Destination: Mt. Bachelor Ski Area

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Located about 20 miles west of Bend and Sunriver, Mt. Bachelor is THE place in Oregon for serious skiers and boarders.

South Sister, Middle Sister, and Broken Top peaks viewed from Mt. Bachelor Ski Area.

Mt. Bachelor is a volcano that lies at the northern end of the Mt. Bachelor Volcanic Chain. It gets its name because it “stands apart” from the “Three Sisters” to the north.

Bluebird view of the Mt. Bachelor summit from the Pine Martin mid-mountain lodge.

The ski area has operated since 1958, and activity options include snowshoeing, snow tubing, cross-country skiing, and in the summer, hiking, mountain biking, and disc golf.

There is no lodging at the ski area, which means a commute is required to get there. Depending on conditions, the drive to the ski area can be gorgeous and uneventful, or a white-knuckle experience. During stormy weather I recommend making a tentative game plan the night before, then checking driving and area conditions before heading up the hill. If you expect it to be crowded, consider driving up early–leave town by 7:30 AM–and eat breakfast at the area.

Instead of driving, the Mt. Bachelor Shuttle can make your vacation less stressful.

Mt. Bachelor has a complete spectrum of terrain. Challenging off-piste areas are accessible via the Summit, Outback, and Northwest chairlifts. Half pipes, jumps, and terrain parks are accessible via the Pine Martin, Skyliner, and Sunrise chairlifts. The runs on the lower part of the mountain are easier and groomed.

The view of Mt. Bachelor’s summit from the Pine Martin mid-mountain lodge in windy, stormy conditions.

Since Mt. Bachelor stands apart from other peaks, it has some unique weather characteristics. It can be extremely windy. During stormy weather, mid-mountain winds over 20 mph are not uncommon. The area’s daily conditions report might describe these as “breezy” or “moderate,” but frequent visitors know that “moderate” at Mt. Bachelor is the equivalent of “tundra conditions” anywhere else. Be sure to check the 24 hour weather data report to get actual numbers. Conepatrol compiles all of the relevant conditions data into one handy webpage.

Rime ice on the trees at Mt. Bachelor can make them look like ghosts.

Mt. Bachelor is susceptible to riming. The kind of “hard rime” that forms at Mt. Bachelor results when water droplets in fog freeze on the the windward side of objects during high winds and air temperatures between 17 and 28 °F. Rime on googles can reduce visibility to zero, and in these conditions you may have to stop every hundred meters or so to wipe them clean.

Rime ice on a Mt. Bachelor chairlift.

The riming conditions result in spectacular ice formations on the trees and chairlifts.

“Storm recovery” at Mt. Bachelor includes de-icing the chairlifts during and after storm cycles:

if you venture away from the main groomed runs, returning to a specific chairlift can be a bit disorienting at first. Since the mountain is cone-shaped, the tendency is to ski away from where you started. There is a “catchline” road that circles the entire mountain, but getting back to the base of a chair may require some hiking. If you are visiting the area for the first time, I recommend keeping a chairlift in sight until you get the hang of the mountain’s conical shape.

Off-piste skiing near Northwest and Summit chairlifts:

For example, the recently installed Cloudchaser chair makes it possible to ski the entire southeast slope of the mountain from the top of Summit chair to the bottom–with some wonderful gullies and features when you get below treeline. Just be prepared to climb a few small rolling hills on the catchline road in order to get back to the chair.

Chilly conditions above the clouds at the top the Summit chair.

On the other side of the mountain, west of the Northwest chair, there are some fantastic open bowls at the top that empty into what can be some amazing tree skiing in powder conditions. If you are new to Mt. Bachelor I recommend getting on a main run when you return to treeline. If you are confident with your tree skiing abilities, and are riding with friends, give the trees a go. Tightly-treed sections eventually give way to open shots all the way down to the catchline road.

The crew assembles in front of spectacular Broken Top peak.

Pro Tips:
As an old-school, slow, triple, Red chair doesn’t get the love it deserves. During crowded days it usually has shorter or nonexistent lift lines and as a result, according to lifties with whom I’ve chatted, it’s often a faster way to mid-mountain than the Pine Martin high speed quad. Also, since most folks head over to Outback and Northwest on powder days, there are usually freshies all morning long on the terrain serviced by Red.

Scapoli’s restaurant at the Pine Martin Lodge has the best food at the area. The soups are usually awesome.

If you are new to tree skiing, use caution! When the snow is deep, tree wells form. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into one, and can be fatal if you go in head-first. As you move down the slope keep your friends within yelling range, and make sure everyone exits.

If you’d like to do a little “sidecountry” skiing, check out “The Cone” which is visible from the base of the West Village area. To get there, take the Leeway run, and you’ll see a kick-stepped uptrack. The top part of the cone is treeless and can be a great way to start or finish a powder day.

If you are a beer aficionado, Bend has the highest micro-brewery per capita in the nation. Visit Bend makes it easy to navigate them all with the Bend Ale Trail map and app.

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