Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Snowy... Soggy... and Stormy

Just 3 weeks ago, we were fretting about barren slopes and a very sluggish start to the skiing/boarding season. My, how things can change in a hurry.

The past two weeks have featured some of the craziest winter weather in nearly a half-century. Tremendous snow fell in the Cascades (10 feet!), and then there have been freezing rain, heavy (regular) rain, and some damaging winds thrown in the mix as well. Indeed, conditions in the mountains have been "challenging" at times. And there's still more to come in this wild weather pattern.

Up next... an intense storm that will bring heavy rain and extremely high winds to the mountains for New Year's Day. It will be an unpleasant day on the slopes -- I wouldn't be surprised if the wind gusted to nearly 100 mph above tree-line on Mount Hood. Take a look at my forecast graphics... and you'll see that starting Friday, the situation greatly improves. The snow level absolutely plunges Friday morning, and heavy snow will fall down to nearly 1,000 feet all day Friday and into Saturday. The weekend will feature the best conditions of this season to date.

Unfortunately, the freezing level will take a hike upward again next week. Overall, it's a stormy weather pattern -- snowy at times... and soggy at times. And also very windy at times. Dress for the storminess... and enjoy this weekend's great snow!


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Deep Powder... RUINED

I think everyone will agree that freezing rain is miserable. It's rare that freezing rain falls at the ski areas, but it happened overnight Saturday night into Sunday. If any of you were up to the mountain expecting to enjoy the five-plus feet of light fluffy powder, I can only imagine your level of disappointment and disgust to discover that the powder was totally ruined by a freezing rain-caused icy crust. I'm bitter about it... and I wasn't even up there to experience it.

It was a complicated weather situation that caused the freezing rain in the mountains. I won't get into the physics of it. Instead, I'll jump to the punchline: it's over! No more threat of freezing rain. And it does look like we'll get significant new snow to cover that icy crust in the coming days. Wednesday through Friday will feature another monster snowstorm for the Cascades -- expect at least 2 feet of new snow. It may end up being 3-4 feet when the storm winds down late in the week. Friday looks to be a "Powder Alert" day with high-quality snow, as the snow level will be down to nearly 1,000 feet and temperatures will be in the teens at the higher ski areas.

I should also mention that avalanche danger is now extremely high, due to that heavy crust on top of the deep powder. Backcountry skiing/boarding at higher elevations is a terrible idea this week -- stay safe and wait until the snowpack stabilizes.

Have a great holiday break!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Back by Popular Demand

Well, I was going to do something else this winter and (and I am... more below)... and not do this blog. But, I've reconsidered. I'm back... and I'm sorry for the abandonment.

First things first -- I've started a "Powder Alert" e-mail service through Ski Oregon. You can sign up at -- just go to the bottom of the page and enter your e-mail address. I'll be sending situation-dependent snow forecast e-mails periodically this season to subscribers. It's totally free... and I promise that your e-mail inbox won't get cluttered with junk mail.

Despite the late start, all signs point to a good-to-great snow season in the mountains. This recent storm featured cold, dry & fluffy snow, and while that would be great during the mid-season, it's actually not ideal for base building. The snow will likely settle -- a lot -- meaning that a 30" base could be no more than 20" in a couple days. But that's without additional snow. Thankfully, there's more coming.

After a terrible November & early December, the weather pattern looks much more favorable now for accumating snow. Up to a foot is possible with the Wednesday/Thursday storm, and this weekend will bring additional significant accumulation.

The season is off and running... and I promise not to disappear (for a least a few months). Thanks for being loyal!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Not much to talk about...

Sorry I've been so silent lately... it's just that the weather pattern has been so benign and uninteresting lately. I've been too busy to make it up the mountain much as well. The last time I was up there (two weeks ago), however, it was pretty dead. Without significant new snow, the crowd has been very thin on the weekdays. I heard the weekend of 3/1-3/2 was very busy though.

It looks like we'll get a good burst of new snow later this week. Maybe 1-2 feet if all goes well. I'm talking about Thursday-Saturday. The snow level should be pretty low too... 2,000-3,000 feet. That's pretty low for this time of year.

Each of the three Mt. Hood ski areas is now offering unlimited spring passes for sale. The prices:
- Skibowl $88.00 -- good for unlimited visits until closing day (mid-April?)
- Timberline $99.00 -- good for unlimited visits through the end of May
- Meadows $119.00 -- good for unlimited visits until closing day (April 27 for daily operation, weekends only as part of the May Challenge)

The new trend is for the ski areas of offer good deals on end-of-the-season passes instead of discounting daily lift tickets. Timberline typically has dropped their spring daily rates into the $30-40 range -- we'll see if they do that again this year. And Skibowl & Meadows have offered free lift tickets on closing day in the past as well.

