Fire on the Moun­tain


SKI - - TRAVEL - By Tim Neville

The light is soft and metal­lic as hun­dreds of skiers gather low on the flanks of 9,068-foot Mt. Bach­e­lor. Hid­den among the sag­ging hem­locks far from the day lodges and ski school­ers, the spot feels re­mote, but the en­ergy is elec­tric. A pair of large speak­ers rat­tles the crisp Ore­gon air with a “Star­boy” remix. There’s a beer tent and the pours are free. The snow is deep. The mood couldn’t be more buoy­ant.

“What a day!” booms a skier be­hind me, a guy in a yel­low jacket, hoist­ing his plas­tic cup.

“Can you be­lieve this?” says his friend in an or­ange Salomon hel­met. “So much snow! It’s, like, the fresh­est of freshies!”

Pow­der days bring out the best in all of us, but to­day, a glo­ri­ous Fri­day in mid-De­cem­ber, is par­tic­u­larly awe­some. Fifty-one inches of 18-de­gree fluff have fallen over this stretch of the Cen­tral Ore­gon Cas­cades near Bend dur­ing the past week and more

storms stain the Dop­pler. But the rea­son for the su­per-stoke con­sum­ing this crowd is even cooler, for it only hap­pens once in a long great while: A brand new high-speed quad is about to whirl to life, the first for Bach­e­lor since the North­west Ex­press chair came on­line in 1996. Even bet­ter is why this new $6.5 mil­lion mar­vel, called Cloud­chaser, is here. It gives skiers ac­cess to 635 acres of new glades, gul­lies, and play­ful shots that have only rarely sported any tracks at all. Fresh­est of freshies in­deed.

Life in Bend feels en­vi­able these days and not just be­cause of the goods that Cloud­chaser brings. The city of nearly 90,000 peo­ple about 20 miles east of Bach­e­lor is one of the coun­try’s fastest grow­ing com­mu­ni­ties, with an ur­ban ap­peal that con­tin­ues to blos­som in a ru­ral set­ting. Bach­e­lor still uses Bend as its main après at­trac­tion—there’s no lodg­ing or Switzer­faux vil­lage on-site—so you can cap a day of bounc­ing through new ter­rain as locals might: with a cock­tail at a new speakeasy-style bar tucked in a broom closet at the quirky McMe­namins Old St. Fran­cis School Ho­tel or over a spicy pot of khao soi curry at Wild Rose. The brew­ery count now stands at 22. Over at Wor­thy Brew­ing, owner Roger Wor­thing­ton likes his stars as much as his suds and built an ob­ser­va­tory on top of the pub for galaxy gaz­ing with your win­ter ale. The off-the-menu kim­chi burger at The Row comes with the clear­est moun­tain views of any bistro in town.

For fam­i­lies, Bend keeps get­ting bet­ter, too. There are curl­ing lessons and ice skat­ing at the Pavil­ion. If Bach­e­lor’s 4,300

Left: Rest easy—the last vol­canic ac­tiv­ity at Mt. Bach­e­lor was be­tween 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. Right: A Bend fa­vorite, McMe­namins Old St. Fran­cis School Pub pro­duces its own beer in its base­ment brew­ery.

acres—the sixth most ter­rain in the coun­try for a sin­gle re­sort— don’t wear the kids out, take them to Moun­tain Air, a new in­door jump­ing fa­cil­ity where 26 tram­po­lines and air bags make for high-fly­ing dodge­ball matches, spec­tac­u­lar basketball dunks, and the airi­est corks you’ll never throw.

“You know, a lot of the same things I liked to do as a kid are still here; it’s just that more peo­ple are do­ing them,” says Terry Fo­ley, 75, who started ski­ing Bach­e­lor be­fore the ski area was even founded in 1956. “Bach­e­lor and Bend have to ex­ist to sup­port each other rather than com­pete with each other and I’ve al­ways liked that.”

