Mount Bachelor
Monday, December 28, 2009

Mount Bachelor and I go way back. I’ve skied there dozens of times dating back to the 1980s, a time before there were high-speed quads and when the old summit triple chair was brand new. While not a bona fide “local”, I know my way around Mount Bachelor quite well.

The weather was nice during my most recent visit. With the sky staying partly cloudy and temperatures in the 20s, it was a comfortable day for “fair weather” skiers. Being a holiday week, and with decent weather, Mount Bachelor did big business this day. But one of the many things I like about Mount Bachelor is that, even on its busiest days, there are numerous places on the mountain where one can escape the masses.

I was ready to board the Pine Marten lift right at the 9:00am opening. I really like the groomed runs in the Pine Marten lift pod – Thunderbird, Coffee and West Boundary are pitched just right for smooth and fast cruising. On busy days, I suggest carving down these cruisers either early or not at all, as they tend to get skied-out quickly. Furthermore, with the Pine Marten liftline maize getting jammed by 10:00am, you’ll want to be elsewhere on the mountain within an hour of the mountain’s opening.

Throughout the morning, I gradually moved west into the Outback and Northwest territories. I primarily skied the groomed runs, as the perfect corduroy wasn’t going to last much longer. (Off the groomed, the variable snow ranged from pleasant packed powder to small moguls and scattered slippery spots. It could wait until later to be skied, as it wasn’t going to change much during the day.) I was delighted to see that one of my all-time favorite cruisers – Snapshot Alley to Atkeson’s Zoom off of the Northwest Express lift – was groomed top to bottom. It starts steep, so sharp edges are a must. After the initial plunge, the run dips, drops, meanders and gradually shallows through the forest for nearly two miles. Even with the smoothest snow, it’s a challenge to ski it top-to-bottom without pause. Other fun cruisers included Osprey Way (after an initial mogul-dotted plunge) and Boomerang, a run that drops beneath the Outback lift. I should note that, while the Outback Express quad developed some minor crowding later in the morning, I never once waited to board the Northwest Express lift. And this was one of the busiest days of the season.

After lunch, it was time to experience the Mount Bachelor summit. Grooming machines weren’t yet able to reach the summit due to the still-shallow early-seasons snow base, so the terrain in all directions off the top was left to nature and skiers/boarders to shape. The normally-groomed front-side summit runs were the best… Beverly Hills and Healy Heights featured pleasant packed powder with only a few icy patches. There was plenty of snow; I never hit bottom. One of my other favorite Mount Bachelor runs – Cow’s Face down into the Rainbow bowls – was variable. I encountered small moguls, packed powder, icy patches and even some untracked powder on my way down to the catchline that leads back to the Sunrise & Rainbow lifts. Each day I ski, I typically make at least one poor choice of descents… and on this day, it was skiing from the Bachelor summit down the West Ridge towards the top of the Northwest quad. For 1,000 vertical-feet, it was an even mix of ice and wind-packed chop. Not pleasant. But then I hit my favorite Snapshot-to-Zoom screamer down to the bottom of the Northwest quad, so all was well.

By 2:00pm, my legs were failing me. Not ready to quit just yet, I decided it was best to stick with some groomed runs for the rest of the day. Fortunately for me, the masses’ legs must’ve failed them as well. The crowd thinned considerably in the afternoon. Some of the shallower groomed cruisers (Flying Dutchman & I-5) off of the Rainbow chair were still in good shape – I’ve found that those runs are usually good late-day options as they are don’t receive that many guests.

After 25 runs and probably 40,000 vertical-feet skied, I called it a day at 3:30pm. Add this day to my list of great days at Mount Bachelor. In hindsight, I am surprised at how easy it was to avoid the crowds on this very busy day. The secret is to realize that the Pine Marten and Sunrise quads are going to be jammed between 10:00am and 2:00pm. But the Red & Rainbow chairs, respectively, provide no-wait alternatives. And if Outback gets busy, the Northwest lift almost never has a line… and it accesses all of Outback’s terrain. The only spot on the mountain where crowds are unavoidable during the busiest midday hours is the Skyliner Express lift, as there’s no alternative way up in that pod. Avoid that area during the busy midday period if you’re uncomfortable with a wait to board the lift. Otherwise, with smart decision-making, it’s easy to experience Mount Bachelor without waiting in liftlines, even on the busiest days.

Lastly, a note about the way Mount Bachelor prices its lift tickets. The ski area is drawing national attention for its innovative daily lift ticket pricing model introduced this season. Instead of a fixed daily price, Bachelor management personnel determine the rate each afternoon (for the next day) depending on the expected weather and snow conditions. The price can be $49, $59 or $69. At the $69 rate, it’s the most expensive lift ticket in Oregon. But considering that the ski area is the 6th largest in the USA, and resorts of comparable and lesser size in California, Colorado, Vermont and Utah now charge more than $80 for a daily lift ticket for what might be a lesser product, Mount Bachelor is still a relative bargain. You get what you pay for at Mount Bachelor… it’s worth the price.

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