When I woke to fresh snow last week, my uncharacteristic response was disappointment. I had planned to jet down to Diamond Lake for a day of nordic skiing on some little-known trails that I've never skied. But the storm and associated road conditions that morning made me rethink spending so many hours in the car for a cross-country ski in potentially crummy conditions.
So I opted for a well-known trail to Todd Lake, starting just 20 miles from Bend. Slightly defeated by my change of plans, I mourned the adventure of discovery and exploration I had planned. I've skied to Todd Lake many times.
Todd Lake is not a hidden, undiscovered or creative destination any time of year. But it's a quintessential trip that every skier or snowshoer should do every winter. That said, it had been years since I'd gone. And as spring approaches and decent snow conditions disappear in lower elevations, 6,151-feethigh Todd Lake will remain one of the last viable places to cross-country ski (or snowshoe).
On a clear day, Todd Lake offers an amazing view of Broken Top. On a stormy day, it provides just enough stimulation to compensate for its familiarity.
The easiest way to ski to Todd Lake is an out-and-back on the Todd Lake Trail, starting at the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center. A woman in the nordic lodge said that's 3.3 miles.
I opted for a counterclockwise loop, starting on the Water Tower Trail and returning on the Todd Lake Trail.
Dwarfed by enormous hemlocks, I felt very small and alone in the woods. I crossed paths with only two snowshoers right at the beginning of the trail.
Snowflakes the size of quarters fell all around me, and everything was covered in fresh powder, including the trails. Breaking trail is tiring, and slow going.
As I reached Todd Lake, the sun squeezed through some thin clouds and brightened up the landscape for a minute, so I pulled off my gloves and snacked on an apple, which fueled my inspiration to ski around the lake. I was about halfway down the western edge when an arctic gale blasted snow sideways across the lake, stinging my face and indicating that the storm was in full swing. I put my head down and trudged back out, knowing the blizzard could turn really wet as the day progressed and warmed.
All said, I probably skied about four miles.
Conditions largely dictate difficulty. It's not a long ski, but in slow snow it's hard work. It's not a technical route, but I do remember when I was a beginning skier, there were a couple of tricky spots along the route. The soft snow that day restrained any runaway speed, quelling potential adrenaline rushes from turns on hills by trees.
To make a Todd Lake outing more of an endurance ski, you could tack on a number of other trails in the Dutchman Flat Area. Trail maps are available in the nordic center and sometimes near the signs at trailheads. Trail junctions are well-marked. Ski and snowshoe trails are separated from snowmobile trails (although you can occasionally hear the mosquito-buzz of the machines in the distance.)
Somewhere during the course of the outing I realized it was plenty of adventure. I also realized that to have any sense of disappointment or defeat by being forced to spend my day skiing to Todd Lake instead of at Diamond Lake was a clear indication that I'd completely lost perspective.
There's a saying in the snowsports world: A bad day skiing is better than a good day at work. But this was a satisfying day of skiing, and a great day at work.
If you go
Getting there: Take Cascade Lakes Highway southwest from Bend about 17 miles to Mt. Bachelor's main parking lot. Stay right and park at the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center.
Cost: Free, but using Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center's “common corridor” trail to access the backcountry requires stopping in the lodge to pick up a free trail pass.
Contact: Deschutes National Forest, 541-383-5300