written by Bob Woodward
In 1915, the two largest sawmills in the country (Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon) sat facing each other across the Deschutes River in Bend. It’s doubtful that anyone could have, through all that smoke, predicted that one day the small timber town would morph into a winter recreation destination. Perhaps a few of the Swedish and Norwegian loggers and mill workers, who brought the ski sports to Bend and Central Oregon, might have had a momentary flight of fancy that involved a future with an alpine ski area, miles of cross-country ski trails and possibly more breweries than churches.
Today’s comfortable resort hotel rooms and superb dining, however, would have seemed ludicrous to yesterday’s industrial logging community.
Yet, as much as Bend has grown and now offers a range of cultural amenities, outdoor recreation remains the big attraction here, and winter is its title sponsor. Located on the dry, rain-shadow east side of the Cascades, Central Oregon gets snow in the mountains while large swaths of the sprawling sagebrush-and juniper-covered high desert country remain snow-free and dry throughout much of the winter season.
Day One: Classic Bend
What better way to start a long winter weekend in Bend than getting on snow at Mt. Bachelor? The ski area has seventy-one groomed runs and 3,000 skiable acres of terrain served by ten lifts. Bachelor is noted for its snow accumulation and long season. Last year brought close to 600 inches of snow.
Park at the West Village lot and head for the espresso bar at the Pinnacle to get a jumpstart on the day.
If you’ve got young kids in tow, free them up with the all-day program (lift ticket, lunch and lesson). For older kids (school age and up), try the Mountain Rippers program.
If skiing isn’t what the kids are after, there’s always the liftserved tubing hill. Adjacent to that is a terrain park with a halfpipe for freestyle skiers and snowboarders. Better yet, go dog-sledding with Trail of Dreams across the parking lot from the Sunrise Lodge.
Take in the Rock Bar après ski and then ease your way back to the heart of downtown Bend and the Pine Tavern. Along the Deschutes River, the Pine Tavern has been a local staple for the past seventy-five years. The bar is well stocked, the food hearty American. And, yes, that’s a Ponderosa pine vaulting up through the restaurant’s dining room.
After dinner, stroll a couple of blocks to see what’s happening at the Tower Theatre. A renovated old movie theater, the glitzy Tower schedules a variety of music, dance and theater acts. For example, former Peter, Paul and Mary guitarist and vocalist Peter Yarrow plays at the Tower on January 22.
Day Two: XC and Ale Trail
Today is a cross-country ski and, for some, a snowshoe day. Start things off right with coffee and pastries at The Sparrow Bakery (The Ocean Roll is killer!) or do the same at Nancy P’s Bakery, where you can also get huge, tasty sandwiches to pack along for your ski.
Leaving downtown, cruise up Century Drive (carry chains or have good snow tires) to the first snow sports stop—the Virginia Meissner Sno Park. Meissner has thirty kilometers of cross-country ski trails groomed three times a week for both classic and skate skiing. Check the website for grooming schedules (meissnernordic.org). This area also has a network of well-marked snowshoe trails.
Both ski and snowshoe trails lead to the Meissner shelter where you can warm up by a wood stove fire while snacking on that sandwich from Nancy P’s. If the trails are groomed, you can spend an entire day at Meissner without repeating a trail, or cut it short and take the dog and kids up the road for more fun.
A quarter mile farther up Century Drive is Wanoga Butte Sno Park and a snow-play area where kids can sled and innertube with hot chocolate from the Wanoga hut to keep them warm. Here, you can also ski or snowshoe with your dog. For those who prefer some easy crosscountry skiing, Swampy Lakes Sno Park (not groomed but well marked) is just up the hill.
Assuming you’re not completely wiped out—or as a stand-alone alternative to cross-country skiing—take a spin around the ice rink at The Seventh Mountain Resort. If you have children in the mix and they are comfortable on ice, relax rinkside with a drink and hors d’ouvres in Seventh Mountain’s Rimrock Bar.
Back in Bend, it’s time to discover why this town has become known as a premier craft brewing center. The first stop comes naturally at Cascade Lakes Lodge. It’s a comfortable ski-lodge-like building with a large stone fireplace, great brews, such as the 20” Brown, and traditional pub food.
Not more than a mile away, 10 Barrel Brewing Company is one of Bend’s happening spots. Local favorite brews take on names such as the Sinistor Black Ale or the Apocalypse IPA . When the weather cooperates, you can sit around the firepit at 10 Barrel’s outdoor patio.
Onward to the Deschutes Brewery and Public House in downtown, where Bend’s craft brewing got its start in 1988. Here, it’s always best to try one of the Brewery’s great seasonal beers, or perhaps a cold weather favorite, Black Butte Porter, the best selling porter in the country.
Finally, see who’s playing music at Silver Moon Brewing where good music meets superb beers such as its award-winning Dark Side stout.
Day Three: Downtown & Old Mill District
It’s a shopping and museum day with a kickstart for coffee at Back Porch Coffee or Strictly Organic. Caffeinne-relaxed, take a stroll through Bend’s core along Wall and Bond streets. There’s a shop for almost everything imaginable, a few art galleries, two candy stores and plenty of places to snack, including food carts that serve hearty soups, spicy tacos and savory dumplings.
Before leaving downtown, stop by Cowgirl Cash to pick up a pair of vintage cowboy boots.
For a cultural break, an afternoon at the High Desert Museum south of Bend on Highway 97 offers insight into the history, geology, floram and fauna of the High Desert country. There’s also art and photography on display, as well as a bookstore and café. Two exhibits—“Quirky Artifacts” and “Leapers and Creepers”—are worth the price of admission ($10 adult, $6 kids, 4 and younger free).
Back in Bend, it’s phase II of your shopping indulgence. Head to the Old Mill District. The site of one of those two giant timber mills in 1915, the Old Mill is the serious shopper’s paradise with retailers such as The Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Orvis and REI, as well as regional and local merchants.
There is also a multiplex movie theater and places to eat with ambiance, such as Greg’s Grill with steak frites, house-made turkey noodle soup and home-style chili, and Anthony’s Home Port with its fresh Puget Sound mussels, Dungeness crab cocktails and cioppino from Northwest fisheries.
After dinner, end the day with a stroll along the Old Mill’s Deschutes Riverwalk. Along this paved trail a town once called Farewell Bend slowly coalesced at the place where pioneer wagon trains last forded before heading west over the Cascades.