by Dan Egan and Megan B. McCarthy

Any hope that residents of Bend, Oregon, may have had of keeping "their" backyard jewel of Mt. Bachelor a secret have been long since dashed. Twenty years ago, Bend was a depressed lumber mill town of 15,000 people, and Mt. Bachelor (just 22 miles from town) was a ski-in-your-jeans-type resort. Since then, Bend has exploded in growth, more than tripling in size with 52,000 residents, and Mt. Bachelor is the largest ski resort in the state. About six hours from Spokane, it makes for a nice three-day weekend or even a week-long getaway.

As the hub of the fastest-growing county in the state (Deschutes), this high desert area on the eastern flank of the Cascades is thoroughly discovered. But with more than 3,600 acres of terrain, Mt. Bachelor rarely feels crowded.

"Mother Nature is blessing us right now," says Chris Johnston, communications manager for Mt. Bachelor, referring to the white stuff falling outside his window last week. "Still, we do have the guns cranking right now."

Johnston is talking about snowmaking guns, and new this year at Mt. Bachelor is a $1.5 million snowmaking system. Capable of making up to 18 inches of snow in as little as three days, the system will virtually guarantee Thanksgiving openings -- not that it's been much of a problem.

The 350 inches of annual snowfall is drier than the infamous Cascade Crud typical of the West Side of the mountains. A recent readers' poll in Ski magazine voted Bachelor's lift system No. 1 in North America, with every single slope reachable by high-speed quad. For snowboarders, the word has also gotten out that, as one 22 year-old put it, "Bend rocks." One snowboarding magazine ranked Mt. Bachelor as the eighth-best overall snowboard resort in North America. It also received top 10 rankings for its Air Chamber Terrain Park, Snow Quality and Terrain.

For non-skiers and 'boarders, the Snowblast Tubing Park opened last season and has been a big hit, says Johnston: "It's a blast." Mt. Bachelor has added 40 adult tubes to its fleet and doubled the children's tubes for this winter. And the number of tubing runs has been doubled to eight.

Johnston barely pauses for breath as he rattles off the resort's many attractions. "I'm talking a little fast because it's snowing out, and I'm really excited," Johnston admits "It should be a great season."

When you're done sliding down snow, Bend is only a half-hour away, and usually snow-free. You can ski in the morning and hike in the Oregon high desert country in the afternoon. The locals' favorite stuff includes eating at the Pine Tavern and sampling local brewskis at Bend Brewing Company, Deschutes Brewery and Black Butte Ranch. Winterfest is in early February, and the High Desert Museum is a must. And if, by chance, you brought along your fly rod, the constant 48-degree spring water of the nearby Metolius River offers a unique winter fishing opportunity. The river holds one of the healthiest populations of bull trout in the lower 48 states.

Ski, snowboard, fish, hike, drink? Don't let this get around, but... as the young man said, Bend rocks.

For more info, call 800-829-2442 or go to

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Through Oct. 31, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
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