Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bits & Pieces

What a treat -- Utah/Colorado type powder at our Oregon ski areas has made for the best holiday conditions in years! Lots more new snow coming between now and the weekend, and after that... it looks like it will dry out and warm up. More details below...

I've got a few miscellaneous items to discuss... read-on!

Trip Report (Skibowl, Christmas Eve day) I stopped by for a couple hours on my way home from Bend... and couldn't be more pleased that I did. The Upper Bowl was fantastic, lots of powder in the trees. There's plenty of snow cover now; hitting bottom was not an issue.

Trip Report (Mt. Hood Meadows, Christmas day) Another great day! I arrived around 10am to find the main parking lot about 80% full (it eventually filled). Cascade and Vista were both open, and there was plenty of powder along with nicely groomed runs. Snow started heavilly falling around noon, resulting in Cascade and Vista closures. The new snow was perfect in the afternoon. One kink in the day, however -- I think Meadows wasn't quite prepared for the amount of people who showed up. It wasn't super crowded, but having to wait 1 hour from the time I sat down in the Alpenstube to when my food showed up is pretty bad. I think the lodge staff was probably reduced given the holiday, and those working were overwhelmed. Hopefully it's an exception rather than the norm.

Meadows Parking update As it turns out, Meadows has decided not to make a significant change to their peak day parking plan after all. But, to encourage carpooling, Meadows will give a raffle ticket to people arriving in cars with three or more people on peak days. Ten winners in a drawing each peak day will each win a $50 Meadows gift card. If this incentive helps the parking situation in the main lot, then great! But if no measurable improvement is visible, then the smart bet is that Meadows will implement a stricter plan... but not until next season.

Heather Canyon update The buzz at Meadows is that Heather will be ready to go once the weather calms down. There's now plenty of snow, and they've been working to build the bridges over Clark Creek in the runout. We just need a couple clear & dry days so that the patrol can do some control work and rope construction. My prediction, given the weather outlook: Heather may open next week.

The new Jeff Flood Express at Timberline I haven't had a chance to write about this yet, but I was able to ski several of the new runs in this area a couple weeks ago. I'm pleased to say that the new runs add an additional layer of variety to Timberline. But overall, the terrain is somewhat similar to the rest of the lower mountain -- good for novice and intermediate skiers/boarders, but lacking in steep thrills for experts. Also, snowboarders beware: The West Leg Road route to the bottom of the lift is really flat. If the snow is soft or sticky, you'll be walking.

Weather Outlook The snow level will bounce around between 1,500 and 3,000 feet through the weekend, with an additional 3-4 feet of new snow likely. This storm cycle will have produced 6-8 feet of snow by the time all is said and done. And it now appears that we'll have a weather pattern change after this weekend. High pressure is projected to build across the West, allowing the sky to clear and temperatures to climb. The freezing level will take a hike up the mountain starting Monday, so enjoy the cold, dry, fluffy and deep new snow now. Next week will be much different...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yucky Rain

Ouch. It turned to be a very wet day on the mountain. This Sunday storm pulled up quite a bit of warm air out of the south... and the freezing level climbed to nearly 9,000 feet. Not a good day on the mountain at all.

Big weather improvements are coming, however. It still looks like we've got a wet and chilly week coming up, which should allow for some excellent skiing & boarding conditions. If you're looking for sunny & calm weather, however, it won't be your week. It'll be snowin' and blowin' much of the week with only short, occasional breaks from the storminess.

Here is a forecast update (as of Sunday evening):

Monday (Christmas Eve) - Snow, tapering off in the afternoon/evening. Snow accumulation 6-10". Accumulating snow level drops from 8,000 feet Sunday evening to 2,500 feet by Monday morning... further dropping to 1,500 feet later in the day.

Tuesday (Christmas) - Dry with some early sunshine, then increasing clouds with snow arriving by midday. Snow accumulation up to 4" before sunset, then 6-10" at night. Accumulating snow level 1,500-2,000 feet.

