This U.S. Winter Destination Flies Surprisingly Under the Radar — With Great Breweries and One of the Best Ski Mountains in the West

Here's why Bend, Oregon, is the perfect winter trip.

"Do me a favor and tell everyone it’s terrible here,” said the guy on the chairlift after I admitted I’d come to Bend, Oregon, for a travel story.

This was last March on Mt. Bachelor, a 4,300-acre ski resort that wraps around a friendly local stratovolcano. My chair companion was a recent arrival himself, having moved to Oregon from California the minute his youngest kid left for college. Now, he volunteered, he could drive from town to the mountain in exactly 18 minutes. He liked to swing by a few mornings a week and ski for a couple hours. “Yeah,” I said, “it seems really awful here. I’ll warn people.”

Alpine skiing at Mt Bachelor ski resort in Bend, Oregon

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Even though a few inches of snow had fallen the night before, topping off the plentiful powder among the trees, lift lines were nonexistent, and the parking was easy. Bend’s population has risen from about 75,000 to over 90,000 in the past decade, and I could see why concerned newcomers, liking the city as it is, lively but compact, might want to pull up the drawbridge. 

A woman skiing at Mt. Bachelor resort in Bend Oregon.

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Done skiing, I set out to investigate two things Bend has in abundance: food truck pods and breweries. At the Midtown Yacht Club, one of the newer pods, food trucks and a permanent bar border a graveled open space with seating and fire pits. I was looking to maximize my melted cheese intake aprés ski, so after considering a tater tots truck and a pasta truck, I opted for a chicken quesadilla heaped with fresh pico de gallo from the Barrio truck, an offshoot of a popular downtown Latin restaurant. When I checked my watch, it was beer thirty. Fortunately, the city’s brewery population, like its human one, has also boomed since 2010, from six to 22, including spots in nearby Sunriver and Redmond. There’s even an official Bend Ale Trail with a download-and-print passport that, if you collect stamps at 10 or 18 breweries, you can (tipsily, perhaps) redeem for prizes at the Bend Visitor Center.

While Deschutes Brewery is the biggest operation in town and, indeed, the whole state, I decided instead to start my beer tasting quest at local institution Bend Brewing Company, where I enjoyed a Black Diamond dark lager while sitting bundled up at a picnic table beside the Deschutes River. In defiance of chairlift guy, I scrolled through Zillow, looking at real estate and imagining my new life as the owner of a Craftsman bungalow and a Subaru with a ski rack. Bend does that to you. It makes you imagine a new life and a new version of yourself: hipper, heartier, and more outdoorsy.

As a matter of fact, hip, hearty, and outdoorsy is a reasonable description of my accommodations at Loge Bend. Loge Camps is a small west coast chain of repurposed and rejuvenated motels, and the name (pronounced “lodge") is an acronym for Live Outside, Go Explore. My reservation email informed me that Loge wants “our guests to hit a 10 on the stoke-o-meter,” and indeed I was very stoked to arrive, having driven for 10 hours, the last two through intermittent snow on a dark highway with an unnerving mirror-like finish. I’d been upgraded to a suite, which had not one but two hammocks suspended from the ceiling, a bike rack, a ski boot warmer, minimalist but comfortable décor, and a superlative minibar stocked with local drinks and snacks. Loge offers free cruiser bikes for guests to borrow as well as mountain bike, cross-country ski, and snowshoe rentals; s’more kits to utilize at the fire pits; and a lobby with a coffee/beer bar.

The ski lift at Mt Bachelor ski resort in Bend, Oregon

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The day after I skied, I started my morning with a trip to Sparrow Bakery’s airy northwest location to try its signature pastry: the Ocean Roll, a spiral of flaky, sugary puff pastry with a cardamom-vanilla filling that sent my stoke-o-meter off the charts. Since the forecast was on the dour and drizzly side, my objective was the High Desert Museum. I’d happened past the entrance and been puzzled, since the sandy, yucca-speckled Californian high deserts I know bear little resemblance to Bend’s pine-forested surroundings. But I’d been underestimating the range and diversity of the high desert region, which sprawls through the whole Intermountain West, up from the Great Basin of California and Nevada across the Columbia Plateau of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The museum turned out to be inviting and thoughtful, with sensitive, nuanced exhibits on the area’s natural and human history, particularly the culture and experiences of local Native American nations. And then, of course, there were the stars of the show: the birds and animals that, for various reasons, can’t be released into the wild. For half an hour, I stood mesmerized by three sleek river otters zooming through their water habitat while a nearby docent identified the officious little torpedoes by name. “That’s Brook,” she said. “That one’s Pitch. There’s Rogue.”

For dinner, I chose Wild Rose, a popular family-run spot with a gentle warning on the menu that the cuisine is authentic Northern Thai, and pad thai is therefore not available. I didn’t miss it, since I was busy stuffing myself with egg noodles in yellow curry and a delicious fried rice dish with tangy-spicy fermented pork called yum khao tod

On my last day, spring sprang. The sky was blue; the temperature hovered in the 60s; people burst into the world like confetti from a cannon. Dogs were everywhere. On the river, surfers in wetsuits took turns riding a wave at Bend Whitewater Park, and the signs on shore laying out rules for kayakers and tubers had suddenly lost their winter irrelevance. Grabbing a latte from Lone Pine Coffee Roasters, I couldn’t help but notice an Ocean Roll in their pastry case, and I thought I should probably get it so as to be well-fueled for my morning hike at Smith Rock State Park, a spectacular outcropping of volcanic rock 40 minutes out of town. I chose the more-fun-than-it-sounds Misery Ridge loop, a 3.7-mile trail that started off with a steep 600-foot climb to the summit. Winding back down to the Crooked River, I passed below circling bald eagles and red rock walls dotted with the splayed figures of rock climbers. 

By the time I got back to Bend, it was yet again well past beer o’clock, and I continued my foray onto the Ale Trail with lunch and a passionfruit wheat ale at 10 Barrel Brewing, followed by a barrel-aged Flanders-style sour ale in Crux Fermentation Project’s grassy beer garden. As I sat in the sunshine, surrounded by romping children and dogs and chatting groups of friends in Adirondack chairs, it was clear that a new season was on its way, full of bright possibility. Maybe I would move to Bend and become a whitewater kayaker. Maybe I would take up mountain biking and start a food truck blog and sit laughing with my friends in beer gardens.

You probably shouldn’t go to Bend, though. It’s terrible.

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