Right across the street from Mt. Bachelor is Tumalo Mountain. It is a 7,779 foot cinder cone that has a sno-park at its base with a trail leading up through the trees to its flat summit, which is only 1,075 feet of vertical gain from the road. On Tumalo's east flank is a lovely bowl that provides an amazing downhill opportunity for skiers and snowboarders that is both thrilling and challenging. In short, it is one of the best introductions to backcountry travel you can find in Central Oregon.
On weekends you will find snowshoers, snowboarders, backcountry skiers, and snowmobilers all there, so if you want fresh turns in the bowl, get there early. Under the right conditions, the bowl is prime avalanche territory and also has cornices, so evaluate the snow, bring your avalanche gear, and make good decisions. Let knowledge and experience be your guide. Remember that you can always skip the bowl and still have an incredibly fun ski down through the trees.
- Tumalo Mountain — PeakBagger.com
- Backcountry Skiing in Central Oregon
- Central Oregon Avalanche Association
- Current Weather — Weather.gov
- Snow Depth — NOAA
- Tumalo Mountain — CalTopo (interactive and printable)
The Dutchman Flat Sno-Park (map) requires a Sno-Park permit from November to April. This parking lot is frequently packed on weekends in winter and you will be hard pressed to find a spot unless you come early. An alternative location to park is across the street at Mt. Bachelor's Sunrise Parking area (map). The downside is that you will then have to cross the highway to get to the Sno-Park. On the upside, no permit is required at Mt. Bachelor.
The area is National Forest land and is open year-round. The Mt. Bachelor area gets some of the best snowfall in the state of Oregon and you can typically start skiing Tumalo Mountain sometime in December and the snow will often remain until late April or early May.
Start at Dutchman Flat Sno-Park (map). Usually there is a well worn track heading up the mountain that you can follow, which is handy as there is little in the way of signage except right at the beginning. If you are making first tracks, then head east-northeast from the parking lot and head up the slope. It will take you usually between an hour or two to reach the summit depending on snow conditions. About halfway up, the trees thin and you can look behind you at some truly gorgeous views of the Mt. Bachelor ski area.
The summit is flat and open giving you mesmerizing views of the Three Sisters and Broken Top to the north-northwest when the skies are clear. East of the summit is the infamous bowl where you will have 400 feet of vertical descent at a 30-45 degree angle. There are frequently cornices here so be mindful.
There are multiple faces in the bowl that you can ski and for each you will have your choice of options for where you can drop in. Avalanches do happen here, so if the snowpack is not to your liking skip the bowl. Avy gear is strongly recommended and talk with your group before heading down to ensure you have a plan.
If you do the bowl, the most common return route is via the northernmost ridge off the summit. Just head north from the bottom of the bowl, head up onto the ridge, and head back up to the summit. Depending on the snow conditions, you may have to do some careful switchbacks on the way up.
Once back on the summit, you can either do another lap in the bowl or head back down to your car. For the trip back to the Sno-park, you can either follow the track you took up or choose a new route through the trees. I found that going south off the summit provided a fair amount of fun skiing while still allowing my friends and I to get back to the parking lot by using good navigation. You will be skiing in the trees, so be careful of branches and tree wells. I had a sudden and unexpected jump over a tree once, so it is important to remember there is no ski patrol here and keeping your friends in sight is smart.