There's often a certain lemming-like quality to cross country skiers. They tend to go only where there are machine-groomed tracks and, as a result, crowds. There are alternatives, however, for those who enjoy solitude and happen to own a pair of general off-track touring skis.If you're in the mood for a more traditional (read: un-tracked) tour, here's a guide to several places where, if the snow is good (read: deep), the skiing is worthwhile. You'll have the added bonus of running across some wildlife, or at least a few signs that forest dwellers are out and about in the snow.
There are years when the snow falls heavily on the Ochocos. When it happens, the ski touring is wonderful at places like Pine Mountain.
Drive as far as you can on the access road leading up to the observatory, park and ski up that road until you hit Forest Road 100. Turn south and ski until you come to an intersection. At the intersection, turn left; this road will take you back to the main road where another left gets you back to your car.
If you're into making up your own route, there is almost an endless number of true cross country possibilities at Pine Mountain. For those who want to go fat and get in some good turns, Pine Mountain has some classic tree and glade skiing with some impressive old growth stands.
Off Century Drive
When the snow level allows, try skiing off Forest Road 4615. This road heads north from Century Drive before it crests the big hill beyond the Seventh Mountain Resort.
Park your car at the Century Drive intersection. (Four-wheel drive is nice to have). From there you can ski down the road. However, note that FS 4615 is popular with the four-wheel-driving-in-the-snow fanatics, so it may be deeply rutted for about a quarter mile.
After the road bends west, look for a spur road that comes in from the right and follow it as far as you like for an out-and-back tour. For even more fun, take the spur road for a mile or so as it heads due west. Then head off into the woods and work out a loop of your own. By the way, there's a very sweet, but small, rock-walled canyon in the vicinity with some spectacular old-growth ponderosa pines.
A GPS helps on any true cross country tour, but isn't required here. Once you ski south after a northerly tour, you'll eventually come to either FS 4615 or Century Drive.
Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Start at the 10 Mile parking/snowmobile lot on the roadway leading up to the monument. Cross the roadway and follow the trail that leads up to Paulina Lake. This is classic ski touring terrain that rolls along, makes short easy climbs and has some short, fast downhill sections.
After crossing the main monument road near Paulina Lake, the trail bears north before heading due west as it passes by Paulina Falls. From the falls, the trail follows Paulina Creek for most of the return to the 10 Mile lot.
This is a must tour for those who like some spectacular winter scenery mixed in with fun skiing.
There have been times (especially the winter of 1992-1993, for example) when the snow was deep enough to ski up from Skull Hollow onto Gray Butte. Maybe this will be another snow year like that; so don't rule out a tour there.
Upper Shevlin Park
Follow the existing trails and roads from the parking lot at Three Pines/Shevlin Commons for an easy close to home out-and-back or loop tour. A word of caution: the snow has to be at least a foot deep and packed, if not, your skis will suffer.
Lower Shevlin Park
Back in the aforementioned big winter of 1992-1993, Bruce Ronning of Bend Metro Parks and Recreation District regularly packed and set a single track through the main portion of the Park. It proved to be some of the best ski touring imaginable, combining sections of the main park road with the trail along Tumalo Creek. That noted, tracks aren't needed to enjoy a tour here as there are plenty of places to make your own. Again, the key here is snow depth.
Talk about untapped ski touring potential, this is it. There are at least a dozen loops that skiers can put together using old forest roads and single-track trail. As of this writing, few people have skied the forest. But if the winter is long and the snow storms drop heavy loads, this is the new place to make your own tracks.