Visiting a 50-Year-Old Bachelor: Winter in Central Oregon
Story by Lee Juillerat
HighOnAdventure.com April 1, 2009
Yes, the winter season is ebbing to a conclusion. But in the Central Oregon Cascades, it’s still not too late to enjoy spring skiing and snowboarding, and even some snowshoeing and sled dog rides. So, before it’s time to wait until next winter, let’s get started.
The hub for all things winter recreation related is Bend and the region’s most eligible Bachelor. Mt. Bachelor, an international destination downhill ski-snowboard area in the Central Oregon Cascades, turned 50 years old this year.
The mountain has never looked better. With its nearly 360 degrees of skiable slopes and series of high-speed chairlifts, there are usually runs suitable in all kinds of weather, and for all ability levels, from first-time beginners to unapologetic ski bums.
And, when the skies are blue, from the top of any chair, from the Summit to Pine Martin to the Northwest chairs, opportunities to peek at the peaks are abundant. Depending on the vantage, the easy choices are the Three Sisters and Broken Top to the north or, from the 9,000 foot elevation Summit chair, the vista takes in northern California's Mount Shasta to the south and Washington's Mount Adams to the north.
Originally developed as a Bend-area ski hill, Bachelor is now the nation's sixth largest. It alsoranks unique because it's 20 miles from either Sunriver or Bend, the nearest areas for housing and après ski activities. While some used to complain about the lack of ski-in, ski-out housing, Bachelor spokeswoman Francoise "Frankie" Labbe believes that's an advantage. She says many ski areas are more truly real estate enterprises. At Bachelor, she says instead of skiing along runs lined with townhouses, the focus is on the region’s considerable natural beauty. That doesn’t mean Bachelor lacks amenities. The base area is fully functional with lodges, cafeterias, dining areas, ski shops and child care facilities, but there's no fabricated Bavarian or Swiss-themed village.
Pine Marten Lodge photo by Lee Juillerat
As part of its birthday celebration, Bachelor managers have overseen a needed 50-year makeover. Season ticket prices were cut, a massive maintenance program enacted and, because of the ongoing economic slump, measures were taken to making visits more affordable and steps taken to provide more opportunities for locals.
For years Bachelor hired many of its 900 seasonal workers through exchange programs with South American countries. Labbe says the resort, sensitive to regional unemployment figures, this season generated its entire workforce locally. To spur midweek use, day passes normally sold for $58 cost $29 if bought online in advance. It's a great deal.
Actually, skiing or riding at Bachelor, even at the standard rates, is worth the price for people wanting a truly full day on the mountain. Instead of riding doggedly slow chairs and then skiing look- alike runs, the network of speedy Bachelor chairs moves skiers quickly and efficiently so that it's common to log two or three times the distance of other regional ski areas. And, with 71 runs - 15 percent novice, 25 percent intermediate, 35 percent advanced and 25 percent expert - spread over 3,683 acres, the possibilities are seemingly limitless.
Light from the nearly full moon cast shadows at the forest’s edge. Bent and contorted by the uneven slopes of snow, those shadows of mountain hemlocks, subalpine fir and lodgepole pine took on peculiar cartoon-like caricatures shapes.
James, our walk leader from Wanderlust Tours, stopped at a subalpine fir, pulled off some needles and directed us to do the same. Like him we nibbled and sucked the needles. The first sensation was a bitter taste like rotten apples. One woman spit out the needles and juices, her face unintentionally puckered. While James agreed the needles aren’t the most delectable snack, he said that sucking even a few provides twice the recommended daily dosage of vitamin C.
Photo courtesy of Wanderlust Tours
At other stops we learned about different kinds of lichen, and how most can be eaten or boiled or used as a poultice on cuts and wounds. He cautioned us about wolf lichen, which can be toxic in high doses. And, of course, he told the story about how lichen is created by algae and fungi, and how the two “took a lichen to each other.”
Lessons, yes, but child-like fun, too. From the top of a steep slope that would give a downhill skier pause, we half-ran, half-slid. On undulating terrain covered by fresh powder snow we waddled like
drunken ducks. And over flat meadows our snowshoes sunk through new snow, then popped through unseen layers of ice.
After a too quick 90 minutes of wandering we returned to our waiting van, where we slurped hot chocolate and prepared for the van ride back to Bend. The moon was still glowing, and so were we.