Wednesday - *** POWDER ALERT *** Snow, heavy at times... especially in the morning. Windy. On top of the 6-10" of new snow that fell during the night, expect another 8-12" of accumulation during the day. Accumulating snow level 1,000 feet (or lower).

Thursday - Increasing snow and wind. Snow accumulation 6-10" during the day, followed by another 6-10" at night. Accumulating snow level rising to 2,000 feet.

Friday - Increasing snow and wind again. Snow level rising... it's too soon to tell how high it will rise. New snow accumulations will be depending on where the rain/snow line sets up.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

TRIP REPORT (Fri 12/21) - Mt. Bachelor

Friday was a phenomenal day to be on any mountain in the Northwest. I was fortunate enough to be at Mt. Bachelor, as I'm in Bend for a few days visiting family.

The word "epic" has become a cliche in the skiing and snowboarding world, but no other word truly captures the essence of Friday any better. The sky was mainly clear; there was no wind; it was cold; the snow was light & dry; and it was busy but not overly crowded. And as an added bonus, the Northwest Express chair and runs opened for the first time this season... and Bachelor got the Summit chair open for business around noon.

Not surprisingly, the best skiing was over on the Northwest side of the mountain where 5 feet of snow lay untouched. That first run down Devil's Backbone was memorable, to say the least. Later in the morning, I made it up to the Summit shortly after it opened. There was a fair amount of wind-packed and slabby snow, so the top wasn't as good as the tree-lined runs lower on the mountain. But that didn't stop me from doing three top-to-bottom runs from the Summit down into the tree-lined bowls south of the Rainbow chair. Good stuff.

My only complaint was that Bachelor seemed to still be in "early December, no crowds" mode. They didn't run the Rainbow or Red chairs, despite up to 10 minute waits to board the Sunrise & Pine Marten lifts; they had minimal staffing in the lodges during the lunch rush; and the Pine Marten lodge still hadn't fully openend for the season. Not the best planning, in my opinion, for the first nice day after 4 feet of new snow that happens to be one day before the start of a major holiday period. It wasn't overly crowded, but the crowd could've and should've been better managed by having more facilities open. But in the big picture, it was a fantastic day.

And now... a brief weather update:

Saturday's storm looks a bit warmer (initially) than it did yesterday. So you'll notice a change in my snow level forecast below. A similar situation will occur with the next storm later Sunday. We'll be back to colder storms and lots of high-quality new snow by midweek, however.

Saturday - Increasing rain or snow. Snow level rising to 4,500 feet around midday, then lowering back to 3,000 feet in the evening. Snow accumulation 4-8" Saturday evening & overnight.

Sunday - A few morning snow showers, then increasing rain or snow in the evening. Snow level 3,000 feet in the morning, but rising to 6,000 feet by the time the rain/snow arrives in the late-afternoon or evening. Only minor snow accumulation during the day.

Monday (Christmas Eve) - Heavy snow at times and windy. Snow level down to 2,000 feet. Snow accumulation 8-14".

Tuesday (Christmas) - Mainly dry and cold early. Increasing clouds with snow arriving again by evening. Snow level 2,000 feet. No snow accumulation during the day.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

La Nina is Delivering

It's been quite a week so far! Last Sunday morning, Skibowl had 18" on the ground... now they have 50". And Meadows went from 35" on the ground to 75". The weather pattern responsible is a classic La Nina pattern; storm after storm arriving from the Pacific, with each one bringing lots of Cascade snow and lowland rain.

The mountains will get a breather from the storms on Friday. But the break will be a short one, as the next storm in the series is due Saturday. And it now appears that the weather pattern is going to remain active, with snow-producing storms arriving just about every other day for the next week. Earlier this week, I was fearful that we might transition to a wet but warmer pattern... now, I don't believe that will be the case. The storms lined up in the Pacific all look sufficiently cold to bring nothing but snow to the mountains, but some of the snow may be thick & heavy at times.

