Snowmobiling and tele turns in Bend's backcountry
I don't think I would ever have gone snowmobiling. If it wasn't for my good friend Josh Harvey's obsession with the fuel munching, high powered beasts, it'd still be skinning my way into Central Oregon's remote backcountry ski terrain. Now instead, and most likely to the dismay of my more holistic friends, I giggle all the way to the summit while sucking the somehow comforting fumes of the 'ol two-stroke. But before any of you send me any hate mail with long attachments outlining the percolation rate of oil-based lubricants in sub-alpine meadows let me first say: slednecking (from now I will use this term and snowmobiling interchangeably) is sooooo fun!
It all started just a year (or two) ago when, during my coincidental pass through Bend, Josh hosted a family-day of slednecking. Buzzing around the trails on sleds like the Ghetto Rocket and ol ' El Tigre confirmed my suspicions that slednecking was a day full of petroleum fumes and generally ear-piercing in nature. On a second trip last winter my doubts in the safety in the sport were confirmed after witnessing Josh and his new sled roll down about 1000 feet of steep mountain terrain all the while losing parts and nearly lighting on fire (I wish I had video to share that spectacular memory with you all). But by those last trips last winter I had gotten on a few more of the newer sleds and realized what kind of machines these boys were riding. Lets just say: to have a car that has the same handling, suspension, and acceleration of of a snowmobile you'd have to give your grandma's inheritance away, and then you couldn't even drive it 'cause there are laws to protect people from that sort of thing. I can't say whether it was my boyish love of machines or the fact that you feel like you're getting away with something that held my attention.
This winter season started out strong when I rolled into Bend from Cali just in time to eat turkey dinner for an entire week. I left snow hungry Tahoe after a beautiful alpine bike ride and got to Bend just a day before early storms would bring Alta-style fluff to the Southern Cascades. After just a day back in town I had a blast sledding with the Harvey brothers and getting back on the Ghetto Rocket. That day finished with Eric Harvey getting air for the camera and a bit of snow beginning to fall. We had know idea what we were in store for. Two days later Josh reported up to two feet of ultra-fluff at Moon Mountain. I went to my mom's house and got my skis.
Sunday morning was patchy in Bend but driving up to the mountain brought the patches of blue closer to us. Before I get going on the beauty of the day, I must extends my thanks for the folks that make these time-consuming and spendy sledneck trips happen. Joey and Josh were generously hookin' everyone up with their sleds, trucks, trailers, and gear. Eric Harvey was kind enough to let me strap my tele boards on his nearly new Ski-doo for the day. No one really understands what it takes to keep so many machines running and Harvey is in the garage every evening keeping the fleet in shape so we can all get out there with him. Don't worry for him much though, the Harvey family garage is a pretty fun pace to hang out.
So back to Sunday – great folks, five sleds, fresh snow on the ground and blue ski above. The highest parking lot is full so we head to lightly used Edison Sno-park on the Sunriver Road and we set our sights on Quall Butte. The small butte just off the SE flank of Mount Bachelor has always caught my eye with its crater-edged, convex summit pitch that dumps into what had always looked liked nicely spaced pines. A long but super fun and fluffy trail ride ended us at the small haggard Quall Butte shelter. The warm fire and log seats were all we needed for a quick break before making a push with the mountain sleds (Ghetto Rocket can't come on this trip) up the backside and into the summit crater. My novice slednecking skill paired with Josh and Joey's expert riding got all three sleds up the the crater rim. Josh shuttled me most of the way up to the far away rim before I had to hope off and boot the last little bit while Josh rallied around the bowl sans passenger to meet me. Deep snow and universally steep terrain made this approach pretty eventful and reminded me of how technical maneuvering a huge machine in deep snow can be, but it all fell away when I unlashed my skis and remembered what those plates extending from my toes were for. Supported by sledneck friends above and below I made three windblown turns and then blissfully entered some of the lightest snow I've ever skied in the Cascades. I stopped once at the trees edge to snap two photos and continued my turns into the perfectly spaced forest dropping my knee and sucking fluff. I tumble stopped at the bottom – ecstatic. Powder turns before November in Bend and the next closest skier on top of Mt. B. Now this is backcountry! Josh met me on the sled track that functioned as a getback, tossed a rope, and pulled me back to the shelter.
So, admittedly yesterday was just a few turns just to tease me and all the trail-riding on that intense mountain sled made me more sore than the skiing. But of course there is more in store and more efficient ways to get some tele turns in on pitches I've been scoping for years. When there are snowmobiles around things start to open up – important for Bend since it doesn't offer much in terms of one-day skin and ski adventures (I might eat that statement someday). Quall Butte is multiple-use Forest Service land with access roads criss-crossing all over it in the summer, these roads offer quick access with a snowmachine. The next slednecking trip might just be a drop-off at the wilderness boundary. Because while the sleds are awesome for the approach, when I dream of steep snow fields I still dream myself making drop-knee turns down their entirety. Josh says it changed for him and it could change for me too. Not anytime soon I tell him.