Back at the lift, Bach­e­lor Pres­i­dent and Gen­eral Man­ager John McLeod whips out a Rambo-wor­thy knife and cuts a red rib­bon to of­fi­cially open Cloud­chaser. The crowd lets out a col­lec­tive hoot that drowns out the speak­ers. I score chair No. 8 and head on up feel­ing giddy even with­out the beer.

Even with­out Cloud­chaser, Mt. Bach­e­lor has never re­ally wanted for ter­rain so the riches un­spool­ing below me now are al­most em­bar­rass­ing. The stratovolcano four hours south­east of Port­land now sports 11 lifts, and some of them spin all the way to Me­mo­rial Day. After a short break, they fire back up again for a few days around the Fourth of July. You can rip 360 de­grees off the sas­trugi’d sum­mit to soak up views from Mount Adams to Mount McLough­lin. Black di­a­monds dive for 2,365 ver­ti­cal feet off the north­west flank. The groomers off Out­back and Pine Martin were meant for scream­ing. Red Chair? That’s where you find se­cret stashes prac­ti­cally in view of the park­ing lot.

I live here but the long sea­son means there’s never re­ally a bad time to visit. The moun­tains col­lected more than 600 inches of snow last sea­son — the most since 1992. A bad win­ter here might mean “only” an eight-foot base. A good win­ter, like this one, can


yield a 100-inch base be­fore Christ­mas.

And that’s where the real magic of Cloud­chaser comes into play. The lift sits on the moun­tain’s tamer, lee­ward, south­east side so rid­ers don’t get chewed in the teeth of the storms that rou­tinely put wind­ward lifts on hold. In fact, to­day, open­ing day, is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the cloud-rout­ing phe­nom­e­non. The wind is rag­ing over on North­west. Out­back’s socked in. Here, for my en­tire eight-minute ride to the top, dainty snowflakes swirl in a puff of breeze. “The clouds are chased away!” says Drew Jack­son, di­rec­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing, and he’s not re­ally jok­ing.

At the top I wait for no one and head skier’s left into a blue called Con­ver­gence Zone, let­ting the tips of the QSTs hiss in fast-flow­ing arcs. The sides of the run well up to form a broad, flat half pipe that I slash with gusto be­fore hook­ing up with the bot­tom of an­other blue called Fly­ing Dutch­man. This used to be the far­thest run to skier’s left. Now 13 more runs spill around to the east, giv­ing be­gin­ners and in­ter­me­di­ates room to roam away from the green-heavy Sun­rise lift.

Over the course of the sea­son I get to know Cloud­chaser well. The mas­sive lift lines of open­ing day quickly fade and my daugh­ter, Evie, and I learn to tra­verse skier’s right to hit Wanoga, a rolling, swoop­ing blast of a run with fast, flowy lines through the trees that may live to be my new fa­vorite run. We pick our way down Jet Stream, right under the lift, and open it up on Cir­rus. My wife, Heidi, and I take Evie, who is 8, on her first slack coun­try pow­der ex­pe­ri­ence in five inches of fresh in the Low East, a black di­a­mond area that drops through the hem­locks and fun­nels through canyons to hit a catch­line back to the lift.

On that day, one of the last I’ll log for the sea­son, I watch Evie fol­low her mom into a pleas­ing gul­ley just off Wanoga where the snow is still un­tracked. One turn, two turns, three, and four: By the fifth I can’t see them any­more though bursts of Evie’s gig­gles waft through the nee­dles like fairy charms. This is why we ski. Soon I too am lost in the kinds of clouds I could chase all day. Tim Neville lives in Bend, Ore., where his fa­vorite win­ter days are spent on the slopes of Mt. Bach­e­lor with his wife and daugh­ter.

Mt. Bach­e­lor's 9,068-foot sum­mit is ski­able in ev­ery di­rec­tion. Pic­tured is Sage Cat­tabriga-Alosa.

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