Ride Up, Roll Down: Mountain Biking at Skibowl
Each year, when the skiing ends on Skibowl, the mountain biking begins—you buy a lift pass like usual, but this time you hook a bike to the back of the lift chair when you go topside. But even with the lousy snow year, biking runs were still delayed till late April after a weekend of late-season snow put a wrench in the gears of summer. Portland is best known as a bike-commuter city—with an apparent and inexplicable hostility to mountain bikers in its many parks—but our city's proximity to Skibowl's 40 miles of alpine trails also makes it a dirty delight for both novices and pros that flock to them on a weekly basis.
The most visible sections of the park are the downhill trails, which closely mimic those of the winter snow park. Ski lifts provide access to upper black diamond trails like Cannonball and the milder, windier blue chutes like the South Trail or Gnar-Gnar, a winding bobsled run of a bike course.
Though they're not for the weak of heart who spent the entire afternoon cautiously riding the brakes, the freeride trails are the real attraction for the reckless and the hardcore. Hiking the three trails was a joy—log roads and massive gaps are tightly coiled through a verdant patch of Skibowl's property that's transected by Camp Creek—but the thrill of getting air in the forest goes hand-in-hand with the gnarly task of dodging trees, negotiating log bridges and hitting hairpin turns with wooden berms. The freeride trails are set up like the downhill runs—easy, intermediate and difficult—with the most difficult feature of each placed near the head of the trail to let riders know just what they're getting into. The more difficult features of each trail feature ride-arounds in case you hesitated to build up the speed necessary to hit the 10-foot gaps that dot the courses, which were custom-tuned by riders to eliminate the requirement even to pedal.
But if you've left your bike (or your cojones) back in town, you can still fulfill your need for speed at Skibowl's Adventure Park, much more safely. But even that's a blast. A 350-foot descent down the dry, half-mile toboggan run is nothing to scoff at—console yourself that all those 10-year-olds waiting in line next you are terribly brave. Strap on that helmet and prepare to get vertical. PETE COTTELL.
GO: Skibowl, skibowl.com. 11 am-6 pm Saturdays-Sundays through June 13, daily during the summer. Bike lift passes $32 a day, or $199 for a season lift and trail permit. Bike rentals onsite for $42-$90 a day or $13-$35 an hour.
Summiting Mount Hood
They say a woman in high heels once summited Oregon's resident volcano—but that doesn't make it smart. Here's a better, safer way: Set out between 3 and 4 am from Timberline Lodge's general parking lot. By headlamp and starlight, follow the Magic Mile and Palmer lift towers from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. With cramp-ons and an ice axe fastened to your pack, begin the last 2,750-foot ascent to the summit. Mesmerizing vistas and a Crayola-certified sunrise will adorn the next few hours of bliss and treacherousness. You may be able to climb to Devil's Kitchen without much distress, but the remaining trek over glacial snow bridges, around volcanic fumaroles, and up the final 40-degree pitch will render you in need of equipment and experience. The most common roads to the apex are through Old Chute or the Pearly Gates (consult a map). But as beckoning as either route may seem, you'll need to be extremely wary of temperatures, snow conditions, and rock slides that loom above you. Navigate through the fear, the lack of oxygen and physical danger, and the summit of Mount Hood awaits with heavenly views and a story to tell. NICK VISCONTI.
GO: If you're interested in summiting Hood, get more information from Mazamas, Portland's respected 120-year-old mountaineering club. Mazamas.org.
Windsurfing the Gorge
A mecca for windsurfing for half the year, this 80-mile stretch of canyon has been a staple of the rugged Pacific Northwest landscape since the last ice age ended more than 10,000 years ago. Ancient floods made the Columbia Gorge a natural wind tunnel with steep basalt cliffs and stark differences in atmospheric pressure between the humid east and arid west ends. A procession of the world's best windsurfers follow the winds up from Baja. If it's your first time, try Hood River's Waterfront Park, an enclave whose murky green water is separated from the rest of the Columbia River by a natural jetty, sheltering the spot from the harsh winds that lie beyond and coddling beginners who would surely beat themselves to a pulp on the open water. Wind speeds in the Gorge fluctuate between 15 and 35 mph, depending on the location, but the Hook is relatively mild. If you don't have a deeply patient friend, windsurfing instructors are readily available from Big Winds (bigwinds.com, 541-386-6086) or Hood River WaterPlay. BRANDON WIDDER.
(hoodriverwaterplay.com, 541-386-9463), among others, along with rentals.
Spelunking Glacial Caves
"Do you have a death wish?" the skeptical friend always asks. There are many black diamond experiences that are inherently incredibly dangerous but are not necessarily invitations to the Grim Reaper. One of these is snow-cave spelunking. In the past two decades, three giant underground glacial moulins, passageways, have been discovered on the Sandy Glacier of Mount Hood's western aspect: Snow Dragon, Pure Imagination, and Frozen Minotaur. In their bowels rests the proverbial Northern Lights of the arctic world, and the wonder is equally stunning. I have only been in one, once. Looming peril was my best friend and worst foe; because of this, liability prevents us from telling you how exactly to do this, where to go or what to bring. What I can say is that if you're ready to risk it all these bone-chilling, icy labyrinths give back way more than you risk. NICK VISCONTI.
