Newly expanded, this mountain & surrounding area offer plenty of family adventure, but come prepared.
With 4,318 skiable acres, Mt. Bachelor in Central Oregon has become, seemingly overnight, the fifth largest ski resort in the USA. With the recent opening of the Cloudchaser lift on the east side of the mountain (a volcano, really), the ski resort has added a whopping 635 acres. On that side of the mountain, you get greater protection from winter storms, as approaching clouds from the west tend to dissipate at Cloudchaser.
KidTripster Tip: Even if you plan on skiing the east side, plan for extreme weather. Storms on Bachelor can be brutal - ice-pelting-your-face brutal! I’ve learned the hard way to never ski Bachelor without having a face mask in my pocket, just in case.
Our family has skied many big resorts in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Utah. What makes Mt. Bachelor different? It’s not overbuilt. But that also means this isn’t a ski-up-to-your-hotel-room kind of place by any stretch. Skiers don’t come here for the off-the-lift amenities or après ski scene. Families are here to ski and snowboard the unbelievable, wide open spaces. With the nearest lodging at Mt. Bachelor Village Resort or Tetherow about 15 miles away, Bachelor is a true skier’s mountain.
Kids ski free at Mt. Bachelor. Yes, that’s right - free! It’s a big part of Mt. Bachelor’s appeal to families. Kids (12 and under) ski free for the same number of days as their parents who buy 3-day or more adult lift tickets (one free kid's ticket per paid parent, if you choose this option); you must purchase the tickets online in advance. 1-Day lift cost: Youth (5 and under) Free; Youth (6-12) $52; Youth (13-18) $76; Adult $92 at the mountain; 3-Day lift cost: Youth Free; Adult $229; discounts available on late arrival tickets (12 p.m.- 4 p.m.).
KidTripster Tip: Check online before you go for short sales and promos. Also, if you have your trip planned before September 30, consider an early bird purchase of the 4-Pack Deal for about $200. You’ll save a significant chunk of change and snag a bonus day.
KidTripster Tip: Want to ski for free regardless of your age? You can pick up a free ticket at Sunrise Lodge and then use it on Carrousel chair only. Carrousel generally runs Thursdays through Sundays and during holidays from mid-December through late-March. This option is great for those skiers and boarders new to the slopes.
Mt. Bachelor’s Kids Gravity School is for skiers & snowboarders (ages 6 to 14 years); adult ski classes are also available. The kids class sizes are guaranteed to be small, and the full-day program includes lunch. Online cost: Half-day lessons $95; Full-day lessons $159; On-mountain cost: Half-day lessons: $105; Full-day lessons $179.
Even though both my kids are fair skiers, I signed them up for ski school for two, half days. My 8-year-old daughter was ready to be done after one day (the blizzard conditions had a lot to do with it), but my more independent, 12-year-old son loved learning the slopes and improving his skills with a pro in a small class. By the end of the weekend, my son knew the mountain like the back of his hand, in part because of all the runs that he had done with his instructor.
If your kids are not yet skiers or just need a break from the slopes, Mt. Bachelor’s Childcare Center is a state-licensed facility, offering care for children (6 weeks to 10 years old) in the lower level of West Village Lodge. Options include a mix of ski lessons and child care or snow sports and child care. The Signature Start program consists of a two-hour Kids Gravity School lesson, a half day of supervised indoor childcare, lunch, and rental equipment. Full day cost: $159.
Photo courtesy: Mike Putnam
What to do on the slopes?
Mt. Bachelor’s downhill activities are anchored at the main West Village Lodge, where most of the services and parking are located. However, you can consider parking and basing yourselves at Sunrise Lodge, a quieter eastside option with a small cafe and rental shop. Sunrise is one of the better learning spots on the mountain; both Sunrise Express and Carrousel chair are based here.
KidTripster Tip: If you want a locker at bustling West Village, go early. They’re hard to come by.
With 101 runs and 10 lifts to navigate, it’s best to have a family plan in order to experience all the mountain’s offerings. The Pine Marten Express runs roughly down the center of the skiable mountain areas and straight up from West Village Lodge. It’s a good central location to stay, if you have skiers of varied abilities or kids in ski school. You can send the experienced skiers up to all the challenging runs off Pine Marten Express, while the newbies hit the Sunshine Accelerator lift.
The northwest side of the mountain, or The Outback, is well known for its long, challenging, black diamond trails. There’s no lodge servicing the base of these longer runs, so plan ahead and take only intermediate skiers and above.
We caught the mountain on a stormy, snowy weekend (with peak gusts of 40 mph at the top of the lifts), so we made our way over to the new Cloudchaser lift. The winds weren’t as bad on this side on the mountain, though the snow kept dumping. Still my kids loved the interesting terrain and small side trails. Check them out here. Cloudchaser opens up the backside of the mountain with a new around-the-mountain trail. It spreads skiers and riders out and eliminates bottlenecks at other lifts. Those who are skiing beginner and intermediate runs have a whole new area to explore!
Aside from Cloudchaser, my kids loved Dilly Dally Alley, a popular natural halfpipe off the Sunrise chair. It winds through the trees with banking turns, bumps, and small jumps.
KidTripster Tip: Take a free ski run with a forest ranger. Once a day, you can ski with a ranger from the top of the Pine Marten lift; the free, eco tour lasts about an hour.
KidTripster Tip: On this trip, I had rented standard ski boots. I took one run and literally cried my way down the mountain. I seriously wondered how I would get back to the main lodge. My boots were so tight that my feet and calves were cramping. Although ski boots have never fit me well, I hadn’t considered specialty boots. I took back my rentals, and the team sent me down to Gravity Sports Shop for a custom fitting. These guys - known as “Master Boot Fitters” - changed my weekend and my life! I’m now saving up for those new boots.