Here's how the next few days should play out:

Friday - Mainly dry, good visibility, possibly sunny. Freezing level 3,000 ft.
Saturday - Increasing snow and wind. Snow accumulation 4-8". Snow level 3,500 ft.
Sunday - Snow showers decreasing. Snow accumulation 3-6". Snow level 2,000 ft.
Monday - Increasing clouds, snow arriving later. Snow level 4,000 ft.
Tuesday - Snow, decreasing later. Snow accumulation 8-12". Snow level 2,500 ft.

I'm in Bend at the moment and plan to ski at Mt. Bachelor on Friday. The Northwest Express is tentatively scheduled to open for the season, and with some luck... Bachelor may get Summit open too. I'll let you know how it goes...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

TRIP REPORT (Tue 12/18) and Weather Update

Did I really say in my previous blog that this week's new snow would be of excellent quality (meaning light & fluffy)? I guess I did... so I guess I need to issue a correction.

It got much warmer today (Tuesday) than I thought it would... the snow level jumped to about 4,000 feet, and wet & heavy snow fell on me most of the day at Mt. Hood Meadows. It was one of those days when your goggles get foggy, your butt gets wet from wet chair seats, and you are generally wet with sweat on the inside because you've overdressed. Yep, that was my day. It won't go down as one of my top 10, that's for sure. But the good news is that the snow base is increasing steadily, and by Christmas day, there should be a lot fewer stumps, rocks and small trees poking through the snow.

Another storm is due Wednesday morning. This next storm should be a little colder than Tuesday's storm, so instead of it being 32 degrees at the base of Meadows, it should be more like 28-30 degrees. And this next storm will produce the most snow so far in this storm cycle. Look for 8-14" Wednesday, and another 8-14" Wednesday night through Thursday.

Thursday looks great -- a lower snow level (1,000 feet) and colder air will dry the snow and make the new snow lighter & fluffier. Friday looks nice and cold too, but there won't be much new snow on Friday.

That's all for now... enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

Here it comes... lots and lots of snow! The graphic above is my updated Monday morning forecast for Mount Hood. We've entered a very active weather pattern... and there should be significant new snow every day this week. It'll be high-quality new snow too... as the snow level will be no higher than 3,000 feet all week. But be prepared for stormy weather -- it'll be snowin' and blowin' up there.

Looking further ahead, I'm a little concerned about a wet & mild weather pattern developing over the weekend. But, even if that pattern develops, the indications are that it won't last long. There's still lots of time for the computer models to change their tune between now and then, however, so we'll hope for a different tune!

I'm going to head up the hill for some turns this afternoon. More later...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Snow on the Horizon

New snow has been hard to come by lately... but it looks like that's about to change. It now appears that, starting Friday night, a much more favorable weather pattern (for Cascade snow) will develop over the Northwest.

The graphic above is my 7-day forecast for Mount Hood. As you can see, I expect that the snow level will remain at or below pass-level for the entire week coming up. The mountain will get a shot at significant snow from three moderate-intensity storms that are lined-up in the Pacific. The first one arrives Friday night and continues through Saturday. After a brief break on Sunday, storm #2 arrives Sunday night and continues through Monday. Tuesday is up on the air... we'll be on the northern edge of a storm that is headed towards southern Oregon and northern California. Storm #3 is scheduled to arrive later Wednesday. All three storms should provide at least 8-12" of new snow... and possibly more than that.

Obviously, if this forecast holds, the ski areas will get a MUCH NEEDED boost to their snow bases heading into the critical holiday period. While the snow cover is marginally sufficient at Timberline and Mt. Hood Meadows right now, Skibowl and Mt. Bachelor are struggling with their meager bases and several other Oregon ski areas (Hoodoo and Willamette Pass, for example) lack enough snow to open. With this next storm cycle, I expect the situation to improve dramatically.

Enjoy the new snow this weekend... and feel free to report on the conditions in the comments of this blog post.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Parking at Meadows

(Note: If you haven't read the post & comments about this topic on "Matt's Blog" at Mt. Hood Meadows' website, you should do so before you read my lengthy post here....)

It appears that Mt. Hood Meadows is getting ready to change how they handle parking on peak days. An announcement about their new plan is expected on December 20th. Without knowing specifics of their plan, we do know that it will apply to the peak days between Christmas and New Year's and to weekend days in January & February.

