How to sync your must-do list with your Bend vacation budget (plus a chance to win a family pass for Oregon Winterfest!)

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Jan, 15 2015

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How to sync your must-do list with your Bend vacation budget (plus a chance to win a family pass for Oregon Winterfest!)

When you’re planning a winter vacation in Bend, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the “must-do” activities. You simply MUST ski at Mt. Bachelor. You absolutely MUST go shopping in the Old Mill District. You really MUST take the whole family out for a gourmet meal at one of Bend’s best restaurants.

If you’re traveling on a budget, it starts to feel like you MUST take out a second mortgage on your home to afford all that.

I agree a Bend winter vacation should include most of the following activities, and it’s also true there’s usually a good reason the pricier version costs more. That said, here are a few ways you can enjoy variations of some must-do winter activities on a shoestring budget.

 

Hit the Snowblast Tubing Park at Mt. Bachelor

What’s cool about it?

The Snowblast Tubing Park at Mt. Bachelor is a guaranteed good time.
The Snowblast Tubing Park at Mt. Bachelor is a guaranteed good time.

Mt. Bachelor’s Snowblast Tubing Park is my in-laws’ all-time favorite Bend activity, and no winter visit is complete unless we take the whole family up there for an afternoon of sliding down 800-foot slopes filled with rollers that make your belly flip with glee. With a pull rope that drags you to the top of the hill as you sit comfortably in the massive inner tube they provide, it’s the perfect activity for those who want the joy of sledding, but don’t want to deal with buying sleds or hiking up a slope again and again and again until you’re blue in the face.

As an added bonus, I always feel safe sledding there. Professionals man the top and bottom of the course, and they send people down the lanes in an organized fashion so no one gets squished. Even when the whole family joins hands to slide down together in a big cluster, there’s someone making sure we’re not doing anything sketchy. That’s a big bonus in my book, and generally worth paying $14 for adults or $11 for kids 12 & under to enjoy a two-hour session during non-holiday hours (prices go up for holiday periods or full-day passes).

What if I can’t afford that?

Sledding at Wanoga Sno-Park can be fun, too!
Sledding at Wanoga Sno-Park can be fun, too!

While Mt. Bachelor’s tubing park is a bucket-list item I highly, highly recommend, you don’t have to forego the sledding if you’re pinching pennies.

Just a few miles downhill from Mt. Bachelor is Wanoga Sno Park. For a $5 Sno-Park Permit (which you can purchase at the Bend Visitor Center on the corner of Lava and Oregon) and the cost of a cheap plastic saucer sled (you can find ‘em for around $8 at spots like Dick’s, Big 5 and Home Depot), you’re ready to roll at this family-friendly sledding hill.

Bonus: You’ll get plenty of exercise hiking up the slope at the end of each run, and there’s a nice warming hut at the bottom where you can toast your toes by the fireplace. For more ideas on sledding in Bend, check out this blog post.

 

Enjoy a guided snowshoe outing with Wanderlust Tours

What’s cool about it?

Bound through the snow with ease when you head out with Wanderlust Tours.
Bound through the snow with ease when you head out with Wanderlust Tours.

When it comes to natural history and geology, the naturalist guides at Wanderlust Tours are like walking encyclopedias. That’s assuming walking encyclopedias could take you to really cool places like ancient caves and a massive amphitheater hand-carved into the snow.

Wanderlust’s winter tours are the crème-de-la-crème if you’re looking for the best snowshoe outing money can buy. You get all your gear, instruction, and transportation to and from your Bend hotel or vacation rental, plus cocoa (if you’re on a non-boozy daytime tour or one of their family-friendly adventures), local beer (if you’re on one of their Shoes, Brews, & Views tours), or other adult beverages and snacks (if you opt for one of their nighttime outings like Bonfire on the Snow or the Moonlight & Starlight trips).

Snowshoe tours range from $55-$75 per person, depending on your age and adventure of choice. I’ve gone snowshoeing with Wanderlust at least half-a-dozen times, and if money were no object, I would snowshoe with them every single day. Whether you’re a brand-new beginner who wants a bit of hand-holding, or an experienced trekker hoping to discover secret spots for launching yourself off snow-covered boulders into a pillowy sea of powder, an outing with Wanderlust is sure to be the highlight of your Bend winter vacation.

What if I can’t afford that?

Okay, okay . . . I get it. Sometimes a tour like that just isn’t in your budget. You’ve got a couple options here. You can rent a pair of snowshoes on your own and set out for a solo adventure. Local rental shops like Mountain Supply and Powder House can give you tips on where to go.

Snowshoeing at Wanoga Sno-Park with your pup can be fun, too.
Snowshoeing at Wanoga Sno-Park with your pup can be fun, too.

But if a guided snowshoe tour is what you want, drive up to Mt. Bachelor and knock on the door of the U.S. Forest Service shack in the parking lot not far from the main lodge. That’s where they offer free guided snowshoe trips with a Forest Service naturalist.

