Written by Jonah Whitaker – The rain dripping down the window of the achingly-hip organic brewpub in Portland, Oregon, was bothering me unusually. Not the rain itself. No, I was bothered because every drop here was floating down as snow on the nearby Cascade Mountains and that the new friends I’d left behind on Mt Hood and Mt Bachelor were enjoying yet another perfect snow day.
I’d just finished doing the Oregon Trail in the snowy highlights and highlands of the Beaver State, boarding and skiing in Mt Hood, Timberline Lodge and Mt Bachelor. The trip had started in Portland in perfect sunshine because we set out straight away for our first port of call the charming town of Hood River and the first of our 3 Mountains, Mt Hood. The scenic drive from Portland to Hood River follows a steep sided wide glacial gorge through which flows the Columbia River. This drive is recognized as an American classic, along a Fjord like landscape dotted with dramatic cliffs, waterfalls and hiking trails. This stretch of countryside is a favorite of outdoor-minded Portlanders in the hot summers as an ideal place to picnic, bike, hike or sail on the wide lazy river estuary.
An overnight in Hood River brought our first taste of the other great theme of our week – beer. Every town we visited has several microbreweries often with their own pub and restaurant attached. Hood River is famed for more than just beer. It’s also one of the wind and kite surfing capitals of the world when the winds whips in off the pacific and races across the wide-open river. However it was cold and we were here for a higher purpose; the highest of Oregon’s Cascade peaks, Mt Hood.
We set out early the next day to head for Mt Hood before the snow clouds closed in. It’s a steep 45-minute drive from Hood river up to the mountain through the chocolate box orchards and farmsteads of the Hood River Valley before you crest a rise and Mt Hood comes in to view.
Mt Hood Meadows is the largest of 6 local resorts with 87 runs – a good mix of blues, and black and double black diamonds. This vertiginous volcano offers the serious skier and snowboarder loads of playful terrain all rolling pistes, sharp twists and turns. Our guide explained that you could never get tired of the mountain; it gets so much snow that week to week the look, feel and shape of the mountain changes as its fills up with the regular dumps from the North Pacific. As befits a mountain that gets over 40 feet of snow a year the day we arrived the visibility was pretty bad and the winds had closed the upper slopes. So we contented ourselves with the first runs of the season on the bowl above the lodge. Both easy blues and steep blacks fan out from the top of the Mt Hood Express providing more than enough excitement for stiff legs.
I hoped that the snow would clear later in the afternoon as I’d heard legendary things about this Mountain. ‘Big and playful’ a friend had described it as with several out bounds areas like Heather Canyon that offer really challenging chutes and bowls. This time it wasn’t to be but one can’t complain when the snow gods decide to unleash such a dump.
Next morning the snow was deluging. We woke up in the small resort town of Government Camp a few miles away to find fresh stuff blanketing everything and with no immediate let up in sight we decided to head to the nearby Timberline Lodge where most of the skiable terrain is, unusually, below the resort and sheltered from the elements amongst the trees. But at the resort at 6000 feet is plenty high enough. Timberline, the smaller and older neighbouring sister to Mt Hood bills itself as a family- friendly resort and one of the only truly year-round ski hill in the US, apparently they “kind of close for a couple of weeks in September”. In fact many of the American National Ski Team comes here to train in the summer on the glacier above the lodge.
Whilst it doesn’t have the same steep and rocky terrain of its big sister what it does have is acres and acres of well spaced out tree runs sheltered from the wind. On this day the cruisy blues and reds below the lodge became gentle powder fields that broke up more challenging tree runs. As it was a snowy Tuesday in mid December it was also deserted – run after run we ripped through chair-accessible trees coming across our own lines from only a few minutes before. Fun and accessible skiing and snowboarding is not the only attraction of Timberline the main lodge is also a US national historic monument.
The spectacular 1930’s building is as impressive as it is recognisable – it was used for the exterior scenes of The Shining. Built as part of Roosevelt’s work-programme to get America out of recession in the 1930s. It put hundreds of skilled craftsmen at work during the great depression and their wood and stone structure remains largely unchanged today. The lodge makes for a characterful place to stay less than 20mins from Mt Hood Meadows and about 20 feet to the first runs of Timberline, then it’s time to move on from the Mt Hood area and head south east towards Bend and Mt Bachelor. The 3-hour drive throws up a few surprises – it was still dumping and we expected the drive to be slow going through tree-lined mountain passes but within half an hour we had dropped a few thousand feet to more temperate rainforest and soon after that in to high desert country. The impression that we had driven on to the set of a John Wayne movie was heightened by the fact that for over an hour we drove through Indian Reservation land and rim-rock territory, a cold and sparsely beautiful landscape of rocky outcrops, juniper trees and sagebrush and the occasional Casino. The Wild West feeling stopped at Bend which turned out to be a really cool and charming town; all locally owned cinemas, theatres, boutiques great restaurants and pubs, lots and lots of pubs. As there is no accommodation at Mt Bachelor this is your best base.