June 2014- In our endless quest to find exciting places to point our airplanes, there are two undeniable factors that almost always dictate if any new destination is going to end up at the far end of a flight plan. And you'll be surprised to find out they have nothing to do with hundred-dollar hamburgers.
Frankly, the Holy Grail for every cross-country pilot is that elusive destination where a few hours—or a few days—spent there will remind us why we earned our ticket in the first place. These destinations will have two attributes that separate them from so many others: something cool to do after you land, and off-airport transportation to get you there.
One beautiful destination can be found on the east side of Oregon's Cascade Range at Sunriver Resort and Airport (S21). It will be hard to find a more inclusive destination for pilots, one that offers free and easy shuttles from the airport to a long list of indoor and outdoor attractions. And while Sunriver's shuttles are ready to escort you off-airport, the airport offers another method of transportation that makes it one of this writer's top fly-in fun spots.
Free use of the airport's bicycles.
A brilliant solution for easy access
Taken at face value, you could say that bicycles are not unique. But the way Sunriver Airport has placed an entire bike lot full of them ready for free use by visiting pilots makes this a brilliant and extremely enjoyable element of any trip into S21.
"The loaner bike program at the airport was started about nine years ago by the previous airport manager," said Stephanie Hartung, Sunriver Airport's manager. "Some of our airport staff members lived close enough to ride a bike to work, and had their bikes sitting around at the airport. Someone flew in one day and was simply offered a bike to borrow to go to lunch on a nice day.
"Sunriver is very popular to bike around since there are 35 miles of paved pathways and most of the terrain is completely flat, making it accessible to people of all fitness levels. With the popularity of biking in Sunriver in general, this idea took hold."
Hartung, a pilot for 39 years who added her commercial rating five years ago, knows that the free bicycles are a big draw that keeps transient traffic coming back each summer season. "Over the years, the number of bikes has increased," she explained. "Each year, Sunriver's Bike Barn, a part of the resort, adds new bikes to our inventory, and we now offer about 25 bikes at the airport for fly-in customers to borrow for the day.
"We generally put the bikes out on the racks as soon as the weather gets warmer in the spring, and when the pathways are clear of snow—usually around April—and they are available until around November when it just gets too wintery to ride."
Terrain that's prime for vacationing
An arrival to Sunriver is one that will be remembered for its glorious scenery, views of the many deep blue lakes of the Cascades, and on clear "plus-one-million" days, stunning vistas from Mount Hood to Crater Lake.
From any direction, point the nose at the majestic snowcapped peaks of the Three Sisters, just west of the resort and airport. As you descend, the tranquility of the Deschutes River comes into view, and you'll spot people below on horseback, hikers on trails and families on bikes enjoying healthy quality time, and paddle boarders gently dotting the river between pods of floaters and kayaks. The closer you get, the better it all looks, until soon you are parked and on your way to the river's edge, where you can dip a toe—or a fishing line—in the sparkling clear water.
This is a destination that serves two very different purposes. It can be a very good place for a playful day trip, but can also serve as a base for extended vacations to explore the beauty of central Oregon.
How it's organized
"The Sunriver area is actually owned by three major entities," explained Molly Johnson, Sunriver Resort's senior marketing manager.
"The Resort has the lodge and rooms, condos and homes for rent; they own the golf courses, a pool, tennis courts and the Sage Springs Spa and fitness center. The Village at Sunriver is owned by a private company, and the restaurants and shops are owned independently; the bike trails, roads and other tennis courts are all owned by the Sunriver Homeowners Association," Johnson said.
"Many private homeowners put their homes into a rental pool managed by several property management companies, so there are lots of choices for coming to Sunriver to stay for a day or two, or for an extended vacation."
A laid-back airport—with all the conveniences
S21 is a busy private airport that is well maintained and receives a wide variety of airplanes each year. Because the resort offers so much to do in proximity to the airport, it is not uncommon to see everything from antique aircraft to the most expensive bizjets on the ramp.
