BEND, Ore. — When the snow piles up, they come in large numbers — and they come early.
“I heard one guy say he got there at 4 in the morning,” says snowboarder Jesse Fortier, of Bend.
Yes, skiers and snowboarders arrive at Mount Bachelor even before dawn when fresh snow coats the Cinder Cone on the mountain’s northern flank.
Hiking and riding the cone are sort of preseason traditions in Central Oregon before Bachelor begins its chairlift operations for the season. When our region was blasted with early-season snow over the last couple of weeks, snow riders flocked to the cone, which is easily accessible from the Bachelor parking lot.
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Mount Bachelor ski area officially has opened, but the cone riding will no doubt continue.
In November, Fortier made it up to Bachelor by 6:30 a.m. and discovered that “a fair amount of people” were already hiking the cone.
“By the time I got down, there were a lot of people,” he recalls. “But it was definitely really good first runs of the season, for sure.”
Fortier says he hikes and rides the cone each year before the mountain opens.
“Before the lifts start turning, you can get your snow legs back, so to speak,” he says.
The cone is free and fair game for hikers and snow riders pretty much anytime per Mount Bachelor’s uphill travel policy. Drew Jackson, communications manager at Bachelor, says skiers and riders should take caution in the early season, when hidden hazards might lie just beneath the snow.
“Obviously we don’t patrol it, so there’s no emergency assistance available if folks were to hurt themselves,” Jackson says. “And the risk is higher during the early season, because the snow base is relatively shallow.”
Jackson says the slope angle of the cone is ideal for powder skiing and riding.
“So even though it doesn’t have a huge amount of length to it, the angle makes it pretty exciting,” he adds.
The Cinder Cone area encompasses approximately 180 acres of terrain and offers 715 feet of vertical drop. It is also one of the few steep, treeless areas on Bachelor, aside from the terrain accessible via the Summit chairlift.
The hike from the parking lot at West Village Lodge to the top of the cone takes about 45 minutes.
Snow riders with lift tickets or passes who are looking to ride the cone can take the chairlift to Leeway Run, after which they can ski or board down and up a section called “Compression.” This allows them to ski partway up the cone. The hike that remains takes about 10 to 15 minutes and is somewhat steep.
Once atop the cone, skiers and snowboarders have several options. The front side is a consistently steep section that continues down into trees. Just to the north is the parking-lot glade, an open, sheer slope and a favorite among many snow riders.
Riders cruising down the front side or the parking-lot glade may need to make a short hike back to the Pine Marten chairlift once they reach the bottom. The farther north they make their descent, the longer their hike to the lift will be. Choosing the right line and keeping speed through deep powder can help limit the amount of hiking.
Hiking the cone offers a more “sidecountry” experience at Bachelor.
“It’s basically the only real sidecountry that we have at Bachelor, compared to Colorado or Tahoe (resorts), where they have a mountain range, and you can go to the edge of the resort, and they’ll have access to their sidecountry,” explains Coggin Hill, freeride ski and snowboard coach for the Mount Bachelor Sports Education Foundation. “You can go hike out on a ridge and be out of bounds, but still ride back to a lift.”
The Cinder Cone is not considered out of bounds on Bachelor, however.
Hill says the cone is a good option for hiking and riding because there is little avalanche danger, compared with other areas in Central Oregon far from resorts.
“It’s still kind of considered in bounds to a certain extent,” Hill says. “You don’t have to have any avalanche gear, necessarily. You’re right there within the resort. As long as you have a board and two feet, you can go and hike up. Bachelor grooms that lower Leeway area. You can just hike up the groomed run from the base and then up and around.”
Hill likes to take his young skiers and snowboarders up and down the cinder on the occasional winter day, especially those incredibly windy, stormy days when few chairlifts are operating and the lift lines are long.
“I think it’s a good alternative if the lifts aren’t running as good or it’s a super-busy day, to go and get a couple fresh turns when a lot of the other stuff’s tracked out,” Hill says.
Just get there early.