Spring in Oregon is a great time for backcountry skiing. The longer, sunny days and deep late-season snowpack are ideal for exploring higher peaks and longer runs. The Wallow Mountain Range in Northeastern Oregon, often referred to as the Oregon Rockies, is just the place to visit. The range extends 40-miles and approaches 10,000-feet in elevation, a stark contrast to the more well known coastal Cascade Range.
Ask Oregon outdoor adventure expert, Allison Miles, shared details of her mid-March trip to the Wallowas. Her group experienced a great three-day stay at the Wallowa Alpine Hut backcountry hut, touring and skiing the diverse terrain. They encountered every type of weather and snow condition from spring corn to a foot of fresh powder. She says, “The Wallowas are totally different than the coastal volcanoes, there tends to be drier snow and they’re more like a true mountain range—they’re just massive—huge!” Once experienced, the remote serenity and majesty of the Wallowa Range is unmistakably in a class of its own.
Wallowa Alpine Huts offers four huts in different areas of the range—McCully Basin, WingRidge and nearby BigSheep, and the Norway Camp where Miles group stayed at an elevation of 7,000 feet on the southwestern edge of the Wilderness Area.
The Norway camp is accessed via a combination of snowmobiling and ski touring on the eight-mile trek in. The lodging is a rustic two-story hut with a bunkbed loft warmed by a woodburning stove and a full kitchen on the main level—there’s even a wood-fired sauna. The views of the surrounding mountains are million dollar views Allison says, “You can just sit at the hut and stare out at the ski lines you want to do. There’s tree skiing and glades right out from the hut.” It is after all, what’s outside that’s the real draw.
Groups have the entire wilderness area around the hut to explore for either four day long-weekend trips or five day mid-week trips day trips. Allison says, “The terrain is endless, anything you want to ski, steeps mellow, tree skiing, high alpine, cirques, peaks you can climb and ski off the peaks, there’s couloirs. For us we got it great and sample a little bit of everything.”
The group experienced three great days of touring and skiing with a combination of sunny skies and a foot of dry powder.
Beyond the epic skiing Allison shares that the highlight of the trip was the sense of solitude, she says, “We’d get to these ridgetops and you’d see the mountains extended out forever—it felt like you were in this huge wild place and nobody else was even close.”
The Wallowa Alpine Huts are by reservation only with bookings for 2018 already filling up. Visitors should be advanced skiers with knowledge and experience of traveling in avalanche terrain. All skiers should come prepared with their own gear. Touring and splitboarding rentals are available through the Mountain Shop in Portland, Backcountry Gear in Eugene, or Crow’s Feet Commons in Bend.
If you do go, Halfway, Oregon is the nearest town, Allison suggests The Main Place in Halfway as a great meet up spot for breakfast. She also eyed up a bar in town called Wild Bill’s. On the way out, stop at Barley Brown’s Beer in Baker City for a pint, great beer and good food—you definitely earned it!