Sled Dog Rides
A dozen Alaskan huskies silently galloped over the snow as Dave Sims guided the sled towing us along a groomed trail through a forest of towering pines. Sims occasionally barked commands, but there was little need. Our team, like others that pull for the Trail of Dreams Sled Dog Rides, have the route memorized.
During the winter, Sims and his boss, Jerry Scdoris, offer hour-long rides from Bachelor’s Sunrise Lodge. Jerry was in Alaska helping his daughter Rachael prepare for the upcoming Iditarod Great Sled Dog Race. Rachael, who is legally blind, earned national attention in 2006 when she and her team completed the 1,150-mile long race. The Trail of Dreams rides are tame compared to the Iditarod, but they satisfy a hunger for mushing.
“I just loved that it’s so quiet and that the dogs are so well behaved,” said Jean Rexroat after she finished her first-ever dog sled ride with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. “You can’t do that in Harvard, Illinois.”
She was surprised by the sleek, not-so husky huskies. Sims said people expect to see hunk-like critters, not wiry lean 45- to 60- pound dogs, explaining, “You have to think of them like ultra-endurance athletes, like marathoners.”
The dogs usually work every other day, towing two or three tours. Most people ride bundled inside sleeping bags and blankets in the bed of the sled, but Sims let me stand behind him on the sled’s back runners.
The silence on the trail was a quiet contrast from the racket at the starting point, where the excited dogs let loose with a raucously throaty chorus of barks and howls. But when Sims unleashed the hook anchored in the snow, the team’s focus quickly shifted to pulling and running.
“This is what these dogs do,” Sims said. “Pulling a sled is what these dogs live for.”
When You Go
Moonlight Snowshoe Tours are offered monthly from December through April on nights surrounding the full moon by Wanderlust Tours. The trips include a guide, snowshoes, transportation and instruction. The business also offers half-day snowshoe tours, bonfires on the snow, caves tours, half-day GPE eco-challenges and, in the summer, various day canoe tours and dinners plus volcano and cave tours. For information visit their Web site at www.wanderlusttours.com or call (800) 962-2682.
Oregon Trail of Dreams Sled Dog Rides start and end near Mt. Bachelor’s Sunrise Lodge. The trips include about an hour on the trail with an additional half-hour of orientation before the ride, when people can help care for and feed the dogs. Reservations are recommended and can be made through the Mt. Bachelor Reservations Department by calling (541) 382-2442 or toll-free (800) 829-2442 or
visit the Web site at www.mtbachelor.com.
Along with downhill skiing and snowboarding, including four terrain parks, Mt. Bachelor also offers a
world-quality Nordic center and trail system, dog sledding, weekend snowshoe walks, tubing park, daycare center and nationally recognized ski-snowboard lessons.
From Sunriver, which began as a resort community and has developed into a full-fledged recreational oriented city south of Bend, it’s a short drive to Bachelor, Bend and an array of attractions. Located
along the Deschutes River, Sunriver is known as a destination resort with three 18-hole golf courses, 37 miles of pedestrian and bicycle paths, parks, tennis courts, fine restaurants and variety of housing options for a night or several weeks. During a recent visit, lodging arranged through Re/Max Sunset Realty (www.sunriverlodging.com or 866-628-1265) was clean, spacious and affordable.
While in the region, also check out the nearby and most excellent High Desert Museum (www.highdesertmuseum.org, 541-382-4754), caves and other recreational offerings in the Deschutes National Forest – including canoeing, kayaking, fishing and hiking — along with
whitewater rafting and offerings at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
During winter, also consider a day at the Hoodoo Ski Area near the summit of the Santiam Pass on Highway 20. The area is named for hoodoos, odd- shaped pedestals of earth or pillars of rocks that develop through wind and water erosion. Located 40 miles from Bend, the area has five chairlifts and offers a variety of terrain. The area also has about 10 miles of maintained cross country ski trails. For information visit www.hoodoo.com.
Ski and dogsled photos by Lee Juillerat
Lee can be reached at email@example.com
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Lee Juillerat writes and does photography for the Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Oregon. He’s also a frequent contributor to various magazines, including Northwest Travel, Oregon Coast, Horizon in- flight and Range. He has written about travels in the U.S., Japan, Europe, New Zealand and South America.