Auld Lang Syne … in the Woods
Each Central Oregon winter, the Virginia Meissner SnoPark becomes a popular destination for nordic skiers and snowshoers. The Meissner Nordic Club cares for the pristine park by grooming the trails four times a week and maintaining shelters throughout where visitors can warm up. While Virginia Meissner is gorgeous during the day—with fresh blankets of snow covering the towering Ponderosa and Douglas firs—my personal favorite time to visit this snow park is actually at night, once a year.
A group of my friends have made a tradition of venturing to the SnoPark on New Year’s Eve. Now a two-time veteran of the trip, I have discovered it provides a one-of-a-kind experience, perfectly embodying Bend’s ski town culture.
The park is located 15 miles west of downtown Bend on Cascade Lakes Highway. Visitors will find multiple ski and snowshoe trails with varying degrees of difficulty and length that can be enjoyed for hours. On New Year’s Eve however, only one trail matters. The Meissner Snowshoe Loop—little more than a mile in length—takes interested snowshoers directly to the Meissner Shelter, where the New Year’s Eve festivities take place.
Our group doesn’t leave to hit the trail until we have had a formal sit-down dinner—exquisitely prepared by a friend—in Bend. Following our classic New Year’s Eve experience, we dress in warm layers and don our snowshoes.
After arriving at the park, we make our way through the woods with flashlights and headlamps. The forest takes on a different ambiance at night, but is still easily navigated in a big group. The evening is dark—but not uncomfortably so—as laughter and glimmers of light come from other parties making their way to the shelter.
When we finally arrive at our location, we are met with glows from surrounding campfires and laughing groups huddled around them. We start our own fire and settle in, looking over the ridge at the lights of Bend below. Everyone mingles and talks, while passing around hot chocolate or coffee—with and without alcohol.
For anyone planning on trying this experience this year, I recommend not skimping on the warm layers and remembering to bring your own warm drinks. It can be a long, cold wait for midnight otherwise.
We enjoy our company and meet other people from nearby fires. As midnight approaches, everyone counts down in unison. Champagne is passed around and laughter continues as the cold air contrasts the warmth of the moment.
As an outdoor adventure lover and Bend resident, spending time in the mountains with people whose company I enjoy is the perfect way to celebrate another coming year in Central Oregon.