The good news: They provide snowshoes, instruction, and a pretty awesome 90-minute interpretive tour, where you’ll learn about the winter ecology at Mt. Bachelor, the geology of Central Oregon, the Deschutes National Forest watershed, and the plants and animals found throughout the area. The outing is free, though they accept donations for the Discover Your Forest program.

The not-so-good-news: These tours fill up super-fast, especially around the holidays. You also have to provide your own transportation to and from Mt. Bachelor. But if you’re willing to deal with those inconveniences, this is a pretty cheap way to get a taste of snowshoe adventure.

 

Go ice skating at Seventh Mountain or Sunriver Resort

What’s cool about it?

The ice rink at Seventh Mountain Resort is a great place to gather with friends and family.
The ice rink at Seventh Mountain Resort is a great place to gather with friends and family.

I’ve had the pleasure of twirling around the ice at both Seventh Mountain Resort and Sunriver Resort.

Okay, “twirling” might be a slight exaggeration. “Sliding awkwardly and falling down a lot” is probably more accurate.

Still, both of those resorts are a great place to do it. The rinks are large and well-maintained, and they offer amenities like private lessons and parties (Seventh Mountain) and a covered rink that stays nice and toasty (Sunriver). There’s also tons of room to move around without crashing into anyone (always a plus for novice skaters like me).

At Sunriver, the fee is $13 for adults or $9 for kids 5-12, and that includes your skate rental (though they’ll knock $3 off if you have your own skates). At Seventh Mountain Resort, you’ll pay $8 for admission and $6 for skate rental (though their weekly “Cheapskate Tuesday” deal gets you $10 admission with skates included all day each Tuesday, excluding holiday weeks).

What if I can’t afford that?

The municipal ice rink in Redmond can be great fun, too!
The municipal ice rink in Redmond can be great fun, too!

My step-kids looooove ice skating. Me? I feel so-so about it, which is why I’m sometimes hesitant to shell out much money for the experience. My solution? A 15-minute drive to Redmond, where Redmond Parks & Recreation operates a perfectly lovely (albeit, small) ice skating rink.

Fees are $4 per person, which includes your skates (they knock a buck off if you have your own). Taking the whole family? Nab a $12 family pass for up to six people in the same household, and everyone can enjoy a full day of skating for less than the cost of a pizza.

Hours of operation can vary, depending on weather, so if temps are a little warmer, call first to make sure they’re open.

 

Check out Oregon Winterfest February 13-15

What’s cool about it?

You'll be walkin' in a winter wonderland at this year's Oregon Winterfest.
You’ll be walkin’ in a winter wonderland at this year’s Oregon Winterfest.

Oregon Winterfest is a massive annual celebration of the snowy season, and it happens right here in Bend. There’s live music, a Wine Walk, The Playground Games featuring both ski and snowboard competitions, live music, ice carving, a fire pit competition, live music, motocross with Metal Mulisha, an OMSI kids’ tent, live music, a 5k and 10k race, tasty food and beverages, live music, and more.

Did I mention live music? There’s tons of that, including March Fourth Marching Band (described by the Phoenix New Times as “like Sergeant Pepper leading a freaky Cirque du Soleil performance from the bandstand or European Gypsy camps stumbling upon the rhythms of Brazilian Jungle tribes”). You’ll also have the chance to see platinum-selling artists, Filter, in their only Northwest show on the tour. They’re known for their rough-around-the-edges production, lavish bass lines, and jagged guitars set to a backdrop of drum machines punctuated by the unfurling of Richard Patrick’s vocal prowess and signature roar.

Seriously, Oregon Winterfest is one of those awesome winter events you don’t want to miss. Check out the schedule of events here and plan your Presidents’ Day Weekend trip accordingly. Advance buttons are $6 at OnPoint Community Credit Union, or $8 at the Old Mill District’s Ticket Mill and Newport Avenue Market. They’re $10 at the gate. You can also purchase a family pass at the gate, which includes four all-access buttons for $30. Tickets are also available online through BendTicket.com.

What if I can’t afford that?

Don't miss the ice sculptures at the 2014 Oregon Winterfest.
Don’t miss the ice sculptures at the 2014 Oregon Winterfest.

How about the chance to WIN a family four-pack of buttons? Free is a pretty budget-friendly price.

Here’s how you enter: Go here and “like” the Oregon Winterfest Facebook page so you’ll have up-to-the-minute updates on what’s happening at the event.

Then leave a comment on this blog post sharing what Oregon Winterfest event or activity you’re most looking forward to this year. Need a roundup of ideas? Go here.

You’ve gotta do both things to make your entry count. We’ll draw a winner at noon on Thursday, January 22 so you have plenty of time to plan your trip.

Now get out there and enjoy the season!