06 Mar Bike to Ski
It is said that everything has its season. In Bend, summer’s cycling turns into winter’s skiing. But just because that mountain bike trail disappears under a blanket of snow doesn’t mean it should be abandoned until the next warm season. With a little preparation, some knowledge of the area and a good map, Nordic skiers can experience popular mountain bike trails in the winter. Some trails require basic GPS skills, while others are already mapped out for you. Here are a couple to check out this year.
Ski to Tumalo Falls
Mountain bikers know Tumalo Creek Trail as the connector to North Fork and South Fork trails, and the gateway into the Happy Valley or Swampy Lakes area. But skiers may recognize the area as the birthplace of Central Oregon skiing. The region’s first downhill ski area was located here, but today it’s all about Nordic skiing.
Beginning at the end of Skyliner Road, the Tumalo Creek Trail offers 3.5 miles of rolling hills and dog-friendly single track. 36-year-old ponderosa pine trees and manzanita bushes line your path along the south side of Tumalo Creek. The 97-foot tall, glacier-fed Tumalo Falls provides a picturesque destination. For your ski back to the car, choose between backtracking the trail or skiing the service road.
If the seven miles round-trip aren’t enough, head up the North Fork Trail past the falls toward Happy Valley. The view alone is worth the additional 12 miles and 2,400 feet of elevation gain. GPS is recommended for this leg, as the trail is not marked for skiers. Another thing to consider is that while Tumalo Creek Trail is a close option for Bend skiers, its 4,700 feet of elevation can mean inconsistent snow—best to try this one when there’s been plenty of the white stuff falling.
Flagline Trail to Swampy Lakes
Flagline Trail is one of the most popular one-way mountain bike and ski routes in Central Oregon. While the summer and winter trails don’t align exactly, the goal of both paths remains the same—circumnavigate Tumalo Mountain and head back toward town. The trail begins at Dutchman Flat Sno-Park, located at milepost 22 on the Cascade Lakes Highway, directly across from Mount Bachelor. The popular parking area is home base for many snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers looking to access the Three Sisters Wilderness area, so get there early to ensure a parking spot. If you’re skiing with a friend, park one car at Swampy Sno-Park and take the other to Dutchman to make a shuttle. If you’re skiing alone, park at Swampy and hitch a ride up to Dutchman.
While the beginning elevation at Dutchman Flat is 6,250 feet, and the finish at Swampy Lakes Sno-Park measures 5,800 feet, the ski is not all downhill. The 9.25 mile trek heads north on the Flagline Access trail east on the Flagline Trail with a sweat-inducing uphill climb as skiers hug Tumalo Mountain’s lower edges. Once Mount Bachelor is out of view, the trail—well-marked with blue diamond signs—leads the adventurous skier through a mass of towering trees and pockets of open meadows. Halfway through the clockwise circumnavigation of Tumalo Mountain, the rolling terrain turns decidedly downhill. A left turn at Swampy Lakes Loop allows for a stop at Swampy Shelter on your way to the parking area.
This less than three-hour trip passes through multiple forest zones and changing snow conditions. For those hearty folks looking for more of a leg-burning day, add Tangent Loop—and six miles—to the route and finish at Virginia Meissner Sno-Park.
In years when Mother Nature gifts Central Oregon with blankets of snow, lower-elevation bike trails are all skiable. Phil’s Trail Area has fun, rolling hills, but very few views. For greater beauty, try the Deschutes River Trail where easy terrain follows the county’s namesake river. The Metolius River Trail in Camp Sherman is another good bet in high snow years, as is Shevlin Park. Happy skiing!