In 1973, Bob Mathews traveled west from Minnesota on his way to Mexico City when he stopped in Oregon to help his friends move from Monmouth to Bend. Then something eerily familiar happened—he started bartending, got a job at the mountain and then straight-up moved here.
At that time there was a small cross-country loop between the old Green and Black chairlifts. Virginia Meissner and family taught the occasional Nordic ski lesson. Then, in '76, Mathews made a proposal to create a Nordic ski school separate from the broader alpine ski school. He was given a 125-square-foot corner of the existing rental shop and Mt. Bachelor proceeded to groom a couple of cross-country trails. And that's how the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center got its start.
"We started with about eight to 10 kilometers, and a lot of it was hit or miss if it snowed too much, because all we had was a snowmobile," Mathews said of their early grooming machine.
The Nordic center moved slowly in the beginning, but by the late '70s cross-country skiing had grown enough in Bend to justify 20 kilometers or more of new trails. The number of season pass holders had grown to over 100. Cross-country skiing was still a budding sport in Central Oregon, but people were showing an increased interest.
"It was small, and we'd have a race and there'd be 75 racers, and we thought that was a lot," Mathews said.
In those early days the Nordic skiers, cross-country and telemark skiers alike, would make an intentional spectacle on the hill, just to catch the eye of the usual alpine crowd.
"We would go over, set up bamboo, and run gates on our racing cross-country skis just for kicks," Mathews said. "And fall and crash and burn."
Mathews also ran a fall ski camp with Bob Woodward and Jay Bowerman during the '70s. The "ski clinic," as it was called, started out as a two-day camp on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. The clinic drew people from Portland, Eugene and Boise.
"We finally ended up going two weekends and doing track skiing [traditional classic striding] Thanksgiving, and then the first weekend in December doing tele skiing," Mathews said. "The two weekends probably had 300 to 400 skiers. It was a great way to kind of jump start your skiing."
In the early '80s, the Nordic Center, with Mathews at the helm, nearly doubled its existing cross-country terrain to 40 kilometers of groomed trail. In 1980, the free-healers moved out of their modest corner in the Mt. Bachelor rental shop and into a 10-foot-by-40-foot trailer. In 1984, they built the Nordic Lodge that houses the Nordic Ski Center we use today.
By the time Mathews left his position in '91, the Nordic Center had 56 kilometers of groomed trail—the full trail system that exists today—and the number of season pass holders had grown to several hundred.
Still a "second sister" to alpine skiing, as Mathews puts it, Nordic skiing has become an important part of Mt. Bachelor's ski culture.
"Even though the number of participants is smaller [than alpine skiing], the passion for it is really huge," Mathews said.
According to Mathews, the Nordic Center also benefited from the support of Mt. Bachelor, Bill Healy and the Meissner family, who supported Nordic skiing before it had found its place in America's ski culture. Shops, like local favorite Sunnyside Sports, were also helpful in promoting the new-to-Bend sport.
"It was really a progression," Mathews said. "You know, it morphed into something, but people don't realize how small it really was."