On the heels of an early season snowfall, I faced a common Central Oregon skier decision: Should I tour out of Dutchman Flats where neighboring Mt. Bachelor boasts 20-plus inches in the last two days, or risk a lower elevation ski at Wanoga Sno-Park.
I hope to face this decision dozens of times this winter. The issues at hand include: an extra 20 miles of round trip driving on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, snow quality, and most importantly, dog or no dog. A distaste for driving combined with a glare from my high-energy dog usually tips the debate scale toward Wanoga.
Arriving early enough to beat the sledders afforded me the opportunity to stretch out my three-pin setup with some turns on the sledding hill. My mini-tele adventure ends at the snow play warming shelter where I attended a handful of birthday parties last year with my 7-year-old daughter.
The appreciation for the early powder reverted my thought process to 1960's Batman subtitles. Bam! This is nice pow! Avoid the early season crash! I love the swoosh sound of my skis. Thunk! Was that an exposed branch?
Once my head straightens out, I realize I am not the only one taking advantage of an early season snow dump. The community activist in me appreciates the various tracks spread throughout the National Forest. Besides ski tracks, I detect snowshoe, snowmobile, and of course dog tracks.
With a fourth "birthday" coming up December 15, the sno-play area receives near-constant usage when the snow is good. On a typical weekend or holiday, you can expect most of the 97 diagonal parking spaces to be filled with revelers of all ages.
There is no better gateway to your youth than helplessly sliding down a hill on a sled, toboggan, saucer, or any other slick vessel. This inexpensive activity all but guarantees loss of breath and doubled heart rate. A "safety-first" attitude will lower the chance of a wipeout, and the obligatory YouTube posting of said event.
The original decision to create a snow-play area, signed by the USFS in May of 1996, came from a community desire for a no-cost snow-play area off of the Cascade Lakes Highway. It took over a decade, and the formal closure of the treacherous Skyliner area for the dream to be realized.
The original plan called for the construction of a 4-acre snow play area, parking lot, 1,000-square-foot shelter and vault toilet, along with the access road off of the main Wanoga Sno-Park road. It also required the closure of Snowmobile Trail #2, which ran through the snow play area.
Central Oregon's DogPac
Across the parking area from the sledding hill sits the trailhead to 3.5 kilometers of dog-friendly trails. Central Oregon's DogPac provides trail grooming for dogs and their skiing or snowshoeing companions. Leashes are required in the sno-park area, and they ask that you clean up after your pet and maintain voice or physical control of your dog while on the trails.
The Wanoga trail is the first regularly groomed ski/ snowshoe trail in Oregon that allows dogs. As long as weather permits and volunteers are available, the trail is groomed four times a week.
With a little width to your skis and taste for adventure, skiers can use the trail as a launching point into the wilderness. If your pleasure is incomplete without shaking the crowds, the Deschutes National Forest's buttes and wide-open ski fields just south of the trails provide ample opportunity.
Frank Ellis Sno-Park
The western side of Wanoga is home to the only snowmobile area on the south side of the highway. Named in honor of a prominent snowmobile trail groomer, the Frank Ellis Sno-Park consists of a staging and parking area, toilet and shelter.
The shelter was built and is maintained by the Moon Country Sno-Mobilers Club with coordination from the U.S. Forest Service. The funds for the construction came from the Recreational Trails Program of the Federal Highway Administration. The club members' 4,500 volunteer hours were rewarded not only with a quality shelter and warming area, but with a 2008 Annual Achievement award from the Coalition for Recreational Trails.
The sno-park offers access to approximately 150 miles of groomed snowmobile trails throughout Deschutes National Forest. If you happen to be without a snowmobile, Central Oregon Adventures offers sled rental and tours out of Wanoga under a special-use permit from the Deschutes National Forest.
If you are a user of any of these mostly volunteer-run areas, I urge you to donate either time or money to one of the organizations responsible for maintaining the Wanoga Sno-Park Area.
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