After about fifteen minutes of waiting and shooting the shit, our patience is rewarded—a ski patroller traverses past us to cut the out-of-bounds rope and put in a gate. We ride quickly through the new backcountry access gate, then un-strap and walk the short distance to the top of Heather Canyon. The view quickly justifies the wait- in front of us the steep pitch of a high alpine bowl, cliffs and all.
Glancing back, the top of Mt. Hood Meadows Cascade chairlift is visible just a few hundred feet back up the slope. Around me the expanse of Heather Canyon is being quickly filled up with boarders and skiers, eager to dig into the backcountry on such a rare sunny day. Mt. Hood Meadows sports a reputation for freestyle riding, photo and film shoots, and innovative parks, but the free riding here is no joke.
“Bombing” down the bowl here is no joke. Heather canyon is one giant funnel, and when visibility is good enough to open the access gates, the Ski Patrol has to run avalanche control first. Ducking the ropes can land you in deep trouble with both the Forrest Service and the resort, for good reason.
The evidence of avalanche control stains the snow black and grey- the aftermath of a bomb used to set of any possible avalanches. After straight lining it down the bowl, we traverse high up the next ridge, accessing yet another canyon full of powder. We drop to the left, tackling as much fall line as possible before funneling into the bottom of the canyon, riding out with other psyched up powder hounds to the Heather Canyon lift.
Besides the controlled access area of the Heather Canyon lift, Meadows sports some nasty freeriding stuff right bellow the lifts. If you can pull yourself out of bed early enough, you can lap cliffs and chutes while the rest of the Oregonians are sleeping off the night before. The bowls beneath the Mt. Hood Express chair lift have all sorts of fun/sketchy lines tucked into their islands of trees. In one run you can launch of windlips, straight-line a rocky chute, bag more air of another windlip, and sneak off a cliff. And that’s before dodging into the woods at the bottom for a few more turns and drops.
Elsewhere, Jack’s woods off of the Shooting Star lift deliver spaced-out and sheltered tree-riding bliss, while the woods off of the Hood River Meadows lift have the steepest consistent pitch on the mountain. “Shredows” is chock full of little goodies, just waiting for the jibbers in the park to put down their front-board to pretzel long enough to find out. Take a look at the trail map, ask a local, or just dip into the trees- you’re bound to find something fun.