For mountain bikers who hate to ride uphill, Willamette Pass is a must-ride. Late in June, after the snow has melted from the mountain, the small ski resort off of Hwy. 58 near Oakridge converts its six-person chair to a gondola for mountain bikers, hikers, disc golfers and sightseers. The ski slopes give way to some intense singletrack riding with some killer Cascade mountain views, including those of nearby 8,678-foot Diamond Peak. "It's a little slice of heaven," says mountain biker Jeremy Fritts.
With a 360-degree view from the summit and an 18-hole disc golf course that winds down the mountain, it is also worth a stop for non-riders. Located an hour and a half from Bend, Willamette Pass is one of only two mountains in Oregon that offers lift-serviced mountain biking, the other is Ski Bowl at Mt. Hood. While the resort restricts its mountain bike lift operations to the weekend, it's still relatively crowd free.
But mountain bikers should take note: Willamette Pass is not for the faint of heart. While there are some relatively tame trails, the riding is geared more toward downhill-style biking.
You can manage some of the trails riding a front suspension hardtail mountain bike, but mountain supervisor Israel Fuller recommends dual suspension. Having ridden the mountain on a hardtail, I wholeheartedly agree.
A number of the trails through the woods are steep, technical rides with built up drops and some tight turns. The more intermediate trails are a little less steep and less technical. Some of the bigger obstacles have alternate paths to avoid them. There are a few easier routes, but most of those are still closer to intermediate level than they are beginner trails.
According to Oakridge area International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) Chairman Ben Beamer, the trail system is vastly improved from a few years ago. Unsanctioned trail building by riders had led to some pretty gnarly and potentially unsafe safe trail designs. Issues like trail erosion and "user built" obstacles went unmanaged, prior to improvements, creating some concern for rider safety and trail sustainability. When the issue was brought to Willamette Pass's attention, significant changes were made to improve the trail system. They immediately shut down and rerouted sections of trail. With input from an IMBA trail care crew and the Forest Service, "Willamette Pass made ... it safer and more sustainable," says Beamer. He added that, after the changes there was a drastic improvement in trail safety and a decrease in the frequency and severity of injury. Trails that previously could have caused major injuries because of poor design now tend to only lead to run of the mill cuts and scrapes. Currently the trails are maintained by a summer ski patrol team that also operates a first aid station at the base of the mountain.
The mountain biking season at Willamette Pass typically runs on weekends from late June or early July when the mountain is clear of snow through early October when the mountain begins to prepare for winter operations. Day passes for bikers are $28. Season passes are available for $84.
If you're just getting into mountain biking, Willamette Pass may not be enough to warrant a whole day of riding or the cost of the lift ticket. For more trail diversity, and to avoid the cost, it is worth driving on to Oakridge and checking out their extensive network of trails.
Sightseers and hikers can ride the Oregon Skyway Gondola for $14. From the top of the lift there's an impressive view of Diamond Peak, Odell Lake and the 52,000-acre Diamond Peak Wilderness. A number of hiking trails are accessible from the Willamette Pass area, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail that cuts through Willamette Pass and heads toward Diamond Peak.
Disc Golf enthusiasts can use the sightseeing pass to reach the top of the professionally designed 18-hole disc golf course, which also offers a number of views as you follow the course in and out of the woods and down the mountain.
Other nearby attractions include: Salt Creek Falls, Oregon's second tallest waterfall, and Waldo Lake, Oregon's second deepest lake. The lake is renowned for its water clarity and popularity with kayakers. Since 2010, the lake has been closed to gas powered motors.
WARP (Willamette Alpine Race Program) Downhill competition July 23-24. For more information on events and other activities, visit Willamettepass.com.