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Early spring in Central Oregon means corn snow, hero dirt

Mountain bikers, skiers have plenty to enjoy during season

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BEND, Ore. — Early spring in Central Oregon is a special time of year for those who love both skiing and mountain biking. The slopes still offer plenty of thrills, and area singletrack can be in ideal shape for riding.

I recently took a couple of days off to enjoy lots of corn snow and hero dirt.

Just as we chase the powder during the winter, during the spring we chase the sun. Not just because the sun warms our faces, but because it thaws the snow into smooth, soft “corn” that can be just as satisfying as powder.

Exactly when that transforming thaw happens on any given day on the slopes is hard to determine.

Recently at Mt. Bachelor ski area, the groomed slopes started firm under clear blue skies, then softened throughout the morning and into the early afternoon.

The transition from winter snow to spring corn snow can be a three- to five-day process, a period when temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, according to the National Avalanche Center. The snow crystals will reshape through the freeze-thaw process.

In April and May, the snow conditions on the mountain can change rapidly, depending on temperatures. A run that is icy and hard can sometimes transform to soft and smooth in less than an hour. Some areas can get too warm, creating slush that can become deep and sticky.

Finding the right window between ice and stickiness is tricky. Most skiers and snowboarders looking for corn snow find it off-piste. But groomed runs as well can offer a half-inch to an inch of soft slush on warmer days.

In off-piste areas like the backside and Cow’s Face, it is crucial that skiers wait until the slopes soften, as icy conditions can be extremely dangerous.

Skiers and snowboarders at Bachelor have at least a few more weeks to ride at Bachelor, as the resort is tentatively scheduled to remain open through May 29, although that could change due to a lack of snow. Bachelor’s website (mtbachelor.com) reported a base depth of 68 inches on March 31, well below average for this time of year.

Hoodoo Ski area, just a few miles from Sisters on Santiam Pass, reported a base depth of 41 inches on the same day, also well below average. Hoodoo is tentatively scheduled to remain open on Fridays through Sundays through April 17. Visit skihoodoo.com for more information.

As the crowds thin out on the ski slopes, more folks are taking to the trails in Central Oregon.

Mountain biking is a year-round sport in the region, and certain areas east and north of Bend have remained in premium riding condition during most of this mild winter.

Singletrack trails just west of Bend that often are not rideable until late April are ready nearly a month ahead of what is typical.

Recently, I did the classic Ben’s-Phil’s loop, the Ticket to Ride loop and an out-and-back ride on Mrazek just out of Shevlin Park. These trails were all for the most part snow-, ice- and mud-free and offered tacky tread that mountain bikers like to call “hero dirt.”

Riders who are eager to hit other trails west of Bend that are higher in elevation, such as the Wanoga network, should exercise patience. Most of those trails need more time to thaw out before they will be enjoyable and before they can be ridden without causing damage. Riding muddy trails can leave behind ruts that dry into the trail.

For more information on trail conditions, visit bendtrails.org.

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