written by Frederick Reimers | photgraphs by Tyler Roemer
My cousin Hans moved to Bend from a Colorado mountain town last year. When I venture inland from the coast for a visit, he loves to contrast his new home with the old. "Colorado is a very yang state," he says, meaning the masculine half of the Chinese yin and yang symbol. "People in Oregon seem more welcoming—like they have less to prove." Maybe it's the altitude, he says.
I think it's a scarcity issue. Colorado residents crawl all over their mountains, bumping into each other like ants scavenging crumbs. Climbing routes are crowded, even the vast bowls of Vail get tracked out by 10:00 A.M., and the state should paint centerlines on some of its busier singletrack. In Oregon, nothing feels scarce. The snow falls and falls, filling in tracks as fast as they're made. The Cascades spread languidly from one horizon to the other, traversed by lonely trails and hidden river canyons. Giant trees hide other travelers from view.
Bend offers a multisport bounty, especially in spring. Mt. Bachelor's 3,683 acres of resort skiing sit 22 miles from town, and 10,000-foot volcanoes dot the western skyline. The local Nordic club grooms 40 kilometers and volunteers carve new singletrack into the surrounding ponderosa forest each year. Class IV and V whitewater tumbles right through town, while a mellow stretch of the Deschutes River is chock full of stand-up paddleboarders (plus drunken inner-tubers). For climbers, Smith Rock State Park is just a short drive away.
The only thing scarce in Bend is jobs: Cousin Hans is counted among the double-digit unemployment rate for now. But there are 13 microbreweries for a population of 80,000, and homes can be snapped up for half the 2008 price. And unlike Colorado, every mountain bike ride isn't a race and every climb isn't a photo shoot.
Mountain Bike: A whopping 1,200 miles of singletrack sits within a two-hour drive of Bend. Much of that network is buried under thick slabs of Cascade snow until July, but the Phil's and C.O.D. trailheads access dozens of miles of trails rideable most years by April. The bermed, buff singletrack in the ponderosa forest is just three miles from downtown. In heavy snow years, head east of town to Horse Ridge.
Climb: The monolithic cliffs of Smith Rock jut out of the desert near the town of Terrebonne, 25 miles north of Bend. Rising above the meandering Crooked River Canyon, the cliffs are made of volcanic tuff, a grippy but occasionally crumbly rock ideal for more than 1,000 bolted routes that stud the steep cliffs. Temperatures can swing from the 40s to the 80s in May, so wrap up climbs on the southeast-facing Dihedrals by morning, before it becomes a reflector oven, and head for shadier routes. Options include the 5.9 trad classic Wherever I May Roam or sportier stuff on the Mesa Verde Wall.
Ski: Thanks to 387 inches of annual snowfall, Mt. Bachelor's lifts turn until May 27. Ride the Summit chairlift to the crest of the conical peak for 360-degree views. Then follow the corn cycle around the mountain from mellow southern slopes to steeper north-facing glades. Ready for the backcountry? South Sister, a 10,358-foot pile of loose ash, is a slog in summer—two steps forward, one step back on the way up and boots full of grit on the way down. Instead, approach it on skis or splitboard in spring via the Hodge Crest to Lewis Glacier route. A mellow skin up is followed by a sublime 5,000-foot cruise all the way to the car.
Oregon Ski Guides: Tame a volcano with these AMGA-trained guides, who lead trips on South Sister April through July. oregonskiguides.com
Cog Wild: Local mountain bike guides offer half-day tours around town, or multi-day epics covering mountains and desert. cogwild.com
Pine Mountain Sports: Rent full suspension bikes, pick up trail maps and condition updates, and let 'er rip. pinemountainsports.com
Redpoint Climbers Supply: This Terrebonne shop offers a bottomless inventory to answer every climbing need. redpointclimbing.com
Smith Rock Climbing Guides: Take on iconic climbs like Monkey Face or learn how to belay from experienced guides rich in local knowledge. smithrockclimbingguides.com
From the Spring 2012 issue