Feeling out FernieWhy did you move to Bend? If you're like most people I know, you took a paycut in order to have Phil's Trail in your backyard or to get in a run along the River Trail at lunch. You're now drastically underemployed so that you can ski midweek at Mt. Bachelor or climb Monkey Face on a regular basis.
But Bend has changed a lot since you moved here-our real estate still qualifies as some of the most overvalued in the country, there's more traffic on the roads and the trails and more subdivisions between you and the forest. Some other communities, fearful of becoming what Bend is now, have printed bumper stickers like "Don't Bend Walla Walla." Some Bendites, discouraged with the changes, have searched for the "next Bend" - the next great place with a similar outdoor lifestyle, but without all the hoopla.
Two years ago, Doug Werme and Cheryl Stomps, avid skiers and mountain bikers, sold their Bend home with perfect market timing and bought a 100-year-old fixer-upper in Fernie, B.C., a ski town of 5,000 tucked away in a narrow valley in the rugged Canadian Rocky Mountains. They were drawn by "really good alpine skiing at Fernie Alpine Resort and a small town with nice people." It seemed like a good sign that a beautiful group of peaks visible from town are called the Three Sisters.
Bend's loss was Fernie's gain. They founded the Fernie Nordic Club, which grew rapidly to 229 members, and raised $40,000 to buy a snowmobile and Ginsu Groomer. Doug joined the ski patrol and became a local hero when he saved an 11-year-old boy during an in-bound avalanche at the ski area.
By the time they completed the extensive renovation on their house and spent two winters in Fernie, however, they realized that the winters were too harsh, the town was too small and, as nice as the Canadians are, they missed their friends in Bend. They moved back to Bend this past summer. Fernie's loss is Bend's gain.
Also about two years ago, nordic skier Dan Packman and his wife Sandee moved from Bend to McCall, Idaho in search of great skiing and a smaller community. At 5,000 feet, McCall (population 2,500) gets 174 inches of snow annually in town. Situated on the southern shore of Payette Lake, it looks attractive on the map.
Ultimately, though, the Packmans discovered the "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there" phenomenon. "There are four or five good places to cross country ski," says Dan, "but it turned out to be the place where the motorheads from Boise go. The forest is overtaken by snowmobiles in the winter and the lake is swarmed by jetskis in the summer. The town lacks infrastructure and amenities and the over-zealous resort developers are all going belly-up now." A couple of months ago, Dan and Sandee returned to their Bend home, grateful that they never sold it.
Another couple I know moved to Crested Butte, Colorado about two years ago to get away from the craziness here. With a population of 1,500 and an elevation of 8,900 feet, it has the fewest people and oxygen molecules of the three Bend alternatives profiled here. Skiing and mountain biking are the reasons to live in Crested Butte.
For backcountry skiers, the event to put on your calendar is the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse (www.elkmountaintraverse.org), a 40-mile overnight race from Crested Butte to Aspen over 12,303 foot Star Pass. The race, scheduled for March 28th, follows an old mail route and starts at the stroke of midnight to minimize avalanche danger. Each team of two is required to carry enough food and supplies to sustain themselves for 24 hours. I've visited Crested Butte several times for Fat Tire Bike Week, the original mountain bike festival, now celebrating 28 years (www.ftbw.com). The event features guided tours and races and lessons. There is hardly a more exquisite mountain biking experience than riding singletrack through head high Rocky Mountain wildflowers encircled by snow-capped peaks in late June.
As idyllic as that sounds, the couple found the winters too long and the town too small. They moved back to Central Oregon and bought a house in Sisters this past Spring.
MAYBE THE METHOW?
I spent Christmas cross-country skiing with friends in the Methow Valley in north central Washington and maybe it's different. The people I've met who moved there from Bend have actually stayed. In a future column, I'll tell you all about this slice of outdoor heaven.