A lot of us skiers and snowboarders complain about the traffic while driving up to Mount Bachelor on a winter weekend or a powder day.
But imagine if Century Drive was a one-way road and we had to wait until the plows were finished with their jobs before we could head up to the mountain.
That is the way Jane Meissner recalls the drive up to Bachelor when the ski resort first opened in the late 1950s.
“It wasn’t wide enough for any more than one car,” says Meissner, 67. “There was a snow gate just about where Seventh Mountain Resort is now. When the highway department would start plowing that, they wouldn’t open the snow gate until they were done because they had to get back down with their plows. So we would sit there at that snow gate in a line of cars, and as kids we would get out of the car and play in the snow until the snow gate got open. So some days (the ski area) just didn’t open until the road was open.”
Bachelor Butte ski area opened for the first time on Oct. 18, 1958, with one 3,900-foot poma lift, two rope tows, and a 1,500-square-foot day lodge. (The opening was marked with a formal ceremony on Dec. 19.) Sixty years later, Mt. Bachelor ski area has evolved into the sixth-largest ski and snowboard area in the country by skiable terrain (4,318 acres), with 11 chairlifts and 360-degree, lift-served access off the summit of the dormant volcano.
Also, Century Drive has long been a two-lane route, so no more waiting for those snow plows.
Bend had a population of fewer than 12,000 residents when Bill Healy and four others got together to develop the ski area, which will formally celebrate its 60th anniversary on Dec. 19 with $3 tickets to ride Red chair. That was the cost of a lift ticket in 1958. Now a regular-season one-day lift ticket purchased at the mountain runs $109 for adults. (Of course, most locals and frequent snowriders will save money by purchasing a season pass, 12-day pass, or four-pack before the season.)
Healy, a prominent furniture store owner in Bend, had fought in World War II as a ski trooper in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, according to “Mt. Bachelor: Bill Healy’s Dream,” a history of the resort published in 1999 by Peggy Chessman Lucas.
Heavy early-season snow allowed the ski area to open for the first time on Oct. 18, 1958. According to Bulletin archives, investment continued in the 1960s and ’70s as several new lifts were added, a new lodge was built, and attendance increased nearly every year.
Meissner skied that first season in 1958 and later spent most of her winters at Bachelor when her father, Jack, began a ski school program there. She has witnessed Bachelor’s growth over the years.
Still a Bend resident and avid skier, Meissner, whose mother is the namesake of the popular Virginia Meissner Sno-park just east of Mount Bachelor, recalls when Bachelor Butte’s poma lift would occasionally send kids airborne and the small lodge was packed exclusively with locals. (A poma lift is a surface lift with a small disc that skiers straddle, designed for them to keep their skis on the snow as they are pulled up the slope.)
“It was very much a family mountain back then,” Meissner recalls. “You knew everybody up there. My mom and dad started teaching (skiing) the second year. My mom would sit inside the little lodge upstairs and sell ski school tickets. My dad would be out training or teaching.
“There was no grooming at all. Sometimes we’d go up (a ski slope) and you could barely come down because the snow was so deep. Of course, back then our skis were so skinny.”
It was not long before chairlifts were added at a fairly rapid pace at Bachelor, including the Black chair in 1961, Red chair in ’64, and several more — Yellow, Blue, Green and Orange chairs — in the late ’60s and early ’70s, according to Bulletin archives. Outback, Flycreek (later called Rainbow) and Sunrise lifts were added in 1975, ’81 and ’82, respectively. Of all those lifts, only Outback, Rainbow and Sunrise remain.
By the 1980s, it was Healy’s “obsession” to build the Summit chairlift to nearly the top of the 9,068-foot peak to provide a new image of Bachelor, much more terrain for skiers and a ski season that could last well into summer, according to the Chessman Lucas book.
The Summit lift, which opened in 1983, marked Bachelor’s transition from a regional Northwest destination to a national destination.
According to www.mtbachelor.com, the ski area added the Pine Marten Express lift in 1986 and Skyliner in 1989. The Sunshine and Carrousel lifts, both for beginners, were added in 1993. Northwest Express and 10 new runs were added in 1996, offering more lift-served terrain on the northwest side of the mountain.
More recently, Bachelor has expanded to add the Bachelor Bike Park, which opened in 2013 and helped make Mt. Bachelor a year-round destination resort.
“A lot of ski resorts now are much more focused on becoming year-round businesses, and using the terrain to provide an alpine experience year-round,” says John McLeod, current president of Mt. Bachelor. “Downhill mountain biking as a sport is growing rapidly. The goal now is to shrink the gaps between those seasons and operate whatever kind of facilities we can so that there’s practically no offseason.”
In December 2016, the new Cloudchaser chairlift debuted, providing access to 635 acres of previously unserved terrain on the east side of the mountain.
McLeod calls Cloudchaser “a phenomenal success,” and he says more changes are in the works at Bachelor, including an expansion of the Sunrise base area. Plans call for an extended parking area, a new day lodge, and some repurposing of the existing day lodge into a kids’ learning center.
As he leads Mt. Bachelor into the future, McLeod says he has a “great deal of respect” for Healy and other visionaries who started Mt. Bachelor ski area 60 years ago without any infrastructure.
“I’m very fortunate to be sitting here with all the advantages today,” McLeod says, “compared to those who had the fire and spirit to get the resort started with not much more than a dream, really.”