Note: Though a number of factors contribute to your carbon footprint while traveling — aircraft type, your car’s fuel efficiency, the number of people you’re traveling with — in general, ground transportation that accommodates many passengers has the lowest environmental impact. Trains, buses or even your own car — as long as it’s full — will typically be the greenest options.
REDMOND, Ore. — The turboprop plane taxiing for takeoff at 6:35 a.m. on a recent Friday in January was technically Alaska Airlines Flight 2093 operated by Horizon Air, but judging by the crowd onboard — more stoked than bleary-eyed for such an early flight — it deserved a name more like “The Powder Express.”
Helmets jockeyed with boots for space in the overhead bins as 15 of 20 passengers on the predawn flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Redmond Municipal Airport in central Oregon were toting some type of ski gear.
Was this a college ski team traveling to a race? Nope, just me, my friend and a baker’s dozen other powderhounds taking advantage of the travel industry’s best-kept winter secret: Fly Alaska, Ski Free.
What started as the Seattle-based airline’s Ski the West promotion in 2012 has evolved into an unbeatable deal, with 12 airport-partnered ski areas — from Alyeska Resort in Alaska to Bogus Basin near Boise, Idaho, and beyond — offering a complimentary lift ticket with a same-day Alaska Airlines boarding pass.
My go-to ski partner and I got hip to this promotion back in 2017, when we determined it was possible to take the earliest flight to Redmond, make the hourlong drive to Mount Bachelor, ski until lifts close, après-ski at a brewery in beer-haven Bend, then catch the last flight home. A long day, for sure, but worth it for the chance to ski one of the Pacific Northwest’s most intriguing mountains and still sleep in your own bed.
Since that first trip, we’ve been keeping an eye out every fall and early winter for Alaska Airlines flash sales in order to nab a random winter day with cheap airfare. We’ve now pulled off the day trip from Seattle to Mount Bachelor three times for less than $200 per person — including airport parking, airfare, rental car and gas, lunch on the mountain and happy hour in Bend. Considering the $119 walk-up rate for a lift ticket when we waltzed in after our 45-minute flight last month, this trip is a steal. With the money saved, research the trip’s ecological footprint and consider offsetting your carbon, too, to counteract the damage of a nonessential flight.
These days, we’re not the only Seattle skiers opting for an airlifted boost to the hill. Alex Hiebert, a 28-year-old sales analyst with Amazon, was waiting for the rental-car counter to open with four other friends, all alumni of Mount Si High School.
“Last year, we did a day trip and it went so well that I then booked a trip two weeks later to bring my girlfriend down,” Hiebert said. “We stayed overnight and that was even better, so now I’ve got some more buddies and we’re staying two nights.”
On the tarmac, I met Mackenzie Maynes, a 28-year-old snowboarder and user-interface designer with Deloitte Digital, making her first trip to Mount Bachelor at the invitation of her sister, who recently moved to Bend and tipped her off to the promotion.
“I think it will be a lot better than what we’re used to in the Seattle area,” she said of the snowpack.
The promise of cold, dry snow — more prevalent on the east side of the Cascades — is a large part of Mount Bachelor’s appeal. Most exciting, the resort wraps around a stratovolcano, which means that from the top, one can ski downhill 360 degrees, choosing any direction. That uniquely Cascadian choose-your-own adventure topography helps Bachelor boast 4,318 skiable acres, 3,365 feet of vertical drop, and 101 runs — making it the sixth-largest ski area in North America.
That said, my ski partner and I have not yet had the chance to circumnavigate the 9,065-foot peak, or to take in the panoramic views from the crater rim of the volcano. The biggest drawback to planning a one-day ski trip months in advance is zero margin for error with weather. Every time we’ve answered the brutally early alarm to catch the flight to Redmond, we’ve been greeted by overcast skies, blowing snow and blustery conditions.
On this most recent visit, locals regaled us with tales of the bluebird-skied powder day we’d missed by just a day as we bundled up against whiteout visibility and gale-force winds at the top of the Pine Marten Express lift. We’ve resigned ourselves to the inside joke that Mount Bachelor’s fabled summit is just a myth to lure in out-of-town tourists like ourselves.
We still make the most of each day, opting for powder stashes tucked into the trees off Cloudchaser or squeaky-fun groomers off Northwest. Both lifts are at the far ends of the mountain from the base areas at the West Village and Sunrise lodges, which can mean long traverses across the mountain. Snowboarders beware: the “Catchline” runs, which circle the bottom of the mountain to prevent skiers from heading out of bounds when they descend away from the lifts, are flat at best and undulating at worst.
While we’ve always visited on a weekday, we’ve never encountered a lift line worth complaining about. Bachelor is the home mountain for rapidly growing Bend, but with surrounding Deschutes County home to less than 200,000 people and no slopeside lodging, you often needn’t worry about crowds. The reasonably priced (for a ski resort) lunch options have yet to disappoint — next time I hope to snag some colcannon from Egan’s Outpost, the Irish-themed food truck that roves around the mountain.
Then there’s the beer.
Bend alone has 12 craft breweries. While that may sound puny next to the scene in Seattle, they have given the city a hop-happy reputation. Over the years, we’ve made après-ski pit stops at flagship standby Deschutes, funky industrial Crux Fermentation Project, and gastropub delight Sunriver Brewing.
Another uncontrollable variable in the Seattle-Bachelor day trip? Flight schedules. While previous years saw our return from Redmond leave as late as 9 p.m., which allowed enough time for two brewery stops, this year the last ride home shoved off at 7:15 p.m. Between skiing until lifts closed — including two jaunts up the Cinder Cone Route, an inbounds area set aside for backcountry skiers to travel uphill — and grabbing a much-needed hot shower and costume change in the RV lot’s heated bathroom, we were tight on time.
This year we skipped Bend and headed straight for Redmond, which is building up a beer reputation of its own. At Wild Ride, we tasted oddball creations like a peanut-butter porter and a vanilla-and-coffee stout before settling on some easier drinking ales. The proprietor of Wild Catch delivered fish and chips directly to our table in the taproom from the food truck pod out front, allowing us to eat and run.
We daydreamed on the short flight home about future Alaska-assisted ski trips. Community-owned Bogus Basin ski hill is 11 miles from Boise Airport, just a 90-minute flight from Sea-Tac. The 12 daily flights between Seattle and Anchorage can make the logistics feasible for a run out to Alyeska. While Squaw Valley (Reno-Tahoe International Airport) and Steamboat Springs (Yampa Valley Regional Airport) are a bit too far for day trips, a free lift ticket can defray the cost of a multiday trip to otherwise expensive resorts.
Back at Sea-Tac, where the day began 15 hours earlier, I thought back to the morning. As we deplaned in Redmond with dawn just coming over the horizon and a full day on the slopes ahead of us, the Horizon Air flight attendant enhanced the jubilant mood with one final message over the intercom: “Have a great ski day and be safe.”