X-country skiing Central Oregon’s uncrowded high country

Dutchman Flat to Todd Lake a favorite for nordic skiers

By Mark Morical / The Bulletin / @MarkMorical


Published Apr 9, 2014 at 12:11AM / Updated Apr 9, 2014 at 08:53AM

It was a bluebird powder day, so local residents and Washington spring-breakers alike jammed up Century Drive last week on the way to the mountain.

Twice during the drive, I braked to a complete stop.

But I was not worried about beating everybody else to Mt. Bachelor ski area for fresh tracks on my snowboard.

Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting older — now closer to 40 than 30 — but I have become weary of the frantic rush of a fresh-snow morning at the mountain.

Sure it’s fun to shred light, dry powder, but at what cost?

Nowadays, I’d rather be alone in the woods than fighting teenagers for a spot on the chairlift and an hour or two of turning through virgin snow.

So, instead of throwing my snowboard and snowboard boots in the back of the car last week, I tossed in my old, hand-me-down classic cross-country skis and accompanying boots.

I am still somewhat of a novice nordic skier, so this was to be my first time skiing from Dutchman Flat Sno-park to Todd Lake. Most of my outings on cross-country skis have been at Virginia Meissner Sno-park, quick trips of typically just 2 or 3 miles.

But the loop I planned last week was 5 or 6 miles and included much more challenging trails. I was not even convinced that I was capable of making it to Todd Lake and back.

But I was determined to try.

I started from Dutchman Flat because, well, I’m too cheap to pay the $17 for a daily trail pass at the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center. The downside of this is finding a parking spot among all the snowmobile trailers at Dutchman, and then dealing with the engine noise. But I have found most snowmobilers to be friendly and cautious, and after a quarter-mile of skiing, the whine of their sleds was inaudible.

I started out from the sno-park heading north along classic tracks, cut through 2 feet of new snow that sparkled in the bright sunlight. Dutchman Flat is an area that is breathtaking any time of year — Mount Bachelor directly to the south, and the Three Sisters and Broken Top to the northwest.

But on a clear winter day, when the white Cascade peaks pop on the horizon above a field of snow, the area rises to another level of natural beauty.

It was almost a shame when the trail veered into the forest and the views disappeared. The first section of the loop was rather easy, but once I turned onto the Water Tower Trail, things got tricky. I found myself clumsily negotiating rolling downhill sections of the classic track on my edgeless skis. Some areas I deemed too steep for my ability and sidestepped a little way down the hills.

Several times I pondered turning around and returning to Dutchman, but eventually I arrived at a sign noting that Todd Lake was just half a mile farther. I pushed on and finally reached Forest Road 370. The smooth nature of the groomed road felt nice under my skis after a couple hours of trekking through uneven terrain.

The short trail leading to Todd Lake was just down the road. While I had been alone in the woods for most of the trip, suddenly, at the lake, I encountered about a dozen other outdoor enthusiasts — different groups of nordic skiers and snowshoers.

One group of women continued on to ski around the lake, but I sat down to rest my feet and eat lunch with some snowshoers. The lake was not even visible under 10 feet of snow, but we knew it was there. Broken Top rose into the sky beyond the north end of the small lake.

After a half an hour or so, I decided to turn back, taking the classic track that led toward Cascade Lakes Highway. This trail was much easier than the Water Tower Trail, and I was actually able to develop a rhythmic glide on my skies, which made the return trip more enjoyable.

After a long, gradual climb, I turned onto the groomed, snow-covered highway, which is divided into two lanes in that area to separate snowmobilers and nonmotorized users. Oncoming snowmobilers waved as they passed while I skied along the highway.

Soon thereafter, I arrived back at Dutchman, pretty exhausted after the 6-mile, four-hour trip — but satisfied after trying something new in the uncrowded expanse of the Central Oregon high country.

The snowboard will be back in the car soon enough.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318, mmorical@bendbulletin.com