The Feel-Good Resort Near Sisters

A family looks over mountain views at Hoodoo Ski Area.

In 1938 Bend’s Ed Thurston looked out upon the craggy Central Oregon Cascades and decided to build a ski resort on Hoodoo Butte. And we’re sure glad he did.

Now, 84 years later, Hoodoo Ski Area is well known for its comfortable down-home vibe as well as being “steeper, deeper and cheaper” than its competitors. Such a reputation, though, didn’t happen by accident. When Chuck Shepard took over as owner in 1999, he set about modernizing the beloved ski resort, which was originally built primarily from surplus World War II materials.

Under Shepard’s watch Hoodoo has added a 60,000 square foot lodge, the Hodag chair—which gives riders access to the backside terrain—and the Autobahn Tubing Park with its 800-foot-long runs. 

But those updates proved to be merely the tip of the iceberg. The thing that Hoodoo enthusiasts will tell you time and time again is that Hoodoo just feels different. It feels comfortable. Like home. 

Maybe it’s because it’s one of the smaller Central Oregon ski resorts and everything from the lifts to the ticket counter, powder shop and restaurant are within a few steps of one another. Maybe it’s because, free from the stress and constrictions of a larger, more corporate resort, employees and visitors alike all seem to be having fun. Or maybe it’s the live music every Friday (dubbed “Friday Night Lights”) or the abundant night skiing. Whatever it is, it’s a positive, welcoming feeling that locals and visitors brag about as if they’ve discovered some new secret spot.

“We’re having a blast,” confirmed Jennifer Davis, Hoodoo’s marketing coordinator. “[Hoodoo] likes to integrate things that will surprise you.”

Like their recurring afternoon “Hotdogs and Hodags” events where, courtesy of local snow-riding company Blackstrap, Hoodoo serves up FREE hot dogs and goggle covers? Yeah. Like that. 

It’s hard to beat “free,” but then again Hoodoo Ski Resort has always worked to keep skiing and snowboarding affordable, an ethic that adds to the relaxed mom-and-pop feel. And that makes it easier to budget and plan for a Central Oregon ski vacation for the first time, or year after year. 

For years now, Hoodoo has boasted “Thrifty Thursdays”—ride all day for just $29. In a time of $150-plus lift tickets, Thrifty Thursdays feel like a gift from a bygone era. Indeed, it’s one of Central Oregon’s best-kept secrets. Oh, and kids seven and under always ski for free. And they LOVE Harold the Hodag and his hotdogs.

The History of Hoodoo’s Folkloric Mascot, the Hodag.

Wait. You don’t know what a Hodag is? Well, you might be forgiven, as these fearsome beasts are rare and weren’t thought to be indigenous to Central Oregon. Newspapers in Northern Wisconsin first reported their existence in the 1890s and noted that they had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end.” Scary! But here’s the thing: they were discovered by Eugene Shepard, a relative of Hoodoo owner Chuck Shepard.

And so it was perhaps a surprise to no one when Chuck, while rambling around Hoodoo Ski Area’s 800 acres of terrain, discovered a mountain Hodag. Luckily, this version seemed friendly—green, smiling and with an appetite for single gloves, goggles and french fries. You know, ski-hill fare. Harold the Hodag, Hoodoo’s lovable mascot, has happily been the face of the resort for years now.

The Hodag mascot at Hoodoo.

Accommodation Options when Skiing Hoodoo

Outside of the Ski House Inn

Harold’s home is on the hill, but visitors will need their own accommodations. Fortunately there are a plethora of cozy options, in nearby Sisters (25 minutes away) and Bend (55 minutes) as well as neighboring areas. In Sisters, try Five Pine Lodge, which often offers ski-and-lodging discounts; Left Coast Lodge, popular with adventurers (bike storage and pet friendly!) or Ski Inn Taphouse and Hotel, which boasts sixteen taps, great food and a convenient downtown location.

Just outside Sisters, try the beautiful and historic Suttle Lake Lodge with their top-tier cocktails and gorgeous rooms or enjoy the rustic-luxe of Lake Creek Lodge in Camp Sherman. In Bend, we love the independently-owned Wall Street Suites, a boutique luxury motel on the edge of downtown. Bend’s Campfire Hotel is another favorite which has recently undergone a modern makeover.

A Sweet Terrain Park at Hoodoo–Who Knew?

Hoodoo—always looking to add new ways to have fun on the mountain—is getting serious about pipes, jibs, rails and other features. In fact, this season they’ll be updating their terrain park and adding a terrain park manager who will oversee the new attractions. Davis reports that Hoodoo Ski Resort’s new park will be perfect for intermediate and advanced rippers, but still offer approachable features and terrain suitable for first-year riders. 

Hone your skills now because back this season after proving a smashing, slashing success these last five years is “Prequel,” an old-school freestyle snowboarding and skiing competition, sponsored by Snoplanks. And all of the proceeds are donated to Oregon Adaptive Sports. Also returning this spring is the now-famous Snake Run Rally, a grassroots, hand-dug banked slalom snowboard event put on by passionate locals.

A competition at Hoodoo.

Is Hoodoo a Good Place for Beginners?

Two people cross country ski with mountain views.

Much like the incoming terrain park at Hoodoo, which should prove an ideal playground for a range of skill levels, Hoodoo’s 10 “green” or “easy” runs offer plenty of beginner-friendly options for those looking to wiggle their way down the mountain. 

And don’t forget: if you value fitness over flying downhill, sliding rails, or clearing tabletops, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday Hoodoo grooms more than 10 kilometers of snow for cross-country skiing.

When does Mt. Hoodoo Open Each Season?

For the 2022-23 season, Hoodoo Ski Area plans on opening up shop the first weekend after Thanksgiving: Nov. 25-27. And given that Mother Nature has gifted us with plenty of snow already, Davis reports that Hoodoo is right on track for their late-November opening. 

So it’s clearly a menagerie of things—the events, location, terrain and really just a feeling like no other that makes Hoodoo Ski Area a perennial favorite. From the free hotdogs to the Hodag, to the terrain park, easy access, open runs, good snow and good vibes, Hoodoo really is the people’s resort.

Davis, like Harold and most all others who call Hoodoo home, is enthused about the 2022-23 season.

“We want [visitors] to walk away thinking, ‘that was the most fun I’ve had—ever!’”

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