Compiled by Bronte Dod, Annie Fast and Bend Magazine Staff
The spring skiing season in Central Oregon is one of the most anticipated times of the year for avid skiers and snowboarders. With the official season often lasting well into May and backcountry opportunities continuing through June, it’s no wonder why. In this complete guide to spring skiing in Central Oregon, explore the unique qualities of spring snow along with the best places in Oregon to experience those sunny ski days. So, grab your gear and explore the beauty of late-season skiing here.
Wondering how spring skiing differs from winter? In short, it’s the snow. Unlike the deep winter, when storms beckon skiers with fresh powder and first tracks, spring skiing is about a variety of snows. Local writer Annie Fast spoke with Kevin Grove, a local mountain athlete and alpinist who also happens to be a professor of physics and engineering at Central Oregon Community College with expertise in snow science, who was excited to share his views on spring skiing. Grove quipped, “I always have this dilemma of, ‘What do I like more corn or powder?’ When it’s powder season, it’s powder. But when it’s corn season, it’s definitely corn—it’s such a fun time of the year.” He explained that corn snow is actually old snow that has gone through a melt-freeze cycle during the warm days and cold nights of spring. “Over a period of time, those beautiful six-sided snowflakes become spheres and they connect to become larger spheres, which become corn.” The key to scoring perfect corn, he explained, is a combination of warm sunny days combined with freezing temps at night to “lock up” the snowpack.
On an ideal spring day, skiers are likely to encounter early-morning firm and icy conditions, “There’s definitely a sweet spot,” shared Grove, the key is to catch it when it’s not too firm and not too soft for ideal skiing conditions. The rule of thumb is to ski between 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Cascades. Grove refers to the firm morning conditions as “crust,” a hard surface that makes for easy travel in the backcountry a.k.a. “crust cruising.” Compared to the winter when backcountry skiers and splitboarders exhaust themselves by breaking trail through deep snow, spring travel is a breeze, which allows deeper and further access to popular destinations such as the Three Sisters and Broken Top. Recreational backcountry skiers find fun lines and wind lips to make turns, while alpinists, equipped with crampons, ice axes and ropes, eye big chutes and couloirs to descend. Meanwhile, inbounds at Mt. Bachelor, the early-morning crust beckons athletes looking for the thrill of carving high-speed groomers.
As the morning progresses, the frozen snow turns to corn, and the freestylers awaken to take advantage of the forgiving conditions in the Woodward Mountain Parks and halfpipe at the resort. This is an opportunity to practice tricks and spins or to carve the soft conditions across the mountain. Mt. Bachelor’s terrain park manager Alex Storjohan said, “We get a lot of snow throughout the winter making it more challenging to keep parks prime, so the springtime is when we really get to focus on all of our parks and make them great for the extended spring season. We also have one of the longest halfpipe seasons in North America. We expect the halfpipe to be open through the end of the season or as long as the snow conditions allow for it.” Whether on the hunt for airtime, rails or transitions, spring is “go” time.
On sunny afternoons it’s likely the solar effect on the snow will gradually advance it into deep slush, or if there’s any hint of new snow, which does happen—because it is spring in Central Oregon afterall—it will become a sticky surface known as mashed potatoes, true to the food theme—not the creamy kind, but the over-whipped sticky version that makes it difficult to glide down the mountain. These unique snow conditions are reflected in Mt. Bachelor’s earlier operating hours in the spring, when lifts open at 8:30 a.m. and close earlier at 1:30 p.m.
On sunny afternoons, spring skiers transition to après ski. At the resort, it’s time to hit the main lodge sundeck or seek out the weekly 10 Barrel Snow Beach parties. In the backcountry, après celebrations go down back at a Sno-Park gathered around the tailgate luxuriating in the late-day sunshine. Mt. Bachelor celebrates the season with their finale held on Memorial Day weekend, which features the addition of lift-served downhill bike park laps off Little Pine, live music, pond-skimming and costumes—basically the best of spring. Perhaps the early ski or snowboard session is the end or just the start of a classic Bend multisport day. There’s still plenty of time for a round of golf, a couple laps at Phil’s, or a paddle at the whitewater park. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
WHERE TO SPRING SKI
Want to explore beyond tried and true Mt. Bachelor Ski resort? Luckily, Oregon is home to some of the best spring skiing conditions in the Pacific Northwest. From Hoodoo Ski Resort’s charm to Timberline’s elevation or Anthony Lakes’ powder, there is no shortage of options. Bronte Dod shares some of the best places to lose a few layers and ski all kinds of spring snow.
ANTHONY LAKES MOUNTAIN RESORT
The base of Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort sits at 7,100 feet—and the conditions just get better from there. It’s the highest base in Oregon, and the resort has some of the lightest powder you’ll find in the state. A five-hour drive from Bend, Anthony Lakes is worth turning into a multi-day ski trip to make the most of the weather, terrain and great prices. Don’t let the one-chair stat fool you—Anthony Lakes may be a hometown ski hill, but there are a handful of black diamond trails that can challenge seasoned riders.
HOODOO SKI AREA
Carved into a hillside outside of Sisters, Hoodoo Ski Area is much more than a local’s ski hill. With five lifts and dozens of trails to explore, the ski area boasts some top-notch skiing. Head to Hoodoo this spring if you’re looking for a skiing experience for your whole family. Plus, Hoodoo offers the only night skiing option in Central Oregon. For those that don’t want to ski but still want to enjoy the snow and good weather in the spring, Hoodoo also offers tubing.
MOUNT HOOD MEADOWS/TIMBERLINE
As the highest peak in Oregon, Mount Hood has some of the best skiing in the state. There are five ski areas to choose from, depending on your abilities and with the best spring conditions at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area and Timberline Lodge & Ski Area. Both offer night skiing into March. At the end of the day, find a spot in the lodge and enjoy the après-ski menus and stunning views.