Winter’s Backcountry Havens
Four friends—exhausted from the day’s conquests—sit around a roaring fire as they swap stories, exaggerated to be sure. Any pause in conversation is the result of polishing off a pre-packaged meal or becoming lost in the never-ending sea of stars overhead. The conversation turns to the following day’s plan of attack and the hint of an early bedtime.
While this scene could be played out during any season in Central Oregon, small deviations point to a winter camping trip. The friends are all ensconced in fleece or down, with hats and gloves protecting their extremities. Their beds are made of a cozy down sleeping bag resting on a thick sleeping pad. The white snow blankets every square inch of ground, as well as the needles of the surrounding pine trees.
The fire—lit for necessity—slowly disappears into the very snow it was built upon. The friends sit on an amphitheater-style bench, carved out of the snow in a circle around the fire they are worshipping. And the tales tell of a newfound ski route or snowshoe up a nearby butte.
Central Oregon’s hearty-souled, backcountry revelers with a taste for the cold have taken to winter’s playground for decades. Most are searching for solitude, fresh ski tracks, or the crisp winter’s air. While others sleep in their campers—parked in the Mount Bachelor parking lot—in an effort to gain the coveted “first chair” spot in the lift line.
Those truly looking for a wilderness experience on a self-supported trip bring a four season tent or sleep in a carved-out snow cave. The key to warmth lies in the preparation for your trip and knowing cold-weather camping requires additional gear. Don’t forget to bring a saw to cut dead branches for the fire. Extra gloves, hats, and socks help to quell the heat loss from your body. Hot drinks—such as tea, hot chocolate or coffee—warm the body from the inside. Perhaps most important is remembering not to skimp on your sleeping pad, which creates the barrier between you and the snow.
“Don’t forget your camera! You can’t get these views anywhere else.” -Cara Yasui Operations Manager, Cascade Huts
Backcountry huts are an option for skiers and snowshoers looking for a winter backcountry experience but worried about using a tent. Set up and managed by local backcountry operations, huts and yurts strategically placed along ski routes allow the users to limit what they carry and provide some comfort in the wilderness.
Cascade Huts rents out three backcountry huts in the Mount Hood area. Ranging from 160 square feet to 256 square feet, each hut comes equipped with propane heaters, lanterns, stoves, kitchen utensils, as well as sleeping pads and bags. There is also an outhouse at each hut location. The huts are accessible from Barlow Pass, White River and Frog Lake SnoParks.
“Cascade Huts offers a unique opportunity for people who love outdoor sports to experience the Oregon backcountry in a setting like no other.” —Cara Yasui
Closer to home, Three Sisters Backcountry operates their Owl and Raven yurts, as well as a wood-fired sauna. The 20 foot yurts are protected by trees under the Tam McArthur Rim, in the middle of 280,000 snow-covered acres. The Three Sisters Backcountry guides are available to lead your tour of the area, and they are able to pack in a keg for your apres ski appetite. They also offer American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Avalanche Courses for those wishing to expand their backcountry knowledge.