Driving Lolo Pass
Everyone knows Hood's major north-south pass, Oregon 35, which follows the eastern face between U.S. 26 and Hood River. Few know there's another route along the west side of the face, and fewer still have driven it. That's because you end up with a Barlow Trail experience in your Subaru—it's a wild road with rugged mini-cliffs that'll scar up your muffler and punish your shocks. To do it—and I'd never do it again, at least not in my Nissan Sentra—take U.S. 26 east to Zigzag and go north on Forest Road 18. Keep left at the fork by the bridge and follow the narrow, pothole-ridden road up the hill. Well, now you're at the actual pass, where the road gets tough. Go right, through the rock-strewn gully and down what looks like a creek bed. Take in the stunning, close-up views of the mountain's rarely admired north face. When you get to the power lines the view gets worse but the road gets better. You'll be relieved. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Camping in the Snow
Sure, most snow camping is a means to an
end for mountaineers, alpinists and ski-snowboard junkies who are led
into the unknown by headlamp and the North Star. But it's not as radical
or dangerous as it might seem, as long as you're equipped. You'll need a
zero-degree sleeping bag for obvious reasons; a tent of any type will
do. Do not forget a waterproof tarp; drive tent stakes deep into the ice
or snowpack. Some other necessities on your checklist: winter wear,
reflection blanket, sunscreen, hydration, topographic map, GPS (iPhone
works if you have service), food and a knife. These are your bivouac
essentials—less is always more, unless it's not enough. Pending snow
conditions, if you bring an ice axe or avalanche-certified shovel, you
can build an igloo or carve out snow caves with motel amenities like
toilets and a kitchenette. If you're on Mount Hood, there's Wi-Fi.
Timberline Lodge offers easy access to Hood's 12 glaciers, and apart
from the 1,430 acres of skiable terrain, nearly anywhere is great place
for a romantic rendezvous under the stars. If you are a beginner, I'd
recommend hitting the Timberline parking lot by early afternoon on a
warm July day, with a weather double-check via NOAA.gov. Park in the
north parking lot and follow the White River Canyon trailhead. This will
take you eastbound on a geological exploration of glacier canyons and
prehistoric volcanic landscape. There are splinter trails ascending to
varying snowpacks, where you can climb to the farthest reaches of the
White River Glacier. The lower area is not dangerous and is inviting for
the virgin summer snow camper. For a more aggressive hike and
destination, take the Paradise Park trailhead, also beginning at
Timberline Lodge. In the summertime, the trail winds aromatically
through the perfume of recently bloomed wildflowers and eventually
directs you to the far western aspects of Hood's Zigzag canyons. From
here, try to find salvage from the ruins of an old prop plane crash. Or
go to Illumination Rock on the southwestern slope of the volcano. The
area beneath the throne is flat and protected real estate to lay claim
to on a midsummer's eve. To access this point with ease, you can
purchase a hiker's pass from Timberline Lodge, ascend multiple thousand
feet by the Magic Mile and Palmer ski lifts, hike northwest for a mere
45 minutes, and find yourself at the location of many a magazine cover.
Skiing Palmer Glacier
There are just not enough craft cure-alls in Portland to alleviate the ache for lost turns in this bunk-ass snow season. Oregon received ample precipitation this winter, but the snow line on Mount Hood averaged 6,500 feet, a depressing figure for Skibowl and titan resort Mount Hood Meadows. However, the majority of Timberline Lodge's Magic Mile and Palmer chairlifts did receive a kiss from Old Man Winter. Natural snowfall, in addition to modern snow-farming techniques, have added up to over 330 inches of snow on the Palmer Glacier. So, if the antidote to winter's blues isn't just a dose of Vitamin D but also the thrills of knuckle-draggin' and two-plankin', Timberline is open for the summer season (see sidebar). NICK VISCONTI.
Seasons Change: The Resorts
Summer: In the summer, Timberline is the center of this continent's skiing universe. You'll ride one high-speed quad over rocks and then hop on a second to go to the top of the Palmer snowfield, where you can ride, depending on the season, as late as September. Slather yourself in sunscreen and pack some beers for a parking-lot party afterward.
Mt. Hood Meadows
Winter: Sitting a little lower on the mountain's eastern face, Meadows (skihood.com) is the big daddy, with 11 lifts and more than 2,000 acres of skiable area, including savage bowls accessible only through controlled gates and as snow allows. It's also got lots of family-friendly blues and greens and a robust lineup of clinics for those looking to up their game.
Summer: Those meadows are covered in wildflowers. There are also adventure camps for kids and, in August, ski-lift rides for sightseers who want a sunny view from the top.
Winter: When there's snow down at 3,600 feet—in other words, on the streets of Gov'y—Skibowl (skibowl.com) offers some of Hood's more alluring terrain and the continent's largest night-skiing area. The perfect slope of the steep Upper Bowl is unmatched inbounds on Hood, there's pop music blaring from the light towers, and the historic midmountain warming hut has Pilsner Urquell on tap and a roaring fireplace.
Summer: Skibowl has invested heavily in summer activities, morphing into an adventure park with mountain-bike runs (page 56), an alpine slide, kiddie canoes, ziplines, a bungee tower, a raceway, a disc golf course, a rock wall, horseback rides, and a crazy-ass, five-story Tarzan swing accessed only after a climb.
Summit & Snow Bunny
Winter: Like sledding but hate climbing? That's why there's tubing at Summit and Snow Bunny (summitskiarea.com), two family-oriented spots where you can learn to ski, or just enjoy sliding on rubber.
Summer: There's no tubing in the summer.
Winter: The wee resort village of Cooper Spur (cooperspur.com) offers just one two-person chairlift that carries you up 350 feet (one-tenth of Timberline's vertical rise), but the runs are well-groomed and uncrowded. If you're with a beginning skier, this is a cheap place to get comfortable on bigger slopes. The tiny lodge—you don't even need to lock up your shoes—and gentle slopes offer a friendly welcome to the sport.
Summer: Continuing that welcome, the Spur has summer ski camps (the skiing's on Timberline, of course) along with waterfall hikes and windsurfing trips up in Hood River.