For those unfamiliar with this issue, Mt. Hood Meadows simply doesn't have enough parking for all cars arriving on peak days. Futhermore, late-arriving guests -- many of whom are infrequent visitors relatively new to the skiing/boarding experience -- are forced to park in remote lots or on the access road. And if those guests need the services that only the main base lodges can provide (rentals, day care, lessons, etc.), then a crowded and time-consuming shuttle ride becomes necessary. The experience can be overwhelming and souring to those who are forming their initial impressions about both Mt. Hood Meadows and skiing/boarding in general.

That's the problem... it's easy to identify. But reasonable solutions are difficult to achieve... and many are controversial.

The simplest solution, in concept, is for Meadows to add more parking. That's easier said than done, however. While Meadows does have plans to add some additional parking in the future, an expansion of this type is very involved. Extensive environmental studies are necessary, other alternatives need to deemed less practical, funding needs to be secured, and discussions must occur with the various opposition groups so that the issue doesn't result in a lengthy and costly lawsuit. Expanded parking at Meadows is several years away at the earliest, and even with a modest expansion, demand may still exceed supply on peak days. Other solutions are necessary.

The short-term solution that seems to have the most "buzz" is for Meadows to restrict parking (on peak days) in the upper main lot to vehicles that contain three or more people. It is important to note, however, that Meadows has not officially announced a plan -- this one or otherwise. But if this plan is implemented, it would help in both aspects of the problem. It would (hopefully) reduce the total number of cars arriving at Meadows, and it would cause the upper main lot to fill more slowly... meaning that there would be more room for late-arriving families and carpoolers. The HRM and Annex lots would fill faster with this plan. Understandably, the thought of this plan being implemented is upsetting to many long-time Meadows guests who are of the "first come, first serve" mentality. This plan also might create some logisitical enforcement issues that could result in problematic traffic jams. For instance, there must be some kind of "checkpoint" set up where only carpoolers are allowed past into the main lot. And there must be a place for those who aren't allowed past the checkpoint to turn around. This plan is obviously not an ideal solution either.

Other ideas floating around in cyberspace concerning short-term solutions include providing financial incentives for carpoolers, financial penalties for non-carpoolers, increased bus service, reserved parking in the upper main lot, and valet parking. All the ideas have their plusses and minuses.

Further ahead, in the long-term, the solution-ideas are more grandiose. A popular idea is to centralize much of the parking in Government Camp and offer either a frequent shuttle bus service to Meadows or a gondola connecting Meadows with Government Camp. Obviously, the gondola idea would be HUGELY expensive. But assuming that adequate parking facilities are constructed in Govy, the gondola to/from Meadows would be quite successful, in my opinion.

I do not envy the management team at Mt. Hood Meadows in their task of trying to solve this parking problem. And to be fair, I should add that Skibowl and especially Timberline also face similar issues (a gondola from Govy to Timberline is a reality within five years -- that should really help Timberline's parking issue). But the Meadows' parking solution is complex and must be tackled from several angles, both in the short term and long term.

My personal thoughts on what Meadows should do:

Short-term solutions...

- Implement a $10 fee to park in the upper main lot on peak days... but only collect that fee between 8am and Noon and waive the fee for cars containing three or more people. And once the lot becomes 75% full, make it carpool-only (until Noon). Meadows could put the revenue from the parking fee towards environmental initiatives. This plan represents several compromises -- it caters to early birds who are of the first-come, first-serve viewpoint, it rewards carpoolers and guests arriving very early in the morning or late in the afternoon with the parking fee waiver, and it preserves space in the main lot for late-arriving carpoolers (families).

- Offer valet parking.

- Continue to aggressively promote bussing options.

Long-term (expensive) solutions...

- Make the current HRM lot more attractive by increasing the services offered at the HRM base (with a new/expanded lodge) and by adding night lights to the HRM runs. With this expansion, HRM would become a true "second" base area and could take pressure off the main base area & upper parking lot.

