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Spring Skiing Adventure: Tam McArthur Rim

Tam McArthur

As a skier in Central Oregon, spring is my favorite time of year. The Cascades are no longer the storm-battered nightmares of winter as the days mature. Even so the snow is still deep, the nights are crisp, and the slopes are turning to corn. I love skiing in my shades.

For the past few years my wife and I have celebrated spring’s arrival in the best way we know how: By joining some friends for a long weekend of backcountry skiing based out of some yurts under Tam McArthur Rim. It’s a cozy good time.

After messing about in the untracked bowls and moody glades that drain off the rim’s 1.5-mile-long escarpment, it’s time for slippers and crackling wood fires in a funny round home. Hot chocolate happens.

Tam McArthur Rim

Tam’s best spring skiing terrain sits in the Three Sisters Wilderness above a pair of lakes that are cut off most of the year by a five-mile stretch of snowy road that isn’t plowed. It is lonely and quiet. The yurts overlook the biggest lake, Three Creeks Lake, and from there you can strap on the skins or snowshoes and tool up through the hemlocks to find runs like Velvet and views of the volcanoes. Back at the yurts you have a sauna, a woodshed, and an outhouse. You get water out of the ground from a nearby spring.

Tam McArthur Rim

A wilderness yurt is not for everyone and backcountry skiing can get you killed. Tam has plenty of easy, safe places to ski but it’s also big and scary and prone to avalanches. There’s no ski patrol to keep you safe. So hire a guide if you lack the equipment and training. The same folks who rent the yurts, Three Sisters Backcountry, also act as guides.

This year we lucked out. The Three Sisters folks ferried us in on snowmobiles and we spent the next few days skiing in thin jackets and drinking beer outside in our boots. It was warm and beautiful but Tam still held pockets of cold, north-facing snow, too. Soon it’ll all melt and the hikers and paddlers will come. I’ll be there then, too, but my mind will be on spring.

Tim Neville
Tim Neville
Tim Neville is a correspondent for Outside magazine and frequent contributor to the New York Times travel section. An avid skier, fly fisher and gadabout, Tim has traveled to more than 60 countries and every state save Michigan. His favorite place? Being home in Bend.