… And snowboarding’s most-photographed mountain is more than what you were led to believe.
East 60 miles up U.S. Highway 26 from Portland, Oregon, through bustling burgs like Gresham, Sandy, Rhododendron, Zigzag, and Government Camp, a forest paradise rises in volcanic splendor 11,240 feet out of sea-level dirt. It goes by many names: Wy’East in Native American legends of a mythic battle with Pa-Toe (Mount Adams) for the love of Loo-Wit (Mount St. Helens). Somewhat less imaginative British Navy Lieutenant, W.R. Broughton spotted the peak from the mouth of the Willamette River and named it after a superior, Rear Admiral Sir Samuel Hood. The name stuck, although natives of the Warm Springs tribe simply dubbed this icon and its 1.1 million acres of forest, rock and river, “The Mountain.”
Mainly recognized for its summertime shredability (thanks to salted snowfields, the only summer spot in the Lower 48), Mount Hood provides for snowboarders year-round. A formidable peak (tallest in Oregon), keeper of multiple mysteries, worthy of a lifetime’s exploration-take it a turn at a time. Savor the flavor.
In winter locals drop the “Mount Hood” and go to “Meadows.” While high-Alpine Timberline with its mammoth, ornate wooden lodge (built in the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, hence the “Government Camp” for workers down the road), summer camp halfpipes and über-kickers provide the majority of Mount Hood images snowboarders see. Meadows, down the steeper, more-varied northeastern slope, sustains the hardcharging populace in their need to ride in winter. It’s estimated some four-million people visit Mount Hood National Forest every year.
Riding at Meadows can be compared to the gritty skating at Burnside underneath a Portland bridge. Sure, one is snow and the other concrete, but Meadows is filled with rolly, double and quadruple fall lines, mad windlip configurations, and narrow powdery tree slots that might lead to Nirvana, a creek bed, or off a cliff. The right line consists on knowing before you go, and it could take years to know where that is.
Meadows’ ridable expanse pours off the upper, Himalayan-looking crater like gravy, or lava, more appropriately. The snow that layers everything hundreds of feet deep in winter can be thick powder (but not too powdery-it rains for God’s sake), rimey, coarse, windchapped, or the most lovably soft, movable goo. Conditions can change mid run and often do.
Riding Meadows is tree swaths, big quarterpipes, a few drops, and a halfpipe. Anyone who can’t string together a few decent hits down the U-jump can’t claim Wy’East. While the place had been lacking in years past, events like Vegetate and Snow Job have ensured the trench will get dug and even maintained. Conveniently located at mid mountain, it’s the perfect detour on a big mountain loop. Sometimes conditions leave it the only thing worth riding, and the sides are lined with hikers huffing up for another spin.
One time I completed a run and came up on a guy spitting blood at the bottom of the pipe. From the looks of his red mess I thought he’d punctured a lung or broken his nose with his knee at the very least. It was strange-a horrifying taste of reality in such an idealized setting. He rode off unassisted. I never did find out what ailed him, but the splatterings he left at the bottom, like the chalk outline of a body served a grim reminder to hucker hordes: Pay attention! The living here is easy but the riding is not. Get caught throwing something lazy or half-assed and pay with bodily fluids.
The upper mountain, that’s another story. The way the peaks jut out into bluebird blue sky like some Himalayan dream. The way the clouds swirl around those peaks full and ominous, loaded with promise or damnation. Those clouds will break and suddenly peaks are exposed again, covered in light at all these weird angles, shining white as a lighthouse above thousands of feet of raw timbeer. Driving Highway 26 you can look up or in the rear view and catch the wildest glacier glimpses. Shimmering way up on high like a wintry kingdom, the whipped cream atop a God-sized banana split.
Up there, though, it’s another story and a mountain apart from gently sloping Timberline, created in 500—700 A.D. by eruptions that left a crater easing its pressured core with vents of hydrogen sulfide. Amid the peaks covered with snow and thick with rime, or even exposed down to jagged mineral or sulfurous rock-as it can get-you may as well have traveled to another planet, because there’s nothing like it on this one.
So accessible (through some very concerted physical effort), yet so distant and serene. A Matterhorn you can touch-just look sharp for fecal material lining the trail from all the years of summit bids. Trudging up to the top is fairly technical and treacherous, an average of two climbers are killed each year on Hood-it’s nothing to take lightly. On the route up you’re threatened with avalanches, slides, rockfall, crevasses, weather, time, and your own will-do you have enough of it to keep moving? Depending on the season, any mistake could prove disastrous. The going gets tricky, you’ll want to climb with knowledgeable partners.
But once on top you’re greeted by the most awesome view in the whole state-a panorama of forests and lakes; Mt. Jefferson, The Three Sisters, Mt. Adams and St. Helens, as well as the state’s tragic legacy of clear-cutting. Untouched wilderness bordered by sad tracts laid bare as a bald eagle. Walk around up there and see the peak’s four sides, each one like a whole other mountain, none seemingly attached to the same whole-mangled crevasse fields folding onto one another and steep pristine powder slopes. Couloirs, notches, slot canyons, gullies. As you face the way you came, your vehicle sits in the parking lot, so close you think you could hit it with a rock. A world away, straight down.
Now the best part: mount your snowboard and drop in. All the vertical feet so hard-earned on the route up fall effortlessly away; centuries of “The Mountain” mystery unfolding to seekers of true knowledge.