Central Oregon’s Cascades offer an abundance of excellent skiing for those willing to seek it out and make the effort. Depending on snow conditions and time of year, much of the area’s terrain is accessible for a day, overnight or weekend trip. Before embarking on any backcountry adventure, always check the weather forecast and prepare accordingly. Even better, monitor the snow and weather cycles throughout the season, as well as the snowpack observations on the Central Oregon Avalanche Association (COAA) website. Carry the proper gear, have fun and come home safe.
Tam McArthur Rim is in the Three Sisters Wilderness, north and east of Broken Top. During the winter, skiers access Tam Rim from Sisters via Three Creek Lake Road, which turns into NF-16. Usually, the road is clear to Upper Three Creek Sno-Park. From there, it’s a six-mile approach by snowmobile or on Nordic skis to Three Creek Lake at the base of Tam Rim.
The Three Sisters Backcountry yurts, available by reservation at Three Sisters Backcountry, are located here, making this area a great option for overnight or multi-day trips, with more comfort than camping directly in the snow—that is unless your tent comes equipped with a keg and a sauna. This is also where Three Sisters Backcountry hosts its hut-based avalanche education courses. Even if you aren’t taking a course or reserving a bed, the huts are a good place to stop and inquire with other skiers regarding any avalanche events or snowpack observations about the area.
From the lake, skiers can choose from a variety of aspects across the rim, ranging from north- to southeast-facing. Terrain options include widely-spaced old growth trees, glades, open bowls and cliffs. On the north-facing aspects during the winter, powder will linger for days after a storm.
Get Prepared: COAA promotes avalanche safety and education in Central Oregon. COAA’s four professional snowpack observers post weekly reports to the COAA website throughout the season. Thanks to Bend’s backcountry community and local businesses, COAA also recently bought a mountain weather station, which will stream weather data directly to the COAA website. The weather data will help backcountry riders make better decisions about when to go in the mountains. Having the proper gear (beacon, probe and shovel) and knowing how to use it is essential for traveling in avalanche terrain. COAA offers free monthly “Know Before You Go” events at Broken Top Bottle Shop. Check Central Oregon Avalanche Association for dates.
Broken Top is a preeminent Central Oregon backcountry skiing destination for a day trip, overnighter or multi-day excursion. With a snowmobile, it’s about a thirty-minute ride to the wilderness boundary from Dutchman Flat, depending on snow conditions. On skis, the rolling and gradually climbing six-mile approach from either Dutchman Flat or Mt. Bachelor’s Nordic Ski Center will vary depending on snow conditions, as well as the skier’s fitness and experience level. No matter the approach, with an early start, a trip to Broken Top can easily be done in a day and is worth the effort every time.
Arguably one of Central Oregon’s most aesthetic mountains, this extinct stratovolcano has been glacially eroded over the past 100,000 years, exposing its cone and ultimately creating outstanding skiing terrain. Due to its complex shape and elevation, this mountain typically has good snow on at least one of its aspects. Some of the classic ski descents drop into the bowl, including the 11 o’clock couloir, called Pucker Up, and the 3 o’clock face. However, any of Broken Top’s faces and ridges are skiable in the right conditions, in addition to nearby Broken Hand and Ball Butte.
Day Trips: Broken Top and Tam McArthur can be done as day trips, but it’s worthwhile to put together a small group and make a weekend out of it, especially if the snow is good.
Mount Bailey is about 100 miles south of Bend, near Crater Lake National Park, on the west side of Diamond Lake and across from Mount Thielsen. From Bend, skiing Bailey is ideally an overnight or long-weekend trip. If you can spare the time and the snow is good, it’s also worth skiing Mount Thielsen while you’re in the area.
Mount Bailey is another classic Oregon volcano with an abundance of terrain and aspects from which to choose, including northand east-facing bowls. During the winter, the approach to Mount Bailey begins at Three Lakes Sno-Park, located off the Diamond Lake Highway. Skiers can reserve the Hemlock Butte cabin, a rustic backcountry hut at the base of the mountain that requires a four-mile approach on skis or snowshoes. From there, Mount Bailey’s terrain can be reached via its southeast ridge.
A clear day will provide skiers with an incredible panorama of Diamond Peak to the north, Diamond Lake and Mount Thielsen to the east, the Crater Lake Rim to the southeast, Mount McLoughlin to the south and more. The most popular terrain is in the east-facing bowls. Experienced skiers will find steeper terrain off the north side.
Cat Ski Tour: For advanced and expert skiers, guided tours are available through Cat Ski Mt. Bailey, covering an average of 15,000 to 18,000 vertical feet per day. With a maximum of twelve skiers and riders per day, the cat skiing operation makes turns accessible on 6,000 acres of terrain. $350 per person, or $3,500 to reserve the twelve seats on the cat.
Hemlock Butte: The Hemlock Butte cabin can be reserved for free, but it gets booked up for the season quickly, so plan ahead. It is a four-mile trek in to this base camp. With ample access to ideal ski terrain, this shelter does not disappoint. The cabin provides basic amenities and has room for about twelve people.