Discover the best of backcountry skiing in Oregon. Bend offers tons of groomed slopes and gnarly terrain serviced by chairlifts, but sometimes you crave something different. Something daring. Something peaceful. Something that leaves you breathless and enamored by the hammering of your own heartbeat.
Backcountry skiing Bend’s lesser-traveled terrain isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a great way to find an adventure worth bragging about for years to come. There are plenty of options for backcountry skiing, backcountry snowboarding, backcountry splitboarding, alpine touring, telemark skiing, ski mountaineering, and other snow adventures that can only be found a bit off the beaten track.
A few tips, for safety’s sake:
Never go out without preparing yourself by learning about avalanche safety, checking weather reports, and determining avalanche conditions.
Pack your avalanche gear, including beacon, probe, and shovel. Make sure you’re heading out with a friend who also has all three and knows how to use them.
Known to locals as “The Cone,” the Cinder Cone at Mt. Bachelor sprouted out of the base in the most recent eruption in the Central Oregon Cascades. It is a local favorite for backcountry skiing since it’s more accessible than most true backcountry locations because it’s attached to the Mt. Bachelor ski resort. The cone offers 700 feet of vertical ski terrain on slopes up to about 40 degrees.
To access The Cone from Bend, take the Cascade Lakes Highway and drive 19.7 miles to the Mt. Bachelor West Village parking area. Once in the parking lot, continue to the west side of the parking lot close to the base of the Red Chair lift. The ascent of The Cone handrails the hiker’s right hand side of Leeway, which is the furthest run to the right as seen looking uphill from the parking area. Follow the Cone side of Leeway all the way up to the saddle that is formed between The Cone and Mt. Bachelor, where you will turn right and head north to complete your ascent. From the summit of The Cone, you are permitted to ride any aspect. The East face is by far the most popular, as it allows an easy hike back up or the option to ride down to the parking lot without having to hike out.
Before leaving, make sure to check the uphill traffic status at www.mtbachelor.com and always be aware of downhill skiers and mountain operations equipment such as grooming machines or snowmobiles.
Tumalo Mountain is a 7,775 foot tall shield volcano located just across the Cascade Lakes Highway from Mt. Bachelor that is accessible from the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park. To get there, just follow the same route as you would to The Cone except turn right into the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park just before you would veer to the left to get to Mt. Bachelor’s West Village parking area.You will need a Sno-Park permit to park at Dutchman Flat, which can be purchased at the Bend Visitor Center, or at a number of sport shops, including the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center and ski shops on the way to the mountain. Permits are available in one day, three day, or annual options.
The ascent is between 1.4 and 2.2 miles, depending on how aggressively you choose to charge the summit. It has a vertical gain of just over 1,475 feet from the parking lot. Generally, there is an established boot pack trail to the summit allowing for an ascent time of around 45 minutes. In the event that you are laying down first tracks, head east/northeast out of the parking lot and expect an ascent time of at least an hour. There is very little in the way of signage on the ascent, so if there is not an established trail, be sure to take a good bearing before you begin your climb. The easiest way to ensure you don’t have to do any hiking back to your car after your day of riding is to aim for the center of Mt. Bachelor for your descent. If Bachelor can’t be seen from the summit, take a west bearing and follow it all the way down to the parking area.
Ball Butte is another local favorite spot for Oregon backcountry riding. It requires quite a bit more effort to access it than the previous two spots, but the payoff is more untouched lines.
Ball Butte can be accessed from either the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park outside Bend or the Upper Three Creeks Sno-Park outside Sisters. It is about five miles north/northwest of Dutchman Flat or just over seven miles south/southwest from Upper Three Creeks. On a clear day, the eastern flank of Broken Top makes a good landmark to shoot for from the parking area. Again, you will need to obtain a Sno-Park permit to park in either location.
On approach from Dutchman Flat, the southeast ridge will be your best bet for ascent with a fairly mellow slope. The ridge on the north/northeast side of the butte is your best bet if you are coming in from Upper Three Creeks. It is important to note that Ball Butte lies just inside of the Three Sisters Wilderness boundary, so there is no mechanized travel allowed. Practicing Leave No Trace ethics will help ensure the heath and beauty of the area.
Tam McArthur Rim
The Tam McArthur Rim is one of the best backcountry destinations in Oregon. There is a little something for every backcountry rider at Tam. It has trees, steeps, and chutes all in a beautiful landscape.
To get to Tam McArthur, take Elm Street (FS 16) south out of Sisters and drive about nine miles to the Upper Three Creeks Sno-Park. From there, it is about six miles to Little Three Creeks Lake, a solid base camp for a day on Tam Rim.
Here’s a list of backcountry skiing guides and plenty of resources to ensure you have a safe and thrilling Oregon backcountry adventure!