What to do off the slopes?
For those who are done with skiing or maybe don’t like vertical snow activities, try snowshoeing! In the middle of the main parking lot, you’ll find an adorable, unassuming Forest Service cabin with a sign that reads: “Snowshoe with a Forest Ranger.” For 90 minutes, you can join a U.S. Forest Service naturalist on a winter interpretive snowshoe tour. Learn about the ecology and geology of Central Oregon and the plants and animals found in this area. It’s free, and the snowshoes are included.
Add a winter storybook experience to your Central Oregon family vacation with a sled dog ride behind a team of canines. Best suited to young families, you’ll ride along snug and warm in the sled with a professional musher at the helm. All sled dog rides depart from the lower Sunrise Lodge parking area. Children must be at least 3 years old to ride in a sled; sleds hold a maximum of four people. Children (ages 3 to 12 years old) must ride with an adult. Cost: Youth $50; Adult $109.
Mt. Bachelor's Snowblast Tubing Park is located between the Mountain Gateway building and the bottom of Red Chair. It operates Friday through Sunday with three sessions a day. The 800-foot hill is equipped with custom lifts, built to pull tubers up the slope comfortably and quickly; all tubes are provided. Two-hour session cost: Youth $20; Adult $25; tubing sessions typically sell out during busy weekend and holiday periods. Alternately, head to the sledding hill in Wanoga Sno-Park. All you need is a sled and a Sno-Park permit on the dash of your car. Cost: Daily permits $4; Annual permits $25; purchase at any Bend ski shop.
Mt. Bachelor has over 35 miles of groomed trails and one of the longest Nordic seasons in North America. You can even rent a nordic “pulk sled” to pull babies and toddlers! Pulk sleds attach to a parent’s waist and have a weatherproof shell and secure buckled harness. Cost:$25/day. Nordic ski rental package cost: Youth$18; Adults $26; lessons also are available. The Nordic Center is located in the West Village parking lot.
The town of Bend is a family vacation destination in its own right. And best of all, it’s pretty darn affordable. Take Vector Volcano Classic Arcade (111 NW Oregon Ave.), a must-stop for tired parents and amped-up kids. Tucked into historic downtown Bend, this arcade pays homage to the area’s volcanic past while offering vintage and modern arcade games, all at a budget-friendly rate of $5/hour/person. Plus, local Bend brews are on tap for parents. Our entire clan loved playing Ms. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Knight Rider.
The High Desert Museum (59800 S. Highway 97) is the perfect stop for a day off the slopes. This year-round living history museum explores the natural and cultural history of the West’s high desert with native animals and historical scenes. The museum is set on 135 wooded acres and has engaging, rotating displays that I’ve personally visited many times. Your kids can learn about Native American culture and history, as well as forest fire science and ranch life. The museum is located just five minutes south of Bend. Winter cost: Youth (5-12) $7; Adult $12.
Photo courtesy: Tyler Roemer
Where to stay?
If you’re looking for resort accommodations, Tetherow is a first-rate choice. The resort encompasses 700 acres with both hotel rooms and vacation rentals, plus snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails and a pool. The resort also provides a ski shuttle for $10 per person, round trip. Lodge room rates start at $255/night during the winter; pet-friendly accommodations are available.
If staying in downtown Bend is more your vibe, the unique Wall Street Suites is located in the heart of the bustling shopping and dining district. This small, boutique hotel has luxurious interiors with separate kitchen and dining areas and an outdoor communal fire pit in the winter. Plus it offers pet-friendly suites and an on-site dog park. Stay here and you’ll be within walking distance to all of downtown. Rooms start at $211/night during the winter.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re renting your skis at the mountain for multiple days, ask to take them back to your lodging each night to avoid lines in the morning.
Photo courtesy: Tetherow
Where to eat?
The dining options at Mt. Bachelor’s West Village Lodge are adequate. Granted, we were there on a 3-day holiday weekend, so the lines and wait for a table were really long. A better option? Stop at a local grocery store and buy deli sandwiches that you can nosh on quickly and get back on the slopes.
Be sure to either dine or have a coffee or beer at the top of the Pine Marten lift at the Pine Marten Lodge. Perched at 7,775 feet, this mid-mountain lodge boasts epic views. I highly recommend the peppermint hot chocolate.
The town of Bend is worthy of a food and drink pilgrimage. Downtown Bend is a center for craft breweries and restaurants: 10 Barrel Brewing, Deschutes Brewery, Bend Brewing, and Sunriver Brewing, just to name a few. Nearly every brew pub is family-friendly with amazing food. Not to mention, the nearby Deschutes Riverfront and Park is something right out of a movie!
Photo courtesy: 10 Barrel Brewing
Mt Bachelor is located about 20 miles west of Bend and 20 miles southwest of Sunriver, Oregon. You can fly in and out of Redmond, which is a 30-minute drive from Bend, or Portland, which is a very scenic 3-1/2-hour drive.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re driving, carry snow chains. If you’re renting a car, ask for chains. Make sure you know how to put them on before leaving.
KidTripster Tip: Because there’s no lodging on the mountain, there can be traffic jams, especially on the weekends or holidays. Get an early start.
Amanda Calnan Vowels is a Portland, Oregon-based journalist. Foreign travel is most certainly her kryptonite. She’s tackled Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and most corners of her native Pacific Northwest with babies, toddlers, and older children. She and her husband once finagled the ultimate family trip: two years living and parenting as expats in Brisbane, Australia.
Photo courtesy: Brian Becker
This writer received some complimentary activities for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.