Mount Bailey in the early morning.Mount Thielsen, directly East across the valley.
Central Oregon is the backwoods. In a good way. Tucked away in the mountains cell service is spotty at best and winter visitors are minimal. Smack in the middle of weathered mountains is a small chain of volcanic peaks rising 8000-9000 feet. All of these peaks have been weathered and shaped by glacial activity, so instead of the typical rounded shape of a shield volcano, all the peaks have numerous cirques and bowls. Even as a longtime resident of the Pacific North West, I was completely unaware that this area existed. Mount Bailey has several cirques facing various aspects carved out by glaciers. With around 3000” skiable vertical and 360 degrees of aspect options, the mountain is a skier’s playground.
Robert, doing what he does best. Sunny days are a breeze, but when there’s 2-3 feet of powder, things can get tricky.
Conditions in Central Oregon have been incredibly dry this year. While Bachelor is 100 miles away with a base of 133”, Bailey has a base of only 85”. Talking with one of our guides, Oz, he mentioned that in his 30+ years of working for the cat operation this is the driest winter he can recall. Similar stories were heard from the cat driver, Robert, who knew every turn and rock hidden beneath the snow.
Chris from U.S. Outdoor in Portland laying it down. North facing runs saved the powder from getting nuked by the spring sun.
Thursday was the spring equinox an marked the arrival of spring. Conditions on Wednesday and Thursday agreed, and provided a mix of epic corn and north facing powder stashes. We started off Wednesday morning skiing steep North-facing shots. Some of the shots were a little wind-hammered on top, but once we dropped in the snow was soft consistent packed powder. The North faces of Bailey have enough terrain that even after taking six laps through there in a day it was hardly tracked. The terrain is variable, from open avalanche zones to densely wooded areas to pillow zones there are options for every skier.
Staging to drop in to the West Bowl.
Wednesday night was cloudy and cold, everything on Mount Bailey froze. Wednesday morning started with a firm breakable crust on all sun-affected aspects. Miraculously the North faces were preserved. We skied two quick laps through the trees, searching out pow stashes and drops into sunny glades. Around noon we shuttled to the summit of Mount Bailey, 8375”, and made our way to the southern sun drenched bowl. We nailed the timing perfectly and skied 1000” of perfect corn. We milked the corn cycle onto Western bowls into the afternoon. We called it a bit early so we would get back into Seattle at a reasonable 1:30am instead of 2 or 3.
Coming in to the trip I had no idea that there was cat skiing in Oregon. At the end, I was sure this was a place to remember and come back to. This winter has been an exception for Mount Bailey. Usually they have around 5 more feet of snowpack and get caught in storms for several days at a time. For those curious head over to the website to find out more: Cat Ski Mount Bailey.
After two sunny days on a volcano spring fever has hit! Volcano touring is one of the best parts of living near the Cascades!
Photos & words by Charlie Landefeld