The down-to-earth mountain with affordable lift tickets and friendly folks
written by Beau Eastes | featured photo by Larry Turner
I came to northern Klamath County for the broasted chicken. I’ll be back after finding one of the most welcoming ski mountains in the entire state.
Willamette Pass, where have you been my whole mediocre skiing career?
Last month I headed to Crescent Lake to do a story on the legendary broasted chicken from Manley’s Tavern. But I built up my appetite for all that fried goodness down the road, skiing Willamette Pass for the first time. It easily was one of my favorite days on a mountain in years.
First, a little background that I think is relevant: I’m not a very good skier.
Growing up in western Kansas, my first ski experiences were three-day mountain binges during spring break, Christmas break, Easter break—whenever we could make the eight-hour drive to Colorado or northern New Mexico. Shockingly, the tips and pointers I received from other flatlanders didn’t provide a real solid knowledge base.
Nonetheless, I’ve persisted over the years and have become the classic Bend skier that buys a four-pass every year to Mt. Bachelor and struggles every year to use the entire punch card.
Which helps explain why Willamette Pass was perfect the Thursday I was there.
As a guy who doesn’t get to ski as much as he wants, my plan is to waste zero time when I’m on a mountain. That’s what first hooked me on Willamette Pass.
During weekdays at Willamette Pass (the mountain is open Wednesday through Sunday during non-holiday stretches) you can ski until you can’t feel your legs. And then ski some more.
Lines are non-existent and the four chairlifts are quick to their destinations, especially the blazing-fast Eagle Pack Accelerator, Oregon’s only high-speed six-person lift, according to Willamette Pass officials. It took me less than six minutes to go from the bottom of the hill to the top, a climb of just over 1,500 feet.
Nowhere-near-a-pro tip: Take Eagle Pack to the top of the mountain right when you get there and ski the backside. The views are spectacular, you’ll run into fewer people and the advanced runs are more challenging than their frontside counterparts.
Efficient runs are great, but they don’t really matter if the snow is miserable. Thanks to the snow gods of 2016-17, the terrain has been fantastic at Willamette Pass this year. The mountain has received more than 200 inches of snow this season and currently has a base of 75 inches at the lodge just off the highway. At the top of Peak 2 on the backside, there are as many as 112 inches of snow.
It’s worth pointing out that Willamette Pass is relatively small with just twenty-nine runs over 550 acres, which I thought was perfect for a one-day ski trip. I was able to try every run I wanted to, eventually honing in on a few that became my favorite. (Favorites were advanced runs Escalator/Northern Exposure on the backside, if you’re wondering. I said I wasn’t that good, not horrible.) And with lift tickets just $52 for adults, Willamette Pass is one of the best deals in the state.
Want another reason to love Willamette Pass? The clientele.
It’s not some massive resort, and its customers reflect that. The few times I shared a chair, I talked more about bow hunting, high school football and fried chicken than I did about real estate prices and Bend being a “lifestyle” community. It was pretty great.
Just like the rest of the day.
Willamette Ski Resort
66 miles southeast of Eugene or 65 southwest of Bend on Highway 58
Open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on select holidays
$52 for adults, $32 for youth and seniors. Hourly skiing—with a two-hour minimum—available for $14 an hour