Today we really ran Bend through its paces and boy, did it perform. How about a city where the first thing you do is stop into a restaurant by a cozy fireplace, looking out at their raised salad and herb garden beds and open up a menu full of so many wonderful choices? It’s called CHOW and the poached eggs came atop a crispy corn fritter with wilted spinach and Hollandaise. Another intriguing offering was pumpkin or ginger pancakes. It all was delicious and that was how we began, before we returned to Mt Bachelor to find more winter fun things to do.
We spent a little time meeting with the GM, Dave Rathbun, who explained why this world-class, jumbo-sized mountain is still primarily a regional versus a national ski destination. It mostly has to do with the regional forestry plan regulations, that combined with National Forest Service regs make even contemplating things like slope-side condos or other on-mountain amenities impossible. Once you pass a line on the road to the mountain, it becomes nothing but forest and volcanic rock. So they have come up with a bunch of other ideas to combat the malaise that set in a few years ago when many of the area’s homes were foreclosed and planned second homes were never built.
They’ve got plans still under wraps for an exciting expansion of terrain, and they have many clever ways to generate additional revenue from the skiers who come. One is called “Go Pro” and lets young skiers borrow helmet cams and then provides computers in the lodge where they can learn to edit their Warren Miller wannabe videos. There are also lots of other attractions, such as tubing and dogsledding, bringing more people to this very family friendly big mountain.
We joined Alaskan Gabe Dunham for a six-mile mush using some of dogs with Iditarod experience–our lead dog, she said, has done the torturous long-haul race in Alaska six times. She told us how steep and narrow many of the trails in the Iditarod are, and how many racers of the 67 who begin end up washing out. Gabe loves training the dogs and she dreams of the day when she too can take on that amazing race in the frozen north.
After some tubing and the dogsledding, we drove back down to Bend, and on the streets people were strolling in shorts and enjoying the sun, and the mild 50s temperatures. We borrowed fat tire cruiser bikes from the Oxford Hotel and set out along the Deschutes River to the Old Mill area, where parkland, nicely laid out shops and a former power plant has now become an REI store. The path is well laid out, and even includes a bridge that takes walkers and riders out into the water to a viewpoint to watch the ducks.
I can’t remember traveling anywhere that provided me with snow sports and biking within a half hour of each other. My day was almost complete until I took in a classically Oregonian tradition…a soak in the Turkish bath at McMenamin’s brewery. A beautifully ornate open roofed large tub with salt water the temperature of a nice hot bath. For six bucks, you can’t beat it.
The two brothers who started the Oregon-based chain run 65 of these quirky establishments, converting schools, churches and other buildings into hotels, brewpubs, restaurants, and in this case, a theater-hotel-brewpub that’s very popular in Bend.
So many of the attractions here, from the very easy access to the bike path, to the easy-to-get-outdoors-in climate, bring people here who are looking for quality of life. Throw in such a great big mountain for skiers, and it’s really perfect.
Bend, you’re onto something, that’s for sure.