- Make the current Annex lot more attractive by connecting it to the main base area with a lift. I suggest a stand-up "Cabriolet"-style gondola, similar to the lift at The Cayons in Utah. With one station at the Annex lot and the other station in front of the main lodges, this two-way transport lift would make parking in the Annex lot much more hassle-free.

- Once the above is completed, then the upper main lot can truly turn into a restricted carpoolers-only lot without any significant consequence to non-carpoolers who must park in the HRM or Annex lots.

- Move forward with plans to develop parking in Government Camp and a connector to Meadows (either by shuttle or gondola).

Those are my thoughts... contained in my longest blog post to date! Thanks for reading through it... and I welcome your comments.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

TRIP REPORT - Friday, December 7th

Finally... I was able to get up to the mountain on Friday. I spent some time at both Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline. I have to say -- both areas were in pretty good shape. I expected worse, given all the rain earlier in the week. But a few inches of snow following the rain really helped.

Friday reminded me that early season skiing and boarding is unique. There is so much energy in the air and the crowd is full of excitement about being back on the mountain. And while the runs are in need of additional snow to cover the various small trees, rocks, brush and creek beds, there is a lot of character to the runs early in the season. The terrain is far more natural -- rollers and small canyons have yet to be smoothed-over by a deep winter snowpack. It's fun to ride... as long as you're care-free about the land mines you might come across.

At Meadows, the best conditions are in the Shooting Star area. There's enough snow covering most of the runs there such that hitting bottom isn't much of a concern. Runs off the Vista Express and Mt. Hood Express lifts are still a little dicey in spots. And forget about Hood River Meadows -- even though the lift is open to skiers & boarders, the area needs another couple feet of snow before the experience will be enjoyable to most.

At Timberline, most of the runs in the Pucci lift pod are in great shape. Stormin' Norman's runs are adequately covered... but could use another foot or two. There is one ridable path down the Mile -- it too was adequately covered (but narrow in spots). All other areas & runs served by the Mile are rocky death traps. Neither Molly's nor the new Jeff Flood Express lifts were open; I assume that the snowpack isn't what it needs to be in those areas just yet.

All told, I had a nice, leisurely day on the mountain. A good warm-up to (hopefully) a great season. I welcome your reports from this weekend.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Thoughts on Snowmaking

The mountains of the Pacific Northwest get more snow, on average, than nearly any other regional mountain cluster in the United States. It's why Northwest ski areas have never felt the need to have extensive snowmaking systems. In fact, only in the past couple years have Oregon ski areas "dabbled" into snowmaking operations -- and those operations are limited to small sections of Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Hood Meadows and Willamette Pass.

Nowhere is snowmaking more necessary than at ski areas east of the Mississippi River. That's because the weather along the East Coast and in the Great Lake States is far more variable than it is in the Northwest. In the East, weather patterns often behave such that a storm will initially bring snow, then sleet or freezing rain, then heavy rain, then dramatic cooling and drying with very windy conditions. In some cases, there can be a 40-degree temperature change in this cycle. You can imagine what that does to the snowpack and the snow surface. Enter snowmaking -- Eastern resorts heavily rely on it to replenish the base following spells of changeable weather.

While Northwest resorts have a lesser need for snowmaking overall, they definitely could use it right now. We've just gone through a classic East Coast weather pattern -- heavy snow followed by very heavy rain and now colder and drier conditions. If the snow isn't bullet-proof yet, it will be soon. And the bare spots are numerous after the weekend washout. But we don't have the extensive snowmaking operations here that allow Eastern resorts to recover much more rapidly from snowpack-damaging weather events.

The trade-off is that we are rewarded by lower lift ticket prices than our East Coast counterparts. Snowmaking is very expensive (and increasingly so with energy prices on the uptick). But... snowmaking undoubtedly would improve the skiing and boarding experience on the mountain during times like these. Maybe someday...