"We have about 16,000 operations per year," Hartung said, "with 40 percent jet traffic and 60 percent light aircraft. Some of the most interesting planes that have flown in are either the very old or very new. We've had a 1929 New Standard biplane which was a gem of an airplane parked next to a Gulfstream V that was outfitted with a king-sized bedroom suite in the aft cabin and a personal gym with sauna!"
As private airports go, Sunriver provides transient pilots with the amenities and services that are expected and welcomed, such as full-service fuel (Jet-A and Avgas), an FBO building open 24 hours a day, Wi-Fi and a computer with internet. They also arrange coffee, tea and ice service to customers and aircraft; catering; overnight hangars for rent; around-the-clock courtesy shuttles; and of course, those popular free bikes!
Sunriver's impressive airport FBO has an unmistakable ambiance. Six large Adirondack chairs on the comfortable front porch offer an absolutely perfect place to rest and watch air traffic. Overall, the vibe at the airport is laid-back, friendly and gives aviators a sense that they are truly welcome here.
With the pleasant exception of frequent airplane noise, the location is quiet and scenic—a place where pilots and their passengers can unwind and recharge while breathing in pristine clean air as they solve the only problem they'll have: what activities to do first.
From a purely operational standpoint, much work has been done to accommodate more frequent and larger traffic. In the spring of 2009, a new runway was constructed and strengthened for large jet aircraft. The runway's width meets the minimum requirements of many Part 135 operations.
But at 4,164 MSL with a 5,461-foot-long runway, pilots always need to be aware of density altitude (DA) issues on hot days, and operations in these conditions also relates to the field's existing noise abatement procedures.
"My best advice on the DA is to know your aircraft performance specs very well and get the temperature from Unicom or in the FBO so that you can calculate performance accurately," explained Hartung. "There is plenty of runway for most aircraft to handle the DA, but be cautious as to time of day, winds, humidity and temperature.
"For novice pilots, don't be concerned with noise abatement. An aircraft in a turn has increased wing loading and increased stall speed, so if you need to, fly straight out and don't make the noise abatement turn off to the west of Runway 36. If you're dealing with DA and don't want to initiate this turn, don't! Keep safe rather than worrying about noise."
However, westbound departures need to be aware of the rising terrain. It is not uncommon under conditions that can raise DA for some carbureted piston airplanes to make 360-degree climbing turns well to the west of the airport environment before proceeding over the Three Sisters area of the Cascades en route toward Eugene and the Willamette Valley.
That is, of course, if you were ever inclined to leave. Sunriver is one of those rare destinations served by a convenient airport that offers something for everyone—literally.
An endless supply of activities all year
Located just south of Bend in the heart of central Oregon, Sunriver Resort is an all-season, 3,300-acre getaway with endless activities, including world-renowned golf, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, rafting, fishing and award-winning spa facilities. A leisurely six-mile canoe, kayak or raft trip down the wild Deschutes River allows you to enjoy spectacular scenery along the way.
And at all times of the year, the community of Bend, and the resort—itself a full-fledged community—host an assortment of festivals, celebrations and other events that are well attended and very popular.
But as a pilot, none of that matters quite as much as the food. "We fly to food," as the T-shirt says, and with nine restaurants, Sunriver has you covered with everything from premium cuts and fresh local trout, to a quick bite in between activities.
For upscale dining, The Grille at Crosswater presents New American cuisine featuring diverse dishes prepared with the freshest and finest local ingredients. And at Meadows at the Lodge, sustainable and organic ingredients are used in specialties such as braised salmon and Anderson Ranch lamb Bolognese.
For a more casual setting, Owl's Nest is the perfect place to take in the gorgeous views from a heated outdoor deck. Or bike over to the family-friendly Zeppa Bistro for wood-fired pizza, panini, fresh salads and wine offerings. If your days are just too busy to sit for a meal, pilots "in between adventures" can stop by the Merchant Trader for deli-style dishes, pastries, soup, salads and sandwiches that can be packed to go.
Two of the Northwest's most sought-after beverages are also found in abundance at Sunriver. Bellatazza Coffee Shop has won awards for its espresso preparation, coffee roasting, tea and pastries. And for Northwest craft beer tasting, Besson Commons—home to Central Oregon Beer Week—is the place to sit outside on the grass and enjoy handcrafted local microbrews while taking in live music and the scenery. (Besson Commons is only open seasonally, so call ahead if this is the reason you're flying in.)
Golf is huge at Sunriver, and for a bite between rounds, McDivot's Café located next to the Woodlands Golf Course putting green, or Turn Café at Crosswater Course offer breakfast sandwiches, specialty burgers, deli sandwiches and beverages.
And speaking of golf, with 63 holes at the resort, golfers will be in awe of Sunriver's four courses. Acclaimed course architect Bob Cupp designed the award-winning Crosswater course as well as Caldera Links, a family-friendly nine-hole course designed to make the game of golf approachable for all skill levels. These two courses are open to resort guests only, not day visitors.
Robert Trent Jones, Jr. designed The Woodlands course, regarded by many as one of Oregon's finest championship golf courses. And the Meadows is a John Fought course, often called one of Oregon's most unique golf courses because of its carefully preserved wetlands, forested meadows and sparkling waters.
... and hauntings!
"Military historians might recognize the Sunriver Resort property as the former location of Camp Abbot," said Johnson. "Major training exercises were carried out here by the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II.
"Celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2014, The Great Hall used to be the site of the Officer's Club. Now, after a conversion to a premium meeting space, this hall is rumored to be haunted by an unnamed army officer," Johnson continued.
"The friendly ghost has made his presence known through sightings, noises—and [has] even appeared in a few wedding photos!"
You'll be welcomed here
There is a profound feeling of being welcome on the Sunriver Airport ramp. And the warm, hospitable nature of anyone you meet who works at S21 is indeed by design. "There is a sense of pride at the airport that starts with Scott and Stephanie [Hartung] and resonates through the entire staff," Johnson said.
"Pilots and their passengers are very important at Sunriver Resort. That's why all who land here are extended complimentary shuttle service or airport loaner bikes, and the airport staff always has a fresh pot of coffee brewing!"
"We have a staff of six people," said Hartung, "all of whom are pilots of varying backgrounds. Being pilots themselves gives them a strong advantage in knowing what customers need and want at an airport, and they all have a good understanding of Unicom, weather, aircraft systems and airport operations and functions."
Experience nature's finest
For pilots anywhere in the United States looking for a new destination in the West, Sunriver Airport will be easy to find and hard to forget. The Cascades Range to the west of the field does make things interesting, but with a bit of preflight planning, a long cross-country that ends at S21 will be a flight over sweeping vistas of nature's finest scenery. The peaks of the nearby Cascades give way to Oregon's Dry Side—high desert that is spectacular and feels one step away from untamed wilderness.
And if it's really a $150 hamburger that you crave, the aviation-friendly people who greet you at Sunriver Airport will know where to point you. They love to talk airplanes, and when you're on this ramp, you're with family. The challenge will not be to make new friends—they can be found in abundance—but to decide which of the many activities you'll choose.
On your first trip into Sunriver, the best advice is to take it easy, play it cool and grab a free bike for a mellow pedal along the banks of the Deschutes.
As your blood pressure lowers and your smile widens, you can then begin planning Day Two—or Three. Because if you just came to Sunriver, Ore. for a quick few hours, it won't be long before you'll be trying to figure out a way to stay a little longer.
PIPER: Dan Pimentel has worked in journalism and graphic design since 1979, and is the president and creative director of Celeste/Daniels Advertising and Design (celestedaniels.com). He's an instrument-rated private pilot and owns a Piper Cherokee 235, and has been writing the Airplanista Aviation Blog (airplanista.com) since 2005. You can find him on Twitter as @Av8rdan. Send questions or comments to editor [AT] piperflyer [DOT] com.