Within the next couple weeks, Timberline should be prepping the Palmer lift for its seasonal opening. We're entering my favorite time of year to ski at Timberline -- when the Palmer lift opens and the full 3,800 vertical feet of mountain is available to ski. It's a thigh-burner going from top to bottom!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Fresh Snow Returns

As many of you noticed, there was a big weather pattern change a couple weeks ago... the result being a lack of new snow recently. Indeed, as the above graphic shows, 175" of new snow fell at Mt. Hood Meadows during a 2-3 week period from late January through early February. But since mid-February -- just 17" total.

While I do not see a return to the very snowy pattern of a month ago, this weekend will mark a return to snowy conditions in the mountains. From Friday night through early Sunday morning, I expect at least 12" of new snow at the ski areas. Saturday should be pretty snowy, with the snow level around 2,500 feet, while Sunday should feature some sunshine.

All told... it looks like a very good skiing & boarding weekend coming up. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Favorites

I'm back... sorry for the lack of posts this past week. I made it up to the mountain once during the recent spell of dry and sunny weather. It was nice to be up in the sunshine and to let the skis fly on the spring-like snow. Upper Bowl at Skibowl is really fun when it's groomed. Smooth, fast and steep... my favorite type of ski run.

Speaking of favorites... allow me, if you will, to share some of my favorite runs on Mount Hood:

My favorite groomed cruisers:

1) Timberline -- Palmer. I love skiing this run (when the lift is open and when there's lots of snow). It's wide, it's usually well-groomed, and it has the steepest (sustained) pitch of all regularly-groomed, long runs on the mountain. There are steeper pitches elsewhere on Mt. Hood, but none match the length and wide-open nature of Palmer.

2) Skibowl -- Cannonball. This main run down the "gut" of the Upper Bowl is a speed-a-holic's dream -- when it's groomed smooth. If only it was longer...

3) Meadows -- Outer Limits to Memorial or Pluto Bowl (lower Heather Canyon). This route drops 2,000 vertical feet over a 2-mile path and, when groomed, combines the intermediate cruise down Outer Limits with the "hold-your-edge-or-suffer-big-consequences" skid down Memorial or Pluto bowls of Lower Heather Canyon.

4) Meadows -- Two Bowl. Not always groomed, but when it is... it's a fun one-two punch down Two Bowl and then Lower Face.

5) Meadows -- Boulevard. Not as steep as my other favorites, Boulevard can still be challenging at high-speeds because of it's rolls, dips and slight twists & turns. Also, it's one long ride...

My favorite "natural" runs:

1) Meadows -- Silver Bowl (upper Heather Canyon) to Clark Canyon or Heather Woods. When the powder is deep and fresh, nothing further needs to be said. :) Even when there's no new snow, a perviously-triggered avalanche can leave a smooth path right down Silver Bowl (just be sure to avoid the avalanche pile at the bottom). About 3/4 of the way down, traverse left so that you can get over to Clark Canyon. Depending on the snow and recent weather, sometimes the shadier pitches down Clark Canyon are best, while sometimes the sun-exposed paths through Heather Woods are best.

2) Skibowl -- Outback area. Granted, I'm just beginning to explore this area... I don't know it well just yet, so I can't be very specific as to which routes through the Outback I like best. But from what I've seen, it's a powder playground when the weather pattern is right (snowy with a low freezing level). I like the mix of bowls and trees... along with the low density of skiers/boarders.

3) Meadows -- Jacks Woods. Yes, it gets cut-up way too fast. But that first run (or two if you're lucky) on a powder day is heavenly.

4) Skibowl -- the West Wall (in the Upper Bowl). The trees are perfectly-spaced, and there's enough night-lighting nearby such that you can venture into parts of this area after dark. There aren't many places in the world where you get get fresh tracks... in the trees... during a snowstorm... at 8 o'clock at night.

5) Meadows -- Private Reserve. Relative new to the Meadows' collection of expert playgrounds, the "PR" is open more often and skied/boarded less often than Heather Canyon above it. If it weren't for the walk-out at the end...

There you have it... my favorite runs. How about yours?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tuesday Quick Update

Well... so much for the Wednesday powder day. New computer model guidance now suggests that this Tuesday/Wednesday push of colder air won't be accompanied by nearly as much moisture. So I now expect only a couple inches of snow... at best... Tuesday night into Wednesday.. It will get dramatically colder, however, so if there isn't much new snow... expect very hard-packed conditions off the groomed runs until Thursday afternoon.

This weekend still looks very spring-like, as the freezing level will be near the summit of Mount Hood. Ski area temperatures in the mid-high 40s are likely both Saturday and Sunday beneath bright blue sky, sunshine, and little wind.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Warm Week

Aside from a shot of chilly air arriving later Tuesday and staying through Wednesday, it's going to be a warm week on the mountain. Tuesday night's and Wednesday's snow showers should total 8-12", but that should be it for new snow this week. So... Wednesday is the one powder day, with Thursday featuring limited leftovers in the morning. By next weekend, conditions should be approaching spring-like again... with hard-pack conditions in the shady spots and up high in the wind-exposed areas.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Future Projects

Over the past year, I've quietly been doing some research on each local ski area's plan for the future. Here is what I've discovered about the future of Mt. Hood's ski areas:


With the completion of the new Jeff