Friday, March 23, 2012

Sunriver, Tumalo, Bachelor, Santiam Pass

Last weekend was our department's grad student retreat.  We rented three vacation houses in Sunriver, Or and tried not to think about school for a couple days.

I spent the late morning packing for the trip; sipping a beer as a warm up for the weekend.  Around one, our car set off towards the mountains.  When we arrived in Sunriver, I was instantly reminded of the many spring breaks I spent there for ski trips with the family.  We drove through the maze of roundabouts and dead ends placed not-so neatly in the high desert scrub forest.  I remembered chasing herds of deer through these trees with my sister, riding bikes along the trails and getting hopelessly lost with my cousin during various visits to the small vacation town.  This was my first time back in many years.

The sun was still blazing a toasty 65 degrees when we reached the houses, a few people had already arrived.  We settled in an made a B line for the hot tub, even though it was nice enough to lay out on the deck and sun our pale, northwest skin.  As more people trickled in, the festivities ramped up slowly.  Throughout the night, the hot tub was filled to capacity, and a keg was laid to rest.

Saturday was sunny and warm again, conditions for some decent corn snow.  We drove toward Mt. Bachelor to ski Tumalo Mountain, which sits right across the highway from the resort.  We skinned up through the trees (Peter walked, on account of forgetting his skins) following criss-crossing tracks laid down by the powder hungry skiers days before us.  The climb was gentle for the most part.  Above 7000 feet the trees got smaller and more sparse.  The last couple hundred feet of the climb were icy and wind scoured.  I would be a liar if I said I didn't fall.

 It was solid ice up there.

 Stealing the photo opp

The clouds tried to obscure the volcanoes around us, but the Sisters, Broken Top and Bachelor evaded the cloudy cloak and showed themselves sporadically. 

 Broken Top


The first hundred or so feet were an icy, blocky mess that we delicately navigated until the snow softened lower on the mountain.  The corn was good for a couple turns through the light trees; I'm starting to get the hang of variable condition skiing.  Once in the denser trees, we picked our way back to the parking lot.


The hot tubs welcomed us back to Sunriver and after a needed nap, a potluck of epic proportions was had.  Through the night, a second keg was killed and somehow made their way up here:

It snowed through the night so Peter and I decided to hit the lifts at Bachelor on Sunday since he had never skied there before.  I welcomed the opportunity to get a lot of turns in with the mental boost of being in bounds.  By the end of the day, I felt like a markedly better powder skier than I did a few months earlier.  

We had a mellow last night in Sunriver and the next morning, Peter and I ventured up Santiam Pass to find another tour.  Black Butte was our target, but upon seeing its nearly bare and rocky slopes from the highway, we passed it by.  We rolled into the nearly deserted Hoodoo Ski Resort and toured around to the back side.  The wind was strong between Hoodoo and it's neighboring peak Hayrick Butte, and the wind slab was considerable.  Peter scoped out lines that would be safe descents and we skied down a fun little bowl.  The light that day had an eerie quality to it, earth ran seamlessly into sky and we were trapped in a soft, black and white snow globe.

Did I mention we found these awesome hats in a grocery store for $6?  'Cause we did.

Second chin sold separately 

We found a small drop off with cornices along the top of it, so we stomped them down.


Our own little avalanche

I decided to attempt skiing off a lower section of the drop off . . . it wasn't the most graceful thing in the world.

As we were leaving, the burn covering the north slopes of Potato Hill, just west of Hoodoo, caught our eye.  It looked good.  Real good.  I insisted I must come back.  Luckily, I had made plans to ski with a friend later in the week.

Wednesday, Adam and I dragged ourselves out of Eugene before 6 am and drove the snowy roads toward the pass.  We didn't have much beta going into the tour, just a few mentions on various trip report forums.  We parked at the Potato Hill snowpark and enjoyed the easy climb up the ridge. 

 At the top we found somewhere to drop in with only a small cornice.  The snow was dry and deep and disguised the features of the slope just enough to make it exciting.  It was steeper than it looked from the highway.  We dropped in and sliced silently through the drifts.  There was snow up to my knees in places, but it was so light I could still turn.  About two thirds of the way down we decided to head back up and lap the top section a couple times.  Taking turns, we set a sloppy skin track up the much steeper face.  Our track meandered through a graveyard of dead tree tombstones. 

 Each lap got better, and by the third one, things just clicked.  Suddenly I was skiing fast, linking turns, feeling decidedly UN-turdy.  It was my skiing epiphany, powder sprayed out casually at each arc and I cruised down to the bottom grinning like an idiot.  The lower pitch started out steep, the snow was more cohesive here and our turns sent small releases down the hill.

Before reaching the highway, we encountered a stream we knew was there.  Assuming crossing it was the only option, we took off the skis and scoped out the best place.  At one area, there seemed to be a log bridge covered in snow that would get us most of the way across.  Adam tried it out, and discovered the snow hid only a few branches in most places.  So we had to walk across.

  We carefully walked the highway back to the car.  It had warmed up and the snow was soggy.  Dripping with water and sore from lugging the skis, we made it back to the car, delirious but stoked about our adventure.  

4/5 days skiing?  Not too shabby for March.

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