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Mt. Bachelor and Bend

Bob Goligoski

BEND, OR -- From the top of  9,065-foot Mt. Bachelor I could almost see the golf course near Bend where I would be playing that afternoon. Talk about a fantasy – skiing in the morning and golfing in the afternoon.

But those are just two of the countless recreational attractions available in this outdoor jewel in central Oregon. I skied with one local in the morning who planned to sail with his wife that afternoon on nearby Elk Lake. A visitor from California told me she was going to fly fish the Deschutes River after her ski legs gave out that day.

And a friend in Bend was going to rock climb Smith Rock in the morning and speed around some of  the 500 plus miles of nearby mountain bike trails in the afternoon.

It was late May and the first business at hand was skiing this spectacular volcanic snow cone of a peak called Mt. Bachelor. The ski resort is the largest in the U.S. Pacific Northwest with 14 lifts, half of them high speed, spread out across 3,683 skiable acres.

Bachelor thrived last season when many U.S. ski resorts were hurting with too little snow. I was skiing on a 12-foot base after the slopes got more than 500 inches of snow. Some 667 inches fell during the previous winter.

The resort is typically open through May, reopens for the July 4 celebration and sometimes opens for the regular season as early as October.

One can also golf year-round in the lower-level, snow-free Bend area as a handful of the 25 golf courses in the area are open all 12 months.

Several airlines, including United, Alaska, Delta and Allegiant, all fly in to the Bend-Redmond airport.

The volcano called Mt. Bachelor is 25 minutes outside Bend. It sits west of  the high desert region in central Oregon which means that the snow is usually dry and light after it hurtles across the Cascades in Western Oregon. Bend brags about 300 days of sunshine a year.

There’s something magical and awe-inspiring about skiing or snowboarding from the top of a mountain. Here, you slide from the top in any direction.

There are groomed runs for every ability, fields of untracked powder, cliffs for the truly skilled, terrain parks for freeriders, tree runs and narrow chutes.

There is also this bizarre 7,000-foot cinder cone on one flank of the slopes that provides a unique thrill. One skis down a groomed run, gathers speed, skis part-way up the cone, then takes a short hike to the top and finishes it off with a powder run down the other side of the cone.

One caveat  about  Mt. Bachelor. On stormy, blustery days, which can really pound the mountain, the wide-open upper slopes are closed and the skiing and snowboarding take place on the lower runs. Fortunately, many of them are well-protected by bands of trees.

Cross county buffs have their own playground at the bottom of the slopes where 56 kilometers of groomed trails await.

Compared with other big-league ski resorts, Bachelor is a bargain. Adult lift tickets range in price between $59 and $76 during the regular season, and children 12 and under with a parent ski and snowboard free with multi-day tickets.

There is no lodging at the base. The closest place to sleep is the sprawling Seventh Mountain resort some 15 minutes down the slopes. And of course Bend, with its 80,000 residents, is teeming with motels and hotels including the gleaming centerpiece of downtown, the Oxford Hotel.

My week-long trip in May was designed to cram in as much skiing and golf as possible every day. I had never golfed around Bend so it was truly a happy discovery to play some of the 25 golf courses in and around Bend.

One golf instructor told me that “we are the Palm Springs of the Northwest.” Golf Digest magazine ranks the Bend area among the “top 50 golf destinations in the world.”

Several of the courses are at Sunriver, the well-known resort community just south of town. Anyone can play the courses, such as the famed Crosswater course, even if one is not lodging at Sunriver. One of the “must” courses to golf here is Pronghorn, a pristine place with many challenges.

“Stunning” would be a good adjective to describe many of the courses. On the tee box on the 16th hole at the Meadow course, you line your shot up by aiming for the top of Mt. Bachelor in the distance. Other courses have flowing rivers, quiet ponds, lava outcroppings and the occasional bald eagle that floats by.

Some Bay Area residents fly up in their private planes to the Sunriver airport, play 18 holes, enjoy dinner and fly home the same day.

One can golf at any price here as mid-week green fees typically range between $35 and $175. My partner on one round remarked that “the real trifecta here is skiing in the morning, golfing in the afternoon and fly fishing in the evening.”

Fly Fisherman Magazine ranks Bend as one of the top 10 fly fishing towns in America. Sections of the Deschutes are open to fly anglers throughout the winter. Popular fishing holes can also be found on Tumalo Creek and Fall River.

Brown, brook and rainbow trout are all just waiting to be caught. For some anglers, the big prize is hooking a landlocked Atlantic salmon in Hosmer Lake.

Bend is on so many national top ten lists of cool outdoor things to do that it is difficult to include them all.

Mountain Bike Action magazine has named Bend “the best mountain biking town in America.” Small wonder. There are hundreds of miles of varied singletrack all around Bend for cross country riding.

The editors of Outside Magazine have named Bend the #1 trail-running town in the country.

During my one week in Bend, I do not think I saw one overweight person. Everyone is either skiing, snowboarding,  biking, running, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, golfing, tubing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, birding (Oregon has 487 bird species), water skiing or rock climbing.

Nearby Smith Rock State Park, with its formidable basalt cliffs, is one of America’s rock climbing meccas. Smith’s prominent pinnacle, Monkey Face, is one of the most photographed climbs in North America.

All this activity can  make one plenty thirsty. But of course Bend has an answer for that also. The place boasts 15 breweries, which gives it more breweries per capita than any place in the country.

Bend has become a staple on the international beer tasting map. Tourists from beer drinking countries such as Belgium and Germany travel to Bend to visit the breweries.

Deschutes Brewery, which opened in 1988, is the father of the local brew business. Nearly everyone who founded the Bend breweries that came along later seems to be an alumni of Deschutes.

I signed up for a breweries tour with an outfit called Wanderlust Tours that included Deschutes, Boneyard, GoodLife and others. Deschutes, the fifth largest craft brewery in the country, produced a beer in 2010 that was judged the best beer in the world at the World Beer Competition in England. The beer, Red Chair NWPA, was named after Mt. Bachelor’s Red chairlift.

My favorite at Deschutes was Stoic, an ale with all kinds of exotic flavors. The brewery also sometimes produces a brew called Collage which must be outstanding as each 12 ounce bottled is priced at $12.

 Do you want to combine drinking with exercising? Look into the Bend Cycle Pub. This is a large peddle contraption with seats for 14 passengers. Thirteen people drink beers from the tap while they peddle around town. The other passenger is, of course, the designated driver.

Some call Bend an “under the radar” vacation stop. But it still attracts about two million visitors a year.

Many come for the food. Bend has about 275 restaurants. One more list that Bend had made – Sunset Magazine ranks Bend as “one of the top 10 foodie ski towns in the U.S.”

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Bob Goligoski, a ski and travel writer based in Sunnyvale, CA, has visited more than 90 ski resorts around the world and has written stories for numerous publications including Ski Magazine, Ambassador, California Journal, San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News. He formerly worked as a ski columnist and reporter for the Mercury News and the St. Paul Dispatch for 18 years. bgoligoski@sandisk.com. (More about the writer.)

 

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