Mount Bachelor is the only place I've needed my ski helmet.
A few years ago, I was on the mountain outside Bend when it was subsumed by a blizzard. Unable to see the contours of the trail, I fell off some weird 4-foot ledge and bumped my head. I was fine, but I worried something worse would happen. I took only a few more runs before retreating to the lodge for a few hours sipping Black Butte Porter and waiting for the bus back to Portland.
Bachelor is a beautiful mountain, with more interesting terrain than Mount Hood. And Bachelor the ski area is one of the largest on the continent—there's a reason a lift ticket here runs almost $100—and has drier snow thanks to its higher elevation.
Problem is, like the other peaks in the Cascades, it tends to be cloudy during ski season, which means there are few visual reference points when you're above the tree line on a snowy day. Bachelor has been pummeled with more than 500 inches of snow this year. On days when you've dropped $100 for a lift ticket, bad conditions can be a real bummer.
Enter Cloudchaser, Bachelor's first new lift in 20 years, which opened this season. This high-speed quad not only opens 13 new runs and 650 acres of new terrain, but brings riders around to the less blustery east side of the mountain, and below the tree line.
"We knew that we needed more of this kind of terrain—when it's storming, we didn't have enough places for people to go and escape that," says Drew Jackson, a spokesman for Bachelor. "So when we were looking to expand, we wanted to diversify the terrain and get over to this side of the mountain, where the weather is more hospitable."
Then I found my way down to Cloudchaser. The skies cleared up, and because I was below the tree line, there was some relief from the endless white. The lift serves a maze of blue runs through the trees, most still unsigned but all named for the mountain's weather.
"The trees in the glades over here are a little farther apart than the other parts of the mountain," Jackson says. "We've been watching how the runs are used and where there are bottlenecks for skiers or groomers, and we're going to widen the runs a few places this summer. We wanted to start out narrow, because you can always make a run wider, but you can't make it narrower."
The result is some of the most pleasant ski terrain I've found in Oregon. It reminded me of Vermont—I love Vermont. I also like well-groomed runs and warm, bluebird days with soft snow. I know, I know: I'm a sissy. I'm supposed to like super-bitter IPAs, and ungroomed "Cascade powder" (read: crud).
But let's say I'll always prefer freshly groomed corduroy, trees, clear skies and a couple glasses of hazy IPA afterward.
It's not just me, either. My friend Brooke Geery, a former pro snowboarder and publisher of Yobeat magazine, had to be rescued after she rode out of bounds on Mount Hood this season.
The problem, she says, is that the Cascades are volcanoes, and that means they're big cones covered in weird lava chutes.
"The topography of Mount Hood is super-confusing, with tons of valleys," she says. "When it fills in with snow, it's super-easy to end up going the completely wrong direction. Only thanks to modern technology, my iPhone compass, did I make it out in Govy and not wind up all the way down in Zigzag when I got lost."
Recently, I chatted with Peter Kakes, the Czech who runs the ski shop and mid-mountain warming hut at Skibowl. He's a former Olympian, and he doesn't like skiing during a dump of "Cascade powder" either.
"In Europe, we don't ski in the storm," he told me. "We wait for it to stop, and then we go out and ski."
Amen to that.
Mount Bachelor will be open through Memorial Day thanks to a very snowy winter.