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High Value, Low Glitz : OREGON : Eligible Mt. Bachelor

December 09, 1990|SUSAN VREELAND | Vreeland is a free-lance writer living in San Diego. and

BEND, Ore. — Time was when Oregon skiers threaded their way through evergreen trails and chutes on Mt. Bachelor's lower section and only drooled at the massive, snow crowned summit above the tree line. But in the mid-80s, a high-speed chairlift with a vertical climb of 1,725 feet was installed from the resort at Bachelor up to the summit.

The Summit Chair made 360-degree skiing possible--down the front of the mountain to the lodges via wide bowls and tree-lined, serpentine swaths, or around the back where snowfields, often untouched, are served by a snowcat that tows skiers back to the main lodge.

Although Bachelor has served contented central Oregon skiers for nearly three decades, its recent expansion, and its passion for high-speed quads (a chairlift for four people) have made it an attractive alternative for Western skiers.

From the summit of Mt. Bachelor you can see a panorama of the Cascades range, with the Three Sisters and jagged Broken Top mountains closest, all volcanoes. The view across to the other peaks is heady, but so is the view below.

The steepest descent is down through the Pinnacles, rugged outcroppings above the tree line, reached by a 150-foot hike from the top of Summit Chair. Next steepest is Cow's Face, wide and smooth, far to the left of Summit Chair. Because Cow's Face is unknown to many skiers, it doesn't get carved into moguls (bumps of packed snow built up where skiers turn).

Cow's Face also stays sunny late into the afternoon when other slopes are shaded. Intermediates can experience the summit and pick their way through the moguls down the wide Healy Heights, named after Mt. Bachelor's founder, Bill Healy.

The Pine Marten Super Express, another high-speed quad, zooms up the slopes from the main lodge at 1,000 feet per minute, to a variety of advanced runs scattered throughout the mountain. And yet another high-speed quad (Bachelor has four) extends quick passage up the far right of the mountain, called Outback, to an area that is higher and less frequently groomed than other slopes and thus retains moguls despite relatively light traffic. That light traffic sometimes means powder.

Between the Outback and Red chairlifts is an unusual geological feature, a lone cinder cone, which is a smooth-pointed peak formed from volcanic debris. It's not served by a lift, so its powder lasts and tracks remain sharply defined between snowfalls.

By getting up a head of steam from Last Chance, between Outback and Red chairs, skiers can swoop up nearly two-thirds of the way and climb the rest for the treat of untracked powder.

Most of the lower mountain is sheltered by trees, but some sinuous runs such as Flying Dutchman and Tippytoe give the exuberance common in upper-mountain skiing. Guaranteed to bring squeals is Dilly Dally Alley, a narrow chute filled with loops and bumps and surprises.

Once skiers are in it, there's no way out until the bottom. Yet, once it's over, they'll want to do it again. It's not on any trail map, but from the top of Sunrise lift, facing downhill, ski right and then halfway down a run called Marshmallow. It's the swooping gully on the right. If you're not sure, just ask a kid.

Mt. Bachelor is also well suited to family skiing. The terrain is rated as 15% novice, 25% intermediate, 35% advanced-intermediate and 25% expert. The vertical drop is 3,100 feet from the summit to the bottom, and there are 1,600 maintained acres, with the longest run being two miles.

What that means is Mt. Bachelor has fine, varied skiing. With a choice of trails of different ability levels from each lift, families can ride the same chair and still ski on runs suited to each.

Five lodges serve Mt. Bachelor skiers, each with a different flavor.

The main lodge, modern and with full service, including rentals, ski school, restaurant and bar, attracts tourists and singles. Locals tend to congregate at Sunrise, the other major lodge, where they know there's parking closer to the lifts and where they can find popular Mexican food.

Blue Lodge is small and Spartan, with concrete floor and not much character. Because it's situated close to slalom courses, racers congregate there, including kids from the Mighty Mites, a children's racing program.

The resort's newest is the Pine Marten Lodge. At 7,800 feet on the top of Pine Marten Express, it affords an expansive view of the Cascades. Besides a casual lunch area, the Skiers' Palate-South Sister Restaurant features seafood and fine Italian cuisine.

But the original tiny Egan Lodge, built in 1958, homey and unpretentious, still holds its own for coziness, friendliness and warmth. Directly above the main lodge, it looks more like a service building than a lodge, but has a spectacular view of Three Sisters and Broken Top, serving up hearty soups, all-day breakfasts and terrific nachos.

George Oberg, a Swede who has been there for 19 years, prepares and tastes everything. And he'll tell you all you ever wanted to know about Mt. Bachelor, including how he went cross-county skiing one day, stopped right there, and they built a lodge around him.

Off the mountain, Bachelor's Nordic Lodge is the cross-country skiing center on nine groomed trails which twist through meadows. Some are short, lazy loops, and others provide enough of a workout that Bachelor hosts Olympic hopefuls in training, proof that skiing in central Oregon has clearly come of age.

Although Bachelor is a sleeper no longer, it's likely to retain its friendliness--where helping a lost or fallen skier is the natural thing to do, and where no one cares if your ski clothes match, but everyone seems to care that you have a great time.

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