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An Epic Mountain

When Oregon skiers and snowboarders talk about their epic days, the conversation almost invariably includes Mount Bachelor. Other mountains may offer more trails or steeper slopes, but Bachelor's combination of sheer size, ample snowfall and variety of terrain attracts skiers from all over Oregon and well beyond the Northwest.

Strike up a conversation with that stranger beside you on the chairlift and you're likely to find a snowboarder from Seattle or a skier from Connecticut drawn to Central Oregon by Bachelor's wide-open spaces, ample snow and grand mountain vistas.

"You can ski all day and go on a different run every time," says Nick Randall of Medford.

Bachelor's high-speed chairlifts score points with skiers who want to spend their day on the snow instead of in the chair, and the mountain's generous 3,300 feet of vertical gives experienced riders a deliciously long run from the top of the Summit chair.

"If you go all the way to the bottom that's about a 25-minute ride," says Randall, who spent more than 40 days on the mountain during the winter of 2005-06.

Those long runs can be a real shock to the legs of skiers accustomed to the shorter, steeper runs at places like Mount Ashland.

"The first year or two I rode Bachelor I had to really condition myself," says Tim O'Toole, a Grants Pass snowboarder. "Those long runs, especially in deep snow, will kill your endurance."

Bachelor's terrain has the right mix of intermediate and advanced slopes, (25 percent intermediate; 35 percent advanced) but there also are double-black-diamond expert runs at the higher elevations, as well as long, gentle beginner slopes just uphill from the lodges.

"There's a little something for everyone," says O'Toole, who's been making the trip across the Cascades to Bachelor for 10 winters. "The lower half of the mountain has those nice long spread-out runs for beginners. That leaves the top of the mountain for the more experienced riders."

Those experienced skiers also love Bachelor for the advanced intermediate trails served by the Outback Express chair and the more challenging black-diamond runs served by Northwest Express. Backcountry riders gravitate to this side of the mountain, too, to take advantage of the tree skiing in the wooded areas between the trails.

"There are little runs you can take all through there," Randall says.

Bachelor's smooth slopes are legendary among skiers who prefer the corduroy, and for the winter of 2007-08 two new groomers have been added, giving the mountain 11 cats to keeps everything in shape.

One of the new groomers is dedicated to the mountain's four terrain parks. The plan is for the grooming crew to constantly rebuild the parks, creating new challenges to fundamentally alter the environment on a two-week cycle, said Frankie Labbé, marketing director.

"Every other week you can ride a new park," Labbé says.

Bachelor hired Hames Ellerbe, a former ski racer, to keep the parks fresh this season. The 24-year-old Ellerbe left racing because he wanted to focus on the rails, jumps and pipes of freestyle riding.

His presence should be great news for riders who already considered Bachelor's terrain parks some of the best in the region.

"There's a lot more variety of things to do" than most parks, says David Glimpse, a Medford snowboarder. "They're well manicured. They spend lots of time building the features and they keep them well groomed. You don't find yourself landing in any deep holes."

Ellerbe earned a degree in industrial design and has been working at ski areas since his junior year of high school. He spent the fall welding many new rails for the parks and he plans to keep the features fresh by staying in contact with riders through a MySpace site and a blog.

Just a year short of its 50th anniversary, Bachelor still jumps into the latest technology with all the enthusiasm of a teenager. This season, skiers and boarders can have daily condition reports sent as text messages directly to their cell phones, and the mountain plans to include bar-coded coupons in the snow reports that can be redeemed at the mountain by flashing an Internet-ready phone at a cashier's computer screen.

"We really want to become interactive with our guests," Labbé says.

To go along with the new technological innovations, there have been some physical changes on the mountain, too. The West Village Getback, a sidehill trail that crosses a number of trails, has been regraded to eliminate a section where skiers sometimes got marooned and had to climb uphill if they lost momentum.

"It's a nice decline all the way through now," Labbé says.

Online reviewers have faulted the mountain in recent years for inadequate chairlift maintenance, which left some visitors hanging in mid-air much longer than they wanted. Labbé says mountain managers will make a concerted effort to keep the chairs running smoothly this winter.

Like many ski areas, Bachelor is trying to shrink its carbon footprint. This season paper plates will give way to china in the cafeteria and restaurants, and visitors will be asked not to idle their vehicles in the parking lot to reduce emissions.

"They do it on the East Coast and it's very successful," Labbé says.

The mountain's only real problem? It's too far from home for many Southern and Northern Oregon riders to visit for a day trip.

With 71 trails and four terrain parks to choose from, skiers of all levels can find a place at Mount Bachelor. - Photos provided by Mount Bachelor