As far as the forecast is concerned... look for some light snow (a couple inches) through Thursday midday, then it looks completely dry through the weekend. It is doubtful that the lower-elevations ski areas (such as Skibowl and Hoodoo) will be able to open this weekend because the rain caused so much damage to the snow base. But neither area has ruled out reopening just yet, so keep watch. Timberline, Meadows and Bachelor will be open for sure.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

BREAKING: Highway 35 Closed

8:00 am Wednesday Update...

ODOT crews worked through the night to fix the problem; Highway 35 is now open again.

7:00 pm Update...

From Matt's Blog on the Mt. Hood Meadows website (

"ODOT has assessed the situation and a crew will be working through the night to repair the damage. It appears to be a repair that will take hours, not days, using an excavator and a couple of dump trucks (We LOVE that big yellow equipment!). We'll have an update at 8:30 AM Wednesday."

So... a bad situation tonight, but a relatively quick fix is coming it seems.

By the way, this particular flood and the damage caused by it is not the result of another "glacial outburst". Glacial outburst floods, like the devastating one last fall, are caused when warm, heavy rain falls on mountain glaciers bare of snow. The heavy rain saturates the exposed glaciers and dams that build-up within them burst, sending a torrent down into the canyons below. Since these events happen when the mountain is devoid of snow, lots of volcanic dirt, rocks and boulders get mixed into the outburst flood. Last night's flood was the result of heavy rain and fairly rapid snow melt -- nothing more.

Original Post...

Here we go again... sort of.

Nearly 2" of rain fell on Mt. Hood yesterday & last night all the way up to 9,000 feet. This is a minor amount compared to the 8-10" that fell a year ago November, causing the great "Glacial Outburst" flood that severely damaged Highway 35. However, last night's rain has caused flooding problems again.

Polallie Creek is overflowing its banks and water is running across Highway 35. This is near the Cooper Spur intersection. The highway is blocked and closed at that point, meaning that travel between Hood River and Mt. Hood is not possible along Highway 35 right now. ODOT has not announced a timetable for its reopening.

Access to Mt. Hood Meadows is only available via travel through Government Camp along Highway 26. Highway 35 is open from the Highway 26 junction to Mt. Hood Meadows. There are no problems at White River Canyon (where severe damage occurred last year.)

It is unclear whether or not access to Cooper Spur is possible, given that Polallie Creek is flooding Highway 35 very near where Cooper Spur road intersects Highway 35.

More information posted here as I get it...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Wild Few Days

It's been a crazy day. The people of Portland are throwing rotten tomatoes at their TVs in hopes that miraculously one will break through and actually hit a weather person. Of course, I'm talking about the busted snow forecast. Even the best forecasters don't win them all... and this one was far from a win. Enough on that... time to move on, because there's plenty more to talk about.

Up next: Heavy Cascade snow followed by rain and VERY windy conditions up on the mountain. The snow level will start out near 2,000 feet early Sunday, but by day's end, it'll be above 5,000 feet. But between Saturday night and Sunday evening, I expect 10-20 inches of new snow. It'll be increasingly wet and thick snow too... which, falling on top of lighter and fluffier stuff, will lead to a huge avalanche risk. Southwest winds will steadily increase Sunday as well.

Sunday night into Monday morning, conditions will deteriorate rapidly on the mountain. The snow level will jump to 8,000 feet and heavy rain is likely at the ski areas throughout Monday. Southwest wind could easily blow at 40-60 mph sustained, and gusts over 100 mph are likely above treeline. Given the forecast, I hope that Timberline has spent the past couple days working to put their Palmer Express lift "to bed" for the winter. (This involves lowering the haul rope off the sheaves to a spot half-way up each tower, ensuring that the towers won't snap in the event of extreme rime ice build-up on the rope. That happened twice in the 1990s; each time it required a costly fix. For this reason, Timberline no longer makes any effort to run the lift during the winter season.)

The weather calms down Tuesday, and some cooler air behind the passing front should lower the snow level again. But I don't see a lot of snow coming after the snow level drops. Despite the bad weather conditions Monday, the rain will be good for the snowpack. It will compact it and then the cooler weather arriving Tuesday will stabilize it. It's what we need early in the season.

Enjoy all the new snow Sunday... and drive safe.