Written by Natalie Akers
“Steeper, Deeper, Cheaper.”
The bumper sticker outside of Eugene, Oregon’s Whiteaker International Hostel caught my attention. It was in good company next to a “Ski the East” patch on a Volvo Wagon older than its driver. My first encounter with Hoodoo Ski Area.
It’s raining and March in Oregon’s misty Willamette Valley. I relay my day’s plan to the owner of this Hoodoo memorabilia. I’m moving to Sisters, Oregon today. I’ll drive two hours over the Cascade’s Santiam Pass until I reach my new home on the sunny side. The Hoodoo fan asks if I own chains. But Eugene is all grass and mud, so I shrug off the inquiry.
I quickly map a route to Hoodoo only to find it’s nestled into the Willamette National Forest, just 85 miles outside of Eugene along my route, and 15 miles before arriving in Sisters. I make the obvious decision to detour. After all, I’m traveling with all my possessions. Skis on top.
Founded in 1938, Hoodoo claims Central Oregon’s “original ski area” award. It maintains its old school charm, while offering options and access for the whole family. RVs and School Bus-dwelling ski bums can pay to park all season; kids under 7 always ski free; and members of the family who don’t like to slide can try out the nordic park or comprehensive tubing center. Hoodoo is the kind of mountain you can grow up on. One that makes family outings easier, where night skiing is as satiating as first tracks.
I can see Hoodoo–its bald summit and true fall lines–from the access road. My car is flanked by the aftermath of last night’s plough and the season’s accumulating snow walls. The same moisture that makes this range look like a black and white cookie (wet, verdant, rainforest to the west and sunny sagebrush desert to the east) is also the blessing that delivers Hoodoo consistent snow. On an average year, Hoodoo counts 350 Inches of snow fall with 117 inches from the start of 2020 season until the new year. That’s plenty for 1,035 vertical feet of no frills great skiing. Just 30 mins away, Sisters, OR receives less than 20 inches in an average winter (Eugene boasts 3 inches).
Pro Tip: Check the Hoodoo webcams and bring your snow tires.
A day at Hoodoo is a lesson in snow science. Skiers and riders approach the mountain from the west with a clear view of the northeast facing fall lines (the majority of Hoodoo’s trails). At the summit of this volcanic cinder cone, visitors get unmatched 360 degree views of the southern Oregon Cascades and expansive Three Sisters Wilderness area. Mt. Washington, to the south and Three Finger Jack to the north make the largest impressions.
Presented with the cardinal options, one only needs to factor in the complex elements of snowpack (sun exposure, wind, time of day, snow fall, etc.) to earn their preferred experience. In other words, you’re not making the east coast post-lunch calculation at Hoodoo: ‘which trails are wiped clean from traffic.’ Hoodoo snow holds. Especially on the northwest slopes.
Northeast Aspect (Main Face)
It’s a great move to get acquainted with the main face (facing northeast) at Hoodoo first thing in the morning. For easy/intermediate take the Big Green Machine main lift up and ski “Impossible Dream” to mid-mountain. From there, continue to traverse to Ed’s Chair or return to the same lift by choosing your own adventure. There’s always an option to lilt along Hoodoo’s longest green: “Over Easy.”
For those of us who prefer the extra spicy lines, exit the summit chair left, then hug skiers right downhill through sparse evergreens on black diamond “Face.” Continue on Angel’s flight to land at Ed’s Chair.
I rate the intermediate slopes skiers’ right on this face A++. They’re not quite Colorado highway groomers (let’s face it, Hoodoo isn’t drawing international crowds), but they can handle the traffic all day. The main face stays out of the sun for most of the morning and loosens up in the afternoon. Don’t love the 3 minute lift line at the summit chair at 10am? I recommend lapping Ed’s chair, named after Hoodoo’s Founder, Ed Thurston.
Exit summit chair right and follow the cat track off the back of Hoodoo. Within seconds you’ll note the “experts only” posts marking the edge of a pretty little bowl skiers left. At Hoodoo (not everywhere), “experts only” is synonymous with less tracks, no grooming, and a little bit of Central Oregon’s signature Manzanita bushwhacking. This first drop is often the best stash to steeps ratio on the mountain. Though conditions may vary, this side is generally subject to a relentless cycle of overnight freeze and sun exposure that result in a crustier snow pack. Ski the top at any point and hang skiers left to traverse back west, or hit the whole run when she’s at her softest (2-3:30pm).
West Aspect: Hoodoo’s “Backside”
Nearly 60 years after Hoodoo’s opening, the mountain received permission to build and complete Hodag’s chair serving the cone’s backside terrain. The wind often gorges on snow from the S face, dumping its leftovers across the west face’s six slopes. Hodag’s lift is often the last to be opened and the first to close; extra incentive for the early week poachers. Suggestion: Hodag’s Horn trail is perfect, despite its location under the lift. A consistent and graceful fall line, and reliable snow that stays as cold and dry as it gets in the Cascades.
Where to Stay & Eat
Sisters is not a ski town. Don’t expect to see the usual signs that you’re just a short ways away from great skiing. No snow pants crossing main street. No neon-lit ski shop (the closest thing to a ski shop is a bike shop that’ll wax your boards. Call “EuroSport” or get your fix at the mountain). And definitely no ski shuttle. These days, the town draws more fly fishing folks, retirees, and mountain bikers than powder chasers.
However, the town of ~3,000 packs a punch larger than its weight in arts and culture. Sisters is renowned for their annual quilt show, rodeo, and folk festival. You can still taste the ranching culture at local favorite, “The Saloon” which offers a slightly pricier Bison Burger ($14) raised by the Sisters beef operation just down the road.
Stay at the Sisters Bunk House for an independent hotel that’s right in the mix, or with Bruce and Michelle at the Sisters Bed and Breakfast. For accommodations a bit closer to the mountain, stay at the secluded Suttle Lodge tucked into Deschutes National Forest on the banks of Suttle Lake.
Regardless, don’t miss a morning cup from Sisters Coffee Company or Suttle Tea. Reserve a private eating area at “The Open Door” for locally-owned fine dining. Or try the “Boonedog” pizza food cart: the best dang gourmet pizza food cart on this side of the Cascades and a fire pit to warm the bones. Dogs welcome.
Ok, I’m biased. I live here.
Deals & Pro Tips
Thrifty Thursdays provides obvious perks, even for the Indy Pass holder. Plan your extra day to land on a Thursday and ski all day for $25. Get off the mountain and grab a local brew or great pub food at Three Creeks Brewing (10% off).
Night skiing at Hoodoo is just $29 on off peak weeks. An unbeatable deal for your friends holding out on buying the Indy Pass. Additionally, any Friday or Saturday day pass can be upgraded to a “Marathon Ticket” (skiing from 9am-9pm) for just $5. Renters get the upgrade for free!
Yes, Hoodoo is uphill-friendly. On days when lifts don’t run, local poachers park out outside the gates for free thrills. Though Hoodoo does not allow uphill prior to lift open Wednesday-Sunday, they’ve remained incredibly generous to the ever-growing community of uphill-ers who flock here Monday and Tuesdays. Art’s alley (lookers left) is the most gradual way up the hill.