Bachelor’s Cloudchaser chairlift area yields new thrills, challenges

Chasin’ clouds, and fresh snow on the mountain

By Mark Morical, The Bulletin, @MarkMorical

For more Outdoors columns by Mark Morical, go online to bendbulletin.com/outdoors .

MOUNT BACHELOR — We found fresh, deep snow before the Low East catchline, and we savored the turns as we cruised through the diverse, gullied terrain on the southeast side of the mountain.

Even after several minutes, the powder skiing continued with no end in sight.

“Where’s the catchline? Where’s the catchline?” my skiing partner asked, no doubt worried we had crossed the ski area boundary.

I knew we had yet to reach it, so I allayed his concerns. But it is always a good idea to stay cautious, especially when skiing unfamiliar terrain.

The new Cloudchaser chairlift at Mt. Bachelor ski area allows for access to 635 acres of additional terrain and 13 new runs. The Sunrise Getback, which leads west to the Sunrise lift, cuts across the terrain. About 500 feet below that is the new Low East catchline, which leads back to Cloudchaser. Skiers and snowboarders who venture into the east bowls, southeast of the Wanoga Way run, must make sure to turn left on the catchline — along the ski area boundary — to get back to Cloudchaser.

Tom Lomax, director of mountain operations at Bachelor, says that the terrain off Cloudchaser is a bit more accessible to more snowriders than areas off the Northwest chairlift, because it is not as steep.

But narrow, gullied runs and the off-piste terrain of the east bowls offer challenges to even advanced skiers and snowboarders.

“The key is, as soon as you go southeast of Wanoga there’s no run signs,” Lomax says. “There’s signs for the Sunrise Getback, and numbered signs along the Low East catchline, which is down quite a ways. It’s like 400 to 500 feet vertical down below the old Sunrise Getback. We set it up so that in order to get as much vertical as we could off that side, the grade isn’t very steep on that low catchline. It’s OK for skiers but snowboarders have to kick a bit of it.”

I both ski and snowboard, and this past Friday as we explored the Cloudchaser area and the east bowls, I was glad I had decided to ski. The Low East catchline is uphill in some places, and it was quite a workout to get back to the chairlift. I cannot imagine what it would have been like on a snowboard.

Sweaty and tired after making our way back to the lift, we decided to stick to the groomed runs off of Cloudchaser, which is so named because that side of the mountain is usually more protected from the wind and stormy conditions. On this blue-sky day, though, the entire mountain was free of clouds.

The three main groomed runs off of Cloudchaser are Wanoga Way, Flying Dutchman, and Cirrus. Skiers and riders can connect runs together via the Sunrise Getback.

Wanoga to Cirrus was one of my favorites. After 15 years of skiing and riding at Bachelor, I found it a thrill to experience terrain that is so different from any other part of the mountain. The runs off Cloudchaser were designed about 40 to 60 feet wide, making for more natural terrain. By comparison, some runs on the west side of Bachelor are as wide as 150 feet.

“The terrain is very gullied,” Lomax says of Cloudchaser. “There’s a lot of prominent lava ridges. The terrain on the west side of the mountain probably looked a little more like that 50 years ago, but that whole side has been extensively reshaped with SnoCats, and that’s not the intention of Cloudchaser. We intend on leaving that as a really natural ski experience.”

Because the terrain is less eroded by wind and has not been extensively manipulated by machines, the runs near Cloudchaser have more rolls, turns and shape than other places on Bachelor.

Due to the prominent ridges and numerous gullies east of Wanoga Way, it can be easy to lose your skiing partner. Skiers and snowboarders need to be prepared with a charged cellphone, be wary of tree wells and know about the catchline.

As of Tuesday, Bachelor boasted a snowpack of more than 100 inches in this monster of a winter. The mountain was pounded with more than 4 feet of snow over the past week.

Because of the deep snow conditions, skiers and snowboarders should exercise extra caution.

“We’ve had so much snow this year, and it’s so unconsolidated, if you go past that catchline and you hike into the flats, you are going to be swimming in powder that’s chest deep,” Lomax says. “And you will be hating life.”

Lomax advises to not ski alone and to keep eyes on your skiing partner as much as possible. Tree wells — areas of deep, unconsolidated snow around trees — are a significant hazard in these types of conditions. Falling into such areas headfirst can be fatal, Lomax notes.

“The tree-well hazard is super high right now,” Lomax says. “The first thing they need to do is stop and think before they even go out there. Is my cellphone charged? Am I directionally oriented to where I am right now? When I get to the catchline, will I know to go left to Cloudchaser?”

Lomax always emphasizes the importance of having a charged cellphone when skiing at Bachelor. Ski patrol and 911 operators can ping cellphones to get the GPS coordinates of where a lost skier or rider might be located. Ski patrol can then often ski directly to the lost party.

Snowriders can also download a free smartphone app called “My GPS Coordinates.” With the app, lost skiers can call ski patrol and provide their coordinates off the app.

“That can be the difference between being able to ski right to somebody and having to search for them,” Lomax says.

With the new Cloudchaser chairlift at Bachelor comes new thrills and adventures. But it also brings new challenges to stay smart and stay safe on the mountain.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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