Friday, November 30, 2007

Great Weekend

This storm cycle has dropped more snow than expected... there's more snow on the way... and most ski areas will be open this weekend. Life is good. Some of this weekend's highlights:

Additional Ski Area Openings... Skibowl opens today (Friday) at 3pm and they'll be open through the weekend (and probably beyond...). The small Mt. Hood ski areas (Cooper Spur and Summit) will also be open this weekend. Farther south, Hoodoo is set to go too.

More Terrain Opening... Runs off the Mt. Hood Express and Shooting Star Express lifts open today (Friday) at Mt. Hood Meadows. And Timberline is expected to have most of the lower mountain open this weekend (with the exception of the new Still Creek Basin).

Fantastic Snow Quality... This storm cycle has been characterized by very light, dry and fluffy powder. That's great for skiing/boarding, but bad for snow base building. Because the snow is so light, the snow gets pushed around easily... meaning that "hitting bottom" will be a much greater threat than if the snow was wet & heavy. More light & fluffy snow will fall beginning later Saturday. Sunday looks snowy too -- but Sunday's snow will become increasingly wet & heavy later in the day.

Enjoy the weekend... it'll be a great one on the mountain. Be sure to take it easy on the roads -- they'll be snow-covered down to very low elevations.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Enjoy The Conditions NOW!

Darn... it's too bad there's not more of a snow base at the ski areas yet... because the new snow that falls between now and Sunday will be of FANTASTIC quality. It's ironic... because, this time of year, when the ski areas really need to build their initial snow base, they want wet & heavy snow -- not the light & fluffy stuff that's in the forecast. That's because the wet & heavy snow naturally compacts and tends to be stickier. It covers the rocks and brush better, it doesn't blow around as much, and it doesn't get scraped away as easily by skiers & boarders. That said... I'm sure the ski areas will take whatever they can get -- as long as it's white!

Recent new snow (and expected new snow in the next couple days) has made an extremely thin snow cover become not quite so thin. But it'll still be a thin cover through the weekend. Despite that, the snow quality will be excellent, as the snow level will stay at or below 2,000 ft. Get your turns in between now and Sunday... because changes are ahead.

Starting Sunday, it looks like we're going to enter the dreaded "Pineapple Express" pattern. For those unfamiliar with that term, it's a weather pattern characterized by warm, wet and windy conditions as southwesterly flow aloft directs lots of moisture into the Northwest. The source of that moisture is down near Hawaii, hence the name. Pineapple Express patterns bring rain to the ski areas -- and rain is likely up there from later Sunday through early next week. Hopefully... there will be enough of a snow base at the ski areas such that the snowpack will survive the warm & wet pattern. I think it will. And if it does... it will actually HELP the snow base, as the snowpack will get compacted and will serve as an excellent base to build from as we head through December.

Enjoy the conditions over the next few days... I'm going to try and get up there myself this weekend -- if it's not snowing in Portland. (Then I'll be stuck at work!)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More Snow

Tuesday evening update: A couple tweaks to the forecast (indicated in this font below). Overall, most everything is playing out how I thought it would...

The ski areas need it... and they're going to get it. There are two snow-producing storms on the horizon. The first arrives Monday night, with snow lasting through Tuesday. Later Wednesday, the second storm arrives, and the snow will fall with that storm through Thursday. And the snow level should drop to very low levels with both of these weather systems.

Here is my snow level forecast (+/- 500 ft):

Monday... falling to 2,500 ft late
Tuesday... 2,000 ft
Wednesday... 1,000 ft initially, then 3,000 ft
Thursday... 2,000 ft
Friday... 1,500 ft

And here are my expected snow totals:

Monday night-Tuesday storm:
Above 5,000 ft... 8-12"
3,500-5,000 ft... 6-10"
2,000-3,500 ft... 2-4"

Wednesday night-Thursday storm:
Above 5,000 ft... 8-12"
3,500-5,000 ft... 6-10"
2,000-3,500 ft... 3-6"

There is also the possibility, especially with the Wednesday night-Thursday storm, that the snow level will be low enough to bring snow to areas that seldom get any snow. The sticking snow level may be as low as 1,000 ft when the precipitation first arrives Wednesday evening. But the snow level will slowly rise back to 3,000 ft by Thursday morning.

At any rate, plan on a total of 1-2 feet of snow at Ski Bowl this week, with 2-3 feet at Meadows and Timberline. That should go a long way towards improving snow conditions on the mountain.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Opening Weekend

Those of you who made it up to the mountain... how was it?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Opening & Operating Plans

Here's a rundown of what we can expect this holiday weekend:

Timberline - 9am-3pm daily through the weekend. Two or three lifts will be open for skiing/boarding: Bruno and Palmer for sure; Pucci possible. The Magic Mile will also be open, but it will serve only as an access lift to/from Palmer. There' s not enough snow on the Mile's runs yet, so downloading will be required. Lift tickets will be discounted at $38.

