor, “but for people who don’t like [mountains with] the fake village at the bottom, Bachelor and Bend combined, really creates a very unique experience.”

Two weeks later, the Summit Express lift is closed because of low clouds and howling wind. The high elevation is both the best and worst thing about the mountain. The 9,000 feet summit is the highest in the Northwest, causing long seasons and dry snow. However, because of the elevation, combined with the mountain’s cone shape, storm cycles come in from time to time. And with no other mountains blocking the weather, Bachelor is exposed. 

But choices remain. After having a hot chocolate at the Pine Marten Lodge, an on-mountain restaurant at 7,800 feet, I decide to try the “Bushwacker” trail on the backside of the mountain and end up skiing in so much powder snow, I wonder if I’m the first one to ski here in a week. I lose my balance. Falling feels like landing in a ton of flour ­ with a sky of snow shooting up in the air. Of the 3,600 acres accessible by lift, only 1,600 acres are groomed daily.

These powder conditions are one of Mount Bachelor’s most attractive features. On average, the mountain gets an annual snowfall of 370 inches, but it doesn’t snow several feet at a time. Instead, the mountain often gets four inches of snow every day for 10 days — with a couple of clear days in between. The snowy weather isn’t necessarily the best in terms of getting the summit open, but for those of us who want to ski here four days in a row and have a powder day each and every day, it’s perfect. 

Larry is a man in his 50s from Salem who has been skiing for 40 years and snowboarding for 10. Getting the best snow in Oregon is what drives most people to come here, he says ­ in addition to Bachelor’s being “a good place for families.” Because the site has an on-location daycare center for children six weeks and older, parents with children not old enough to clip into bindings are guaranteed some alone time in the slopes.

Bachelor is not only for downhill skiers and snowboarders: A Nordic center offers 56 kilometers of cross country skiing. You can go on a guided snowshoeing tour or experience the mountain riding on a dogsled. Recent UO graduate Whitney Winsor, originally from Dana Point in Southern California, finds the cross country trails incredible. “I've skied at a few resorts in California, and none of them were as well-groomed or beautiful as the ones in Bend,” she says, adding, “Even as a beginner, there were a variety of trails that were easy to find so I could practice and take in the sights, and there were also several courses for beginners to practice their technique and speed.”

Winsor compares Mount Bachelor to Mammoth and Big Bear in California, where trails are nice, but where, she says, the resorts are too crowded and the skiing overpriced. Part of the Nordic center at Bachelor is a lodge for cross country skiers, complete with affordable equipment and a knowledgeable staff. “I love skiing at Bachelor,” she says. “There is a very small Nordic environment here, and everyone knows each other, making it a fun and personal way to see the outdoors without having to deal with all the crowds.”

Although more than half of  Bachelor’s 500,000 annual visitors come from Oregon, most out-of-state visitors come from northern and central California and Washington state. Also, towards the later part of the season, when ski resorts other places in the country close, visitors come to Bachelor all the way from the East Coast. “This is mostly the hard core folks who don’t want to stop skiing yet,” Kaufman says. Indeed, the season at Bachelor is long. Normally it lasts from mid-November through mid-May. In 2008, it didn’t close until May 17.

As the day at  Mount Bachelor comes to an end and it’s time to go back to your hotel, you might want to stop at one of the local breweries for a little after-ski party of your own. Bend is home to half-dozen microbreweries such as Deschutes Brewery Brew Pub, Bend Brewing Company and a local McMenamins. Based in an old school building McMenamins Old St. Francis School Pub is a great place to relax after a long day of skiing. With its special old school atmosphere, you might even want to stay the night. 



Where to stay

Mount Bachelor Village Resort, from $119; 877-311-2671; www.mtbachelorvillage.com

Seventh Mountain Resort, from $99; 800-452-6810; www.seventhmountain.com

McMenamins Old St. Francis School, from $114; 877-661-4228; www.mcmenamins.com



For more information

Mount Bachelor, www.mtbachelor.com, twitter.com/mtbachelor and facebook.com/mtbachelor

Visit Bend, www.visitbend.com

Ski Oregon, www.traveloregon.com/ski-oregon.aspx