MOUNT BACHELOR —
Even in the middle of the holiday hustle and bustle at Mt. Bachelor ski area, solitude can be found just a couple of miles away at Todd Lake.
As I circled the frozen lake on my classic nordic skis this past weekend, I soaked in the peace and quiet of the Deschutes National Forest in the heart of winter.
For those who have tired of the crowded slopes or the packed nordic trails, the backcountry awaits on a 5-mile tour from Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center to Todd Lake and back.
But cross-country skiers should come prepared for variable conditions, as the Forest Service trails branching off from the nordic center are not groomed and can present challenges.
An employee at the nordic center warned me of “icy, bumpy and sketchy conditions” before I set out last Sunday on a clear, cold morning.
That did not exactly help my confidence as I cruised along the common corridor, crossed snow-covered Cascade Lakes Highway, and connected to the Todd Lake Trail.
Free common corridor passes, available at the nordic center, allow skiers to use the corridor to get from the nordic center to the Deschutes National Forest ski trails on the north side of Cascade Lakes Highway. Trails on the south side of the highway are part of the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center and require a trail pass (a day pass is $20 for adults).
The calm and quiet of the woods began just a quarter of a mile from the nordic center. After I turned onto the Todd Lake Trail, I was basically all alone until I reached the lake.
Even with a low snowpack, just 37 inches at Bachelor as of Wednesday, there is enough of a base to reach Todd Lake safely on skis. Skiers should not expect it to be easy going, though.
The icy trail was certainly difficult to negotiate, especially on the downhill sections, during my outing. Also, there were few, if any, classic ski tracks to follow, so staying upright on the flat, bumpy trail was a challenge without the added control of pre-existing tracks. In some open areas along the trail, I was able to cruise atop the crusty snow without sinking in.
The trail, which included only a few challenging hills, skirted frozen creeks along the way. Eventually I made my way beyond the trees and found myself in an open meadow on the approach to Todd Lake. After a short climb up a hill, I arrived at the lake.
Steam rose from the snow covering the lake as Broken Top rose above the trees to the north. I noticed some ski tracks along the east side of the lake and decided to follow them.
After a quarter of a mile or so, I glanced back to see Mount Bachelor towering behind me as the sun finally rose above the trees and warmed my shoulders.
In the winter, Todd Lake transforms from its summertime draw as a fishing and floating paradise into a place where skiers, snowshoers, and fatbikers can enjoy the snow and the scenery.
The area also offers opportunities for backcountry downhill skiers and snowboarders. Todd Lake is rimmed by a relatively small but steep ridge on its west and north sides. Backcountry enthusiasts like to skin up and then ski or snowboard down these slopes.
Remaining on the flats down by the lake last week, I continued to follow the tracks around the entire lake, making for a level, mellow ski.
When I arrived back at the gated entrance to Todd Lake, I passed a large group of snowmobilers and two fatbikers, the first signs of human life I had encountered since getting on the Todd Lake Trail.
The ski back to the nordic center included a bit more uphill than the ski into the lake, but nothing too demanding, and I completed the 5-mile round trip in about three hours.
It was the ideal way to take in the winter wonder of the Central Oregon portion of the Cascade Range — minus the crowds.