Skiing: Dynamite Powder

Outside magazine, January 1994


Skiing: Dynamite Powder
By Michael Kiefer


In southern Oregon's Cascade Range, powder is not the dry and feathery stuff that floats down over Utah. Here, it's a bit wetter, a bit heavier. It makes you work harder. And on the near-vertical pitches of 8,363-foot Mount Bailey, it drags on the very heels of time, so that you spend small eternities waiting for your tips to reemerge and you sink in over your head on turns. If that's not exhilarating enough, at the top of any of 27 chutes below the open glades on the mountain's north side, your guide (and you will need a guide) might pause to toss down a dynamite charge. This is to set off any loose slides and ensure that you'll be skiing down a slope instead of surfing a frozen wave.

There's no marked ski area here--there aren't even any plowed roads within nine miles--and the only way in and up is a 20-minute van ride followed by an hour in a Sno-Cat operated by guides at Diamond Lake Resort, itself 32 miles from the nearest town. Mount Bailey has three bowls, 3,000 feet of vertical, and a total of 1,800 skiable acres. With that kind of real estate and the guides' limit of 12 skiers per day, it is uncommon to cross tracks with other parties or even to ski the same route twice.

If skiing in the wake of TNT sounds too extreme, there's plenty of less-explosive terrain in the area. On Mount Bailey, the West Bowl feeds into some not-so-steep alpine skiing through old-growth timber. For nordic skiers, the flatland equivalent is 400 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, smooth enough for skating, starting at Diamond Lake Resort and fanning out through immense and ancient evergreens. You should keep an ear open on corners for the high whine of the machines, but you're more likely to see elk or mule deer than to see other people. One trail emerges 20 miles up and out at the rim of Crater Lake, just short of the 2,000-foot drop to the famous pool that's so blue--even in midwinter--it looks fake.

Diamond Lake Resort is 85 miles northeast of Medford (the closest airport) on Oregon 230 or 95 miles south of Bend on Oregon 97. Reserve space in the resort's Sno-Cat by calling 800-733-7593; the ride and guide cost $160 per person, and a 50 percent deposit is required. A room at Diamond Lake (not required) costs $54 per night; a cabin for six, $90.

Filed To: Snow Sports
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