Mt. Hood Meadows - 9am-3pm starting Friday. Two lifts will run: Buttercup and Easy Rider. Only beginner and lower intermediate terrain will be open. Lift tickets will be discounted at $40.

Mt. Bachelor - 9am-4pm starting Thursday. Two lifts will run: Pine Marten and Sunshine Accelerator. Only 4 runs will be open: Thunderbird, Skyliner, Home Run and Milky Way. Lift tickets will be discounted at $35.

All other Oregon ski areas - will not open this holiday weekend; more snow is needed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Timberline to open Palmer on Tuesday

Weather permitting, Timberline will open for skiing and boarding tomorrow (Tuesday). Riding will most likely be confined to the Palmer Snowfield... with downloading recommended (if not necessary) on the Mile. Depending on how much snow falls today, there's a chance that Timberline might be able to get some of the lower mountain open -- but the snow base will be skimpy. The Palmer Snowfield should be in EXCELLENT condition though -- I estimate that there has been 3-4 feet of new snow up there in the past week.

Timberline plans to operate daily through the holiday weekend, offering skiing and boarding on Palmer at a minimum. And the weather will permit it -- I expect sunny and dry weather up there all week.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Last Snow Chance

Monday morning update

Well, we got our foot of snow... and then some. This storm has been FANTASTIC, dropping more snow than expected. As I write this (5:30am), there is about 18" of snow on the ground at Timberline and Mt. Hood Meadows. Ski Bowl has 14" at the top. There will probably be another 4-8" today.

So... by the time it stops snowing tonight, base totals should be nearly 2 feet at Timberline & Meadows -- but it's an unpacked snow base. Compacted, it'll settle to 14-18", which is VERY marginal for skiing and snowboarding. There's no chance that Ski Bowl will have enough snow to open, but it'll be interesting to see what Timberline and Meadows decide to do.

Original Sunday post

As expected, the snow level has finally dropped... and as I write this (Sunday afternoon, 2:30pm), it's snowing hard on Mount Hood down to about the 3,500-foot elevation. The forecast I outlined in my previous post seems to be verifying -- we can expect up to a foot of snow at Timberline and Mount Hood Meadows between now and Monday evening. Ski Bowl should get several inches too, as the snow level will be as low as 1,500-2,000 feet Sunday night into Monday. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the snow totally shuts off after Monday -- with no snow in sight for at least a week. So this batch of snow is the last before Thanksgiving. Is a foot enough? In my opinion, no. Barring either a miracle (and an incredibly blown forecast) or some extremely creative snow management techniques at the ski areas (send crews into the trees with shovels & tell them to throw any available snow onto the ski runs), options for skiing & boarding in Oregon this coming weekend will be extremely limited. The only reasonable option, in my opinion, will be at Timberline -- up high -- on the Palmer Snowfield (which, by the way, should be in GREAT shape with all the new snow).

The long-range pattern looks uncooperative (for snow) through the holiday weekend. High pressure stays centered near the Northwest, keeping the West Coast dry, the Central USA cold and the Eastern States stormy. Beyond next weekend, the models are hinting at continued drier-than-normal weather, with a dominant pattern of north/northwest flow over the Northwest. Chilly, light snow-producing weather disturbances can definitely drop out of the north/northwest & brush by us in the projected pattern -- but the disturbances are usually weak and often have little moisture with them. Unfortunately, I see no sign of a "big snow" pattern in the long-range. Let's hope that the computer models change their tune... because if they don't, the start of the 2007-2008 ski season could be significantly delayed.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Opening Outlook & Thanksgiving

This weekend marks the traditional, published date on the calendar for tentative ski area openings. Resorts aim to be open the weekend before Thanksgiving so they have a few days to shake the bugs out before the holiday rush. Of course, mother nature makes the final decision -- and this year, she's decided there will be no skiing or boarding this weekend.

So... what about Thanksgiving skiing and boarding? Honestly, I don't have good news. It's going to be too warm through Saturday for any meaningful snow on the mountain. I'm hopeful that a cooler air mass arriving Sunday-Monday will have enough moisture with it to bring 8-12" of snow down to 3,000 feet. But since the Tuesday-Thursday period looks dry again, that Sunday-Monday system is our last best hope before Thanksgiving. Frankly, 8-12" won't be enough. The ski areas need another 2-3 feet. And I don't think they're going to get it before the holiday.

While not much of a consolation, keep in mind that Thanksgiving this year falls about as early as this holiday ever gets. Thanksgiving skiing & boarding is a crapshoot every year; the odds are tougher when Thanksgiving is early. But if the lifts aren't turning by the last week of November, then I'll consider it a late start to this season.

Most long-range forecasters agree that a snowy winter for the Cascades is more likely than not (because of the strengthening La Nina). But it's not unusual for La Nina winters to be a little sluggish early-on with the arriving snow. A "classic" La Nina season would produce normal or even below-normal snow in November and December. But frequent heavy snowfall during the back-half of La Nina winters usually makes up for the bashful beginnings... and then some. Winter hangs-on and spring often arives late during La Nina seasons. (Oppositely, El Nino tends to produce a good November & December -- but January-March can be disappointing and spring often arrives early during El Nino years. Sound familiar? That's how last year worked out.)

I'm not ready to give up hope for Thanksgiving holiday boarding just yet, but my hopes are fading. We'll see how this Sunday-Monday weather system plays out. At best, there will be very limited operations over the holiday at a one or two of the ski areas. At worst, nothing will be open.

Friday, November 9, 2007

New Lift at Timberline

While we all patiently wait for the coming snow season to begin, there is excitement at Timberline over the new Jeff Flood Express chairlift. Serving an area called "Still Creek Basin", the new chairlift marks the most significant terrain expansion at Timberline since the Palmer lift opened in the late 1970s.

This is a big project that took two summers to complete. Last summer, the liftline was cleared and new runs were cut. Major lift construction occured this past summer. The Jeff Flood Express (named after Timberline's long-time and nationally-respected snow grooming guru who was tragically killed in an auto accident a couple years ago) is the longest lift on Mount Hood. Thanks to high-speed detachable lift technology, the quad chair will speed riders more than 6,000 feet from bottom to top in about 6 minutes.

With the addition of the Jeff Flood Express, Timberline now has five high speed quad lifts -- the same number as nearby Mt. Hood Meadows. Unlike most other ski areas, Timberline prefers to cap the carrying capacity of their quads at 1,200-1,800 riders per hour (by hanging fewer chairs on the line). The new Jeff Flood Express will be no exception. Normally, a high speed quad might carry up to 2,800 riders per hour, but Timberline's management has been smart in recognizing that higher capacity lifts would too easily overwhelm the relatively small number of runs at their ski area. The lower capacity isn't without consequence, however; on the busiest days, when there are lines to board Timberline's lifts, the queue moves slower than one might expect. But the trade-off is less crowded runs.

The opening of the Jeff Flood Express will allow riders to ski/board several new runs. Most are low on the mountain, ensuring that they'll be open even on the worst of weather days. The lift is positioned between the Pucci and Stormin' Norman lifts with the top terminal a quick and easy ski to the base of the Magic Mile and to the lodges. The bottom terminal is far below the bottoms of Pucci and Norman, at 4,800 feet, making it the lowest point within the Timberline ski area. The old West Leg Road winds around through this new pod of runs. I drove down from Timberline this past summer along the West Leg Road, and got to see what many of the new runs look like. Most seem to be intermediate in difficulty with some steeper pitches, especially near the bottom. One of the primary criticisms about Timberline's terrain is that it's too flat... and while that perception about Timberline likely won't change with the addition of these new runs, the new terrain will add a considerable amount of character and variety to the ski area.

I expect that the Jeff Flood Express will operate daily once sufficient snow covers the runs. Since the new lift serves all of the existing runs in the Pucci lift pod, I imagine that Timberline may choose to keep Pucci closed most weekdays once the new lift opens. No big loss, because despite being only half as long, the old & slow Pucci lift takes just as long to ride as the new Jeff Flood Express will.

Regardless of the lift's actual opening day, Timberline is planning a grand opening celebration for the new Jeff Flood Express during the weekend of December 8-9.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Opening Outlook

Thursday 11/7 Update:

Well, the computer models have changed their tune (which they are good at doing)... and now it seems that Monday's storm will become Tuesday's storm instead. Worse, it now looks like a much warmer weather system. The snow will come at some point... it always does. But at this point, it seems that ski/snowboard season is at least two weeks away.

Original post:

After nearly three weeks of dry weather and high pressure over the Northwest... finally, a pattern change is in sight. While it doesn't appear that we're headed back to the very Cascade snow-friendly pattern that persisted during the first three weeks of October, we will be entering a wetter pattern that should bring some snow to the mountains.

The first system is due Friday... I expect minimal rain/snow from that storm. Consider it the sacrifical lamb -- the storm will die as it squashes the dominant high pressure ridge. From there, the door is open to stronger storm that should hold together when it moves in Saturday. That storm should drop a few inches of snow at Timberline & Mt. Hood Meadows. Ski Bowl is probably too low to get snow from Saturday's system. A third storm, due Monday, looks more promising yet -- and slightly colder. While not a whopper, another 4-8" should fall... even at Ski Bowl.

Looking further ahead, more typical November weather appears likely; meaning that weak to moderate storms should move through every 1-2 days. The snow base should gradually grow with each passing storm. We could really use a whopper storm to greatly add to the snow base, but I don't see that kind of storm coming in the short term.

So... we will probably need to be patient for a little while longer. With each storm that moves through, excitement and anticipation should continue to build... and with some luck, Thanksgiving skiing and boarding is definitely still possible. I'm still not ready to call it a likelihood, however.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

La Nina & This Winter

The first three weeks of October were sure promising, weren't they? Timberline and Mt. Hood Meadows had 2-3 feet of unsettled snow on the ground by the 20th of the month. And then... the pattern changed, and now the snow is nearly all gone. So far this fall, we've been through a very dry pattern that lasted for most of September, a very cool and wet pattern that prevailed during the first 2/3's of October, and lately we've endured a very dry pattern again that is beginning its third straight week. Lots of variety so far... and I believe there's more variety to come. It has to do with La Nina. Read on...

It seems that there is a lot of excitement in the air about the La Nina episode that has developed in tropical Pacific Ocean. For those unfamiliar with La Nina, it's a recurring (every 5-7 years) phenomenon characterized by stronger-than-normal easterly trade winds over the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The result is an area of cooler-than-average ocean temperatures in the central Pacific that, in turn, affects weather patterns over much of the Pacific. Historically, the stronger the La Nina episode, the stronger the winter jet stream, which often means lots of Cascade snow as storms are frequently directed at the Northwest. Hence the excitement about this year's La Nina.

But not so fast. According to snowpack data compiled and posted at one of my favorite websites (, La Nina episodes don't always lead to big snow years in the Northwest. In fact, of the 11 "weak" La Nina episodes since 1950, during only 5 of those winters did the total seasonal snowfall at Government Camp exceed the long-term average. Several of those years featured below-normal snow -- including the dreadful 2000-2001 season (Ski Bowl didn't open until January that year). But when you look at data during winters when La Nina was strongly developed, it's a much different story. Seven of the eight "strong" La Nina episodes since 1950 resulted in above-average snowfall at Government Camp. Only during the most recent strong episode (winter of 1999-2000) did Govy not reach it's average seasonal snowfall.

So... where do we stand going into this winter? La Nina conditions developed this past summer. They've persisted long enough now that this episode is a bona fide La Nina. Just this past month, the index used to the measure the strength of the episode indicated that we've entered strong La Nina territory. But that index must stay strong for several months in order for the La Nina episode itself to be classified as strong. But all indications are, at this point, that a strong La Nina is brewing. Again, hence the excitement about this year's La Nina.

If a strong La Nina is indeed developing, then above-average Cascade snowfall is a good bet for this winter. That doesn't necessarily mean the snow will come early, however. At the ski areas, of course the managers there like big snow years... but they like early snow years even better. Quality conditions at Thanksgiving and especially Christmas often determine how successful the season will be. And for visiting skiers and snowboarders, a deep, early base makes for a longer season with more boarding opportunities. I raise this point because I feel that too much emphasis & pre-season hype is placed on how much snow might fall over the course of the season -- and not enough attention is paid to when the big snow might come. Maybe that 's because when is a much more difficult forecast. An early snow can come in any year... La Nina or otherwise. And the snow can start late during any year... La Nina or otherwise. (Please remember this when there's panic in the air the next time an El Nino develops...)

I mentioned above that we've seen a lot of pattern variety so far this fall. And that is somewhat common during La Nina episodes. My guess is that the next couple months will continue to be quite variable. I envision spells of significant valley rain and mountain snow alternating with pronounced dry spells. There are signs that the next wet spell may arrive late next week. If so, that could be the start of the real snow base-building season. (The October episode was just a tease.) And it only takes a couple really good storms to get the lifts turning.

Thanksgiving skiing and boarding on Mt. Hood is still a very real possibility this year. But I wouldn't dare call it a likelihood... not yet. What is likely, however, is that the total seasonal snowfall on Mount Hood might be above average. But as for when the snow comes... flip a coin. Heads = early; tails = late. (But the summer butterflys on the mountain did arrive about a month early this year...)



A few of you know me, some of you may know of me, and most of you don't know who the heck I am. Let me introduce you to myself -- my name is Drew Jackson, and I work for KPTV FOX 12 as a meteorologist each weekday morning on Good Day Oregon, which airs from 4:30-9:00 a.m. I am also a long-time skier and frequent visitor to Mount Hood's ski areas. I learned to ski as a Powder Hound at Timberline back in the early 1980s... and have been hooked since. Enough about me...

I've started this blog with two goals in mind: To provide the best insight into the weather conditions specific to the Cascade mountains from a skier's perspective, and to provide timely news, analysis and commentary about Oregon's ski and snowboard industry. While reading each post, please recognize that my thoughts and opinions are my own (and not of my employer's).

With that said... check back often for updates and comment (politely) as you see fit. Thanks for stopping by!