MOST POWDER HOUNDS find it darn-near impossible to understand why anyone would choose to spend a central Oregon ski day at the smaller steep of Willamette Pass when Mount Bachelor is but an hour-and-a-half away by car. But that kind of thinking is precisely what makes Willamette Pass an idyllic escape: While the crowds swarm all over Bachelor—and shell out nearly $60 per person for the privilege—you’ll be gliding onto line-free lifts and tackling this snowfield’s respectable 1,563 vertical feet for a price even a cash-strapped family can afford.
Located 67 miles east of Eugene, just off the wide and well-plowed Rte 58, Willamette Pass admittedly doesn’t have the driest snow in the state, but the resort owners have come up with a creative, consumer-friendly solution to handle the area’s notoriously mercurial weather: They offer lift tickets by the hour, the only resort in Oregon to do so. Should it seem like the snow might morph into slush by the afternoon, simply purchase a $20 ticket good for two hours, which is plenty of time to hit the 50-degree pitch of the black-diamond run R.T.S. or the expert lines that plunge off the backside.
You needn’t be on an adrenaline-fueled ski mission to enjoy the pass’s dual peaks, however. The mountain has 6 green and 13 blue runs—just enough for a full day of schussing—and down near the base, there’s a squeal-inducing tubing hill for your parka-clad tykes. Even the cross-country set has ample space to roam on the resort’s west side, where 12 miles of groomed trails wend through the firs. This nexus also is the jumping-off point for the placid 4.5-mile trip to Gold Lake, a halcyon spot to contemplate winter’s landscape-transforming majesty.
Hardier adventurers should make a stop at the Gold Lake Sno-Park warming hut, which doubles as the Willamette Backcountry Ski Patrol headquarters. Here you can pick up maps for an additional 80 miles of cross-country and snowshoe trails that weave through the pass, as well as information on the seven overnight shelters hidden among the towering firs of the Willamette National Forest.
Considerably more civilized accommodations can be had in one of the 12 cabins surrounding Odell Lake Lodge. The cabins are spare, but you’ll hardly notice, since you’ll be spending your evenings in the 1940s-era lodge, tucking into a slice of homemade pie and warming yourself by the gaping stone fireplace. This is just the place to plot the next day’s backcountry foray into Diamond Peak Wilderness, where the bowls of the 8,700-foot peak lure only the savviest of skiers—those who have discovered that this gem on the front lines of the Cascade Range offers far grander possibilities than its small-time reputation suggests.