E

Eat It!

Oregon’s Mount Bailey Snowcats tucks into some of the fattest snowpack this century.

By Billy MillerPhotos by Rio Davidson

We camp at the base of Mount Thielsen–in the dining room, not on the peak. Having arrived late and missed our room contact, we miraculously find Diamond Lake Lodge open and–not wanting to be buried alive sleeping in our vehicles–spend the night sprawled across banquet chairs in the lodge’s Mount Thielsen Dining Room, overlooking the majesty of its Matterhorn-like namesake peak.

Peter Butsch rousts us after sunup with word of the ten fresh inches that fell overnight. Moments before, he’d punched into his day job as Mount Bailey Snowcats’ first-ever snowboard guide by riding to the lodge from his employee digs.

We’re loaded into the orange, foam-padded interior of Mount Bailey’s Pisten Bully 240 like a well-packed lunch: four pros, a couple of vacationing riders from Tahoe, a pair of retired thrill-seekers, veteran ski-photographer Chaco Mohler, and three guides. Rick “Oz” Oswald is the lead guide, and not shy about letting you know it, having been on the front line the last eighteen years.

The quiet guy adjusting his self-stitched Witt Wear is Peter Butsch, a Mt. Bachelor rider easing into his first season at a job most would kill for–being paid to ride powder. “Glorified shoveler,” goes the crew complaint, and there’s at least some truth to it. With February precipitation an astonishing five inches above normal, bringing the depth to over 300 inches of snow, fellow guide Mark Elling has to carve steps down to the door of the lunch shack. The windows peer out onto solid snow walls.

The Bachelor boys who make up our crew are laying into Butsch for holding out on them. It’s too socked in to get to the heralded North Wall, but to guys like Jason McAlister, who’s dropped extensive peaks in Alaska, control work can seem more like Oz’s bomb show.

“It’s burly over on The North Wall,” Butsch says. “There are 27 different chutes, ranging from 600 feet to 1,200 feet of vertical. We have to control all of them, can’t be spreading out. It’s serious.”

Northwest snowboarders have been blessed with some of the best snow in decades, but they’ve also seen some grim realities: three people buried out of bounds at Mt. Baker and one rider dead from an in-bounds fall down the steeps of nearby Mt. Bachelor. Fueled for years by fantasy freeriding videos and pictures in magazines, this has been The Year Of The Wake-Up Call–with great conditions comes great responsibility.

“Had a full cat of snowboarders yesterday,” Peter tells us. “From Tahoe, Eugene, a bunch from Bend. These guys were all hung over from the night before–too much partying. Oz was bummed because he kept having to repeat himself and had to really yell for them to stop at the top of those chutes. If somebody doesn’t stop, they’re doing the avy control.

“Sometimes they wouldn’t listen about getting all the way across the avalanche path to a safe zone. You’ve got somebody guiding in the lead and somebody trailing, so you don’t have any strays, but this guy pulled over three-quarters down the chute to take a leak. Then another guy went and set off this slide with a twenty-foot plume that slid all the way to the bottom. It ended up with a six-foot debris pile.

“We thought we had everybody, but did a head count and found one missing. I stayed at the top and the other guides actually went into ‘receive’ on their transceivers, making the pattern to find him. A minute into that, he came riding out of the trees. He didn’t even notice the whole thing. Sketchy. At least he was smart enough to pull out of the chute onto a rid to take a leak.”

Statistics say 95 percent of avalanche victims trigger the slide themselves. In what might be the craziest winter in a century, Peter chooses to remember the best, while remaining prepared for the worst.

“It was fun–eleven people,” he grins, thinking about the previous day. “I like showing everyone around. None of the old-timers have seen a winter like this.”

What is the difference this winter? Probably La Niña’scold-ocean effect forming dendrite snow crystals–large, fragile, six-pointed flakes that pile up light and airy and take longer to settle. Our gang got to gun it through fluff-dry powdered-sugar confection. The operation is open from November through April, thanks to Diamond Lake-loading storm clouds with abundant precipitation. Normally you’d have more of a mixed bag of snowfall, but these days it’s a fancy feast of straight gourmet.

So dig in, cats.

Go to >www.mountbailey.com or call 1-800-446-4555 for information about Mount Bailey Snowcats. Dial 1-800-733-7593 for information about lodging at nearby Diamond Lake Resort.

Oregon’s Mount Bailey Snowcats tucks into some of the fattest snowpack this century.

By Billy MillerPhotos by Rio Davidson

We camp at the base of Mount Thielsen–in the dining room, not on the peak. Having arrived late and missed our room contact, we miraculously find Diamond Lake Lodge open and–not wanting to be buried alive sleeping in our vehicles–spend the night sprawled across banquet chairs in the lodge’s Mount Thielsen Dining Room, overlooking the majesty of its Matterhorn-like namesake peak.

Peter Butsch rousts us after sunup with word of the ten fresh inches that fell overnight. Moments before, he’d punched into his day job as Mount Bailey Snowcats’ first-ever snowboard guide by riding to the lodge from his employee digs.

We’re loaded into the orange, foam-padded interior of Mount Bailey’s Pisten Bully 240 like a well-packed lunch: four pros, a couple of vacationing riders from Tahoe, a pair of retired thrill-seekers, veteran ski-photographer Chaco Mohler, and three guides. Rick “Oz” Oswald is the lead guide, and not shy about letting you know it, having been on the front line the last eighteen years.

The quiet guy adjusting his self-stitched Witt Wear is Peter Butsch, a Mt. Bachelor rider easing into his first season at a job most would kill for–being paid to ride powder. “Glorified shoveler,” goes the crew complaint, and there’s at least some truth to it. With February precipitation an astonishing five inches above normal, bringing the depth to over 300 inches of snow, fellow guide Mark Elling has to carve steps down to the door of the lunch shack. The windows peer out onto solid snow walls.

The Bachelor boys who make up our crew are laying into Butsch for holding out on them. It’s too socked in to get to the heralded North Wall, but to guys like Jason McAlister, who’s dropped extensive peaks in Alaska, control work can seem more like Oz’s bomb show.

“It’s burly over on The North Wall,” Butsch says. “There are 27 different chutes, ranging from 600 feet to 1,200 feet of vertical. We have to control all of them, can’t be spreading out. It’s serious.”

Northwest snowboarders have been blessed with some of the best snow in decades, but they’ve also seen some grim realities: three people buried out of bounds at Mt. Baker and one rider dead from an in-bounds fall down the steeps of nearby Mt. Bachelor. Fueled for years by fantasy freeriding videos and pictures in magazines, this has been The Year Of The Wake-Up Call–with great conditions comes great responsibility.

“Had a full cat of snowboarders yesterday,” Peter tells us. “From Tahoe, Eugene, a bunch from Bend. These guys were all hung over from the night before–too much partying. Oz was bummed because he kept having to repeat himself and had to really yell for them to stop at the top of those chutes. If somebody doesn’t stop, they’re doing the avy control.

“Sometimes they wouldn’t listen about getting all the way across the avalanche path to a safe zone. You’ve got somebody guiding in the lead and somebody trailing, so you don’t have any strays, but this guy pulled over three-quarters down the chute to take a leak. Then another guy went and set off this slide with a twenty-foot plume that slid all the way to the bottom. It ended up with a six-foot debris pile.

“We thought we had everybody, but did a head count and found one missing. I stayed at the top and the other guides actually went into ‘receive’ on their transceivers, making the pattern to find him. A minute into that, he came riding out of the trees. He didn’t even notice the whole thing. Sketchy. At least he was smart enough to pull out of the chute onto a ridge to take a leak.”

Statistics say 95 percent of avalanche victims trigger the slide themselves. In what might be the craziest winter in a century, Peter chooses to remember the best, while remaining prepared for the worst.

“It was fun–eleven people,” he grins, thinking about the previous day. “I like showing everyone around. None of the old-timers have seen a winter like this.”

What is the difference this winter? Probably La Niña’scold-ocean effect forming dendrite snow crystals–large, fragile, six-pointed flakes that pile up light and airy and take longer to settle. Our gang got to gun it through fluff-dry powdered-sugar confection. The operation is open from November through April, thanks to Diamond Lake-loading storm clouds with abundant precipitation. Normally you’d have more of a mixed bag of snowfall, but these days it’s a fancy feast of straight gourmet.

So dig in, cats.

Go to

www.mountbailey.com or call 1-800-446-4555 for information about Mount Bailey Snowcats. Dial 1-800-733-7593 for information about lodging at nearby Diamond Lake Resort.

rday,” Peter tells us. “From Tahoe, Eugene, a bunch from Bend. These guys were all hung over from the night before–too much partying. Oz was bummed because he kept having to repeat himself and had to really yell for them to stop at the top of those chutes. If somebody doesn’t stop, they’re doing the avy control.

“Sometimes they wouldn’t listen about getting all the way across the avalanche path to a safe zone. You’ve got somebody guiding in the lead and somebody trailing, so you don’t have any strays, but this guy pulled over three-quarters down the chute to take a leak. Then another guy went and set off this slide with a twenty-foot plume that slid all the way to the bottom. It ended up with a six-foot debris pile.

“We thought we had everybody, but did a head count and found one missing. I stayed at the top and the other guides actually went into ‘receive’ on their transceivers, making the pattern to find him. A minute into that, he came riding out of the trees. He didn’t even notice the whole thing. Sketchy. At least he was smart enough to pull out of the chute onto a ridge to take a leak.”

Statistics say 95 percent of avalanche victims trigger the slide themselves. In what might be the craziest winter in a century, Peter chooses to remember the best, while remaining prepared for the worst.

“It was fun–eleven people,” he grins, thinking about the previous day. “I like showing everyone around. None of the old-timers have seen a winter like this.”

What is the difference this winter? Probably La Niña’scold-ocean effect forming dendrite snow crystals–large, fragile, six-pointed flakes that pile up light and airy and take longer to settle. Our gang got to gun it through fluff-dry powdered-sugar confection. The operation is open from November through April, thanks to Diamond Lake-loading storm clouds with abundant precipitation. Normally you’d have more of a mixed bag of snowfall, but these days it’s a fancy feast of straight gourmet.

So dig in, cats.

Go to

www.mountbailey.com or call 1-800-446-4555 for information about Mount Bailey Snowcats. Dial 1-800-733-7593 for information about lodging at nearby Diamond Lake Resort.