Fly By

Pre-Season Pyroclastination

ABOVE Much of our early season hiking takes place over rock and dirt, generating a moment of disbelief with the fast transition from bare ground to mid-thigh snow. Ben Ferguson at the transition zone.

Central Oregon has a unique mountain landscape, lined with pyroclastic material ejected from the Cascadian volcanos themselves when they erupted thousands of years ago. But perhaps more important is the unique mixture of shattered volcanic rock; a light material that is easy on the snowboard base if you happen to hit bottom.

This means that when the first snow comes—sometimes as early as September—the potential for riding up high comes along with it. All we need is a foot or two to scratch out those first few lines, and when there’s four or five feet on the ground, splitboard-accessed sessions are a go in the high country near Bend.

It’s a summer hobby of mine to seek out pyroclastic zones so when the snow falls, we can ride them without worrying about shark fins destroying our boards and bodies. All I need are riding partners who are game to get up high when fall is still in the air. PVC pipe and wood rail sessions have their place for early season stoke, but building jumps, hitting cliffs and riding real lines are all possible as well.

An easy build, big air and four feet of snow over pyroclastic material makes for a remarkable early season moment. Ben Ferguson, frontside 360.

ABOVE An easy build, big air and four feet of snow over pyroclastic material makes for a remarkable early season moment. Ben Ferguson, frontside 360.

For the last couple years, my go to partners have been Ben and Gabe Ferguson. While the teenage brothers are known for their transition skills, they’re also all-around riders who simply love boarding. But their competitive obligations also mean worried parents when it comes to early season backcountry missions. I started bringing Ben and Gabe out into the backcountry before the lifts were spinning a couple years ago, and within a few trips their parents put some trust in my judgement and ability to keep them safe.

So when 15 inches fell above 7,000 feet on September 17, 2015, we set out for a cinder cone an hour off the Cascade Lakes Highway. It was bone dry below the snow line, and an hour or two of hiking took us to it. But once we reached 7k, it was as full on winter. We built a jump to get things rolling—a good warmup mission.

By our third trip of the pre-season, we had our sights set on larger lines. As we geared up to approach one of my favorite Central Oregon volcanoes, we had to put our splitboards on our backs and began the walk on dirt. But as we climbed, snow began to show. Within two hours, we were in an area I’d never ridden before and the sun was just beginning to rise. Early morning light illuminated new features one by one; lines, windlips and a great jump spot. Ben, fresh off a mission to AK six months’ prior, led the charge into a 1,000-foot line, airing a cliff in the middle and spraying powder out the bottom. Gabe followed, spraying windlips back to the jump spot. It only took a small wedge to put the boys in the air. All this in early November, with the lifts at nearby Mt Bachelor yet to spin. It was payoff for a decade of searching, and proof that fall can offer the full range of riding opportunities, if you’re willing to put in the legwork.


ABOVE Five hundred feet below the end of this run is all dirt and rock. You have to follow the freezing levels meticulously in order to know exactly when and where to score in October. Ben Ferguson reaps the rewards.

This article appears in issue 14.1. Subscribe today.



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