Last fall, my husband, Todd, and I made the decision that we were going to add a ski adventure to our 2016 winter plans. Having recently relocated back to Fort Lauderdale from the San Francisco Bay Area, we had spent plenty of seasons skiing Lake Tahoe and were ready to do something different.
We were a bit late kicking off our research and talked through a lot of options, to include Colorado and Utah ski resorts. Although there are plenty of magnificent slopes in those states, we like traveling with others, particularly when it comes to skiing.
We knew about the Fort Lauderdale Snow Ski Club from our friends, Rick and Liz, and heard the trips are well planned and organized. So, we ultimately opted on a ski trip to Mount Bachelor, Oregon, with the Fort Lauderdale Snow Ski Club.
You’re probably scratching your head in wonder over the idea of a ski club in a sunshine state. But the reality is many Floridians want out. The novelty of putting on a ski jacket, catching snowflakes on the tongue, and huddling around a fireplace with a cold brew is simply alluring.
Setting the Stage
Mount Bachelor is right outside of Bend, Oregon, which is a bustling, growing town that is famous for its climate that enables active visitors and residents the ability to ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon. It also features lots of trails for mountain biking and hiking. Downtown Bend is impressive in its own right. Bend boasts the most breweries per capita in the state of Oregon, and it has a restaurant scene fit for any foodie. Oh, and did I say that Bend is just a short two hours or so from the lush vineyards of Willamette Valley? This area grows world-class Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and other varietals (we were not able to make a side trip there but read my review of a couple of good wines from this area).
In reality, Bend is about a 45-minute drive bus ride from Mount Bachelor, but because Mount Bachelor is a national forest, there are no hotels on the grounds. The closest town is Sunriver, but Bend offers so much more for dining and entertainment, making the drive well worth it. And plenty of hotels are located downtown and are within walking distance of everything so you don’t need a car.
We love the state of Oregon and, having done a road trip a couple of years ago along the entire coast of Oregon, we wanted to explore the mountainous region. I had been to Bend once before for work during the spring season, and I had heard from many locals that Mount Bachelor offered great skiing. All of this helped make the decision to sign up for the Mount Bachelor trip.
A Long Day of Travel Leads to Rustic Love
Fast forward several months and we we were brought out of a deep sleep by our alarm at 4 a.m. on a Friday morning in February to catch our flight from the Fort Lauderdale airport to Bend. Getting to Bend from Florida is no easy feat. After two legs separated with a layover in Houston, we still had another 3.5 hours from the Portland airport to Bend. Bend actually does have a small nearby airport in Redmond, but flights are more limited and can be more expensive. So, the 35 of us climbed aboard a chartered bus and prepared for the long ride.
By the time we rolled into the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Bend, Todd and I were bleary-eyed and almost incoherent. But we rallied since our friends Dave and Becky were meeting us for a fresh draft and conversation. They met us in the hotel lobby and clad in our scarves, gloves and hats, we made the short walk from our hotel to Deschutes Brewery. I ordered a pint of the Rustic Love, a blonde Belgian Ale, and I still swear it was the best beer I ever had. I was in love.
Because we were in no mood for a long, formal dinner, we stopped into the Summit Saloon. It’s nothing fancy, but it has friendly service and good sandwiches, burgers, salads and decent booths that were comfortable after our long day of travel. Afterwards, we stopped into the Oxford Hotel just a few steps down from the Doubletree. Too tired for an after-dinner drink, we simply ogled over this modern, eco-friendly hotel that was reminiscent of something you’d see in San Francisco. In 2015, the Oxford was rated #1 by Conde Nast’s Reader’s Choice Awards in the Pacific Northwest.
Blue Bird Days
Mount Bachelor was having a banner year with snow levels well above average and temperatures that were akin to Spring skiing, despite the fact it was only February. So we woke the following morning, geared up and headed downstairs for breakfast, then boarded the bus to begin our journey. On our bus ride to the mountain, Ann Cook, who is a local to Bend and who has worked for Mount Bachelor and is now with Doubletree, provided an informative overview of the area. About halfway through the ride, the snow-capped Mount Bachelor came into view. It was an awesome sight, with clear blue skies and sun rays gleaming off the white snow.
On the bus ride, we learned from Ann that Mount Bachelor has an amazing volunteer ambassador program. Ambassadors are experts of the Mount Bachelor terrain and can easily be found riding up the chair lifts and skiing across the slopes, offering skiers guidance on the mountain. Having an ambassador sounded right up our alley. Therefore, in our quest to receive a good orientation to the mountain and avoid accidental encounters with black diamond runs (our current comfort level has us favoring blue runs), we immediately sought out an ambassador.
We found Chuck. Chuck spent the day with us, giving us a complete overview of the area and ensuring we were prepared for the week. The only time Chuck left our side is when we took a Bloody Mary break at the Sunrise Lodge’s Sun Bar. About halfway through our day, we sat at the outdoor circular bar and soaked in the sun and rested our feet for a bit while Chuck continued with his ambassador duties, promising to catch up with us when we were done.
We had a great first day on the slopes with Chuck. We enjoyed clear blue skies, bright sun, and fresh snow, conditions affectionately called a blue bird day. We couldn’t have asked for anything more. At the end of the day, we unbuckled our rental boots and skis and headed to the overnight storage area. As I put my comfy after-ski snow boots on, I was thankful for this amenity that enabled us to hop on and off the bus equipment-free.
In the evening, a group of us went to dinner at Brickhouse, which was right down the corner from our hotel. I guess skiing creates a desire for red meat as the whole group of us ordered from the carnivorous side of the menu and, I must say, it was good. All of their steaks are custom aged a minimum of 28 days. It was a great evening to end an even better day.
A Brief Respite
The following day brought rain to the mountain and since we purchased a 5-day ski pass, we opted to take this day off from the slopes. We also had a standing offer from Dave and Becky to show us around town since it was Sunday and they had the day off. They picked us up and we headed to Sunriver, where they reside. We stopped at the Sunriver Brewery Company for lunch, where we had the most amazing appetizer — fried avocados. It sounds weird, but trust me, it is mind blowing!
Having lived in Sunriver for years, Dave and Becky gave us the local tour of the area. Both Sunriver and Bend have recently seen significant growth in population. Together these cities have become a weekend playground for those living in the metro San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland areas. Becky told us on Monday mornings she sees numerous privates jets leaving Bend, taking the well-heeled weekend warriors back to their weekly lives. But Bend is also a year-round place for many. It has a growing tech sector that has enabled many to call it home.
After a relaxing day with Dave and Becky, we met back up with our ski club friends. They had an apres cocktail hour planned at The Capitol, which is a subterranean bar and restaurant and feels like something in the New York City Theater District. We didn’t stay long enough to benefit from the full vibe of the venue, but it was an interesting spot to experience during our visit. From there, we moved onto the Wild Rose, a Thai restaurant that Ann said was one of her favorites. It had a bohemian, comfortable sort of feel to it. Ann did not steer us wrong. We ordered a chicken basil noodle dish she recommended that warmed the bones after our brisk walk to the restaurant and left a slight tingle on the tongue.
Is that Whoville?
Continuing our ski adventures for the week, we were met with yet another blue bird day. Since we spent our first day with Chuck, we decided to join our friends from the Fort Lauderdale club and tackle the mountain. As we learned from our ambassador, you follow the sun when you ski Mount Bachelor. In the morning, you ski the east side of the mountain, which includes Sunrise, Summit and Skyliner Express. These chairs offer access to plenty of long, blue ski runs. Later in the day, you move West with the sun, where the mountain is a bit more steep and moves up a notch in challenge level.
However, we did discover the east side has its challenges, too. We were feeling confident, and maybe overly so since we agreed to ride up the Summit Express, which ascends to the mountain’s pointed 9,065-foot top. When we exited the chair, the wind was whipping and the snow was thin and relatively icy. We realized this may not have been ideal for our second day on the slopes.
Squinting back up toward the chair lift, I stared in wonder over the snow encrusted building, which looked like something from Dr. Seuss’ Whoville. I practically expected to see the Grinch’s dog on his sled teetering over the edge. But admittedly, the laughter stopped when we tried to make our way down the mountain. We eventually made it, but not without a couple of nose plants and yard sales! I guess we should have saved this run for the end of the trip when our ski legs were more tuned up.
Crazy Hats, Boxers, and a Little Competition
The following day was the Ski Council’s traditional fun race. Crazy hats and boxers are encouraged, but not required. You don’t have to participate, but it’s all part of the fun and a great way to bond with other ski club members. It started with a short downhill course skiing around flag posts, with the first stop being a golf putting green. Then you move on to a cornhole bag toss. And, the final challenge is a ring toss. I was happy to nail the cornhole and ring toss on the first try. Sadly, I still didn’t win, but hey, I was a first timer!
The post-competition reward was a catered lunch at Scapolos, the Italian restaurant at the Pine Marten lodge. This is the most beautiful ski lodge on the mountain with its sweeping views that rival any five-star restaurant.
After lunch we had a wonderful opportunity to meet the Avalanche dogs, trained to rescue people in the case of an avalanche.
Later that evening, the ski resort gave us exclusive access to the tubing area. We donned our after-ski boots, grabbed a tube, and let the rope tow take us to the top of the hill. Like kids, we all screamed and yelled as we swirled down the hill on our tubes. At the bottom, we mustered ourselves out of the tubes and scrambled back for another run. Finally, the chill set in so we headed back up to the main lodge where we ended the day with a luau hosted by the Ski Council.
Keeping it Real
As the week progressed, we opted to move west and enjoyed the runs off of the Outback Express lift. One afternoon, we headed up the Northwest lift with our ski club friends, only to find it is all black runs, with the exception of the blue Northwest Crossover, which leads back toward the east side. We were thankful for that crossover and found this is where we parted ways with our ski colleagues that day! We were not quite ready for black hills, and we actually decided that we could benefit from a ski lesson.
Both of us have typically just strapped on skis and boots and skied down the mountain with whatever techniques have felt natural, which means developing habits that are less than ideal. So, we signed up for a private lesson for the two of us to get some expert advice and help us improve our abilities. Surprisingly, we discovered that our techniques aren’t completely off the rail, but fine tuning was definitely in order! We have vowed to do a lesson for the next few trips.
Later that evening, the Ski Council hosted a dinner event at the beautiful High Desert Museum. We have heard this is a must-see when coming to Bend so we were excited this was on the agenda. Being an evening event, we only got to benefit from the exhibits inside, but it was a beautiful location and display of western history, and I would certainly put this on the list for our next visit to the area.
Other Notable Mentions
As our trip came to a close, we decided that Mount Bachelor truly offers skiing for every levels. Advanced skiers can take advantage of plentiful tree skiing and steep vertical drops. But, as blue skiers, we appreciated the sloping, groomed blue runs.
We also agreed that Bend is an ideal option for lodging when visiting Mount Bachelor. In addition to the other dining spots mentioned, we particularly enjoyed dinner at Jackalope Grill, which offers tender, delicious elk tenderloin that you must order in advance (see Vino Voyager for my related post on this restaurant). The historical Pine Tavern was another wonderful experience, with its two gigantic Ponderosa Pines sprouting up through the dining area. The Old Mill District has lots of other shopping and dining options, too.
For those who love beer, the Bend Ale Trail is a must, which offers a visit to all of the breweries that Bend has to offer. And, the Ski Council hosted a day trip to Crater Lake that we did not participate in but we heard was well worth the 2-hour bus ride (photo courtesy of our fearless trip leader, Tripper White!).
The versatility of Bend and Mount Bachelor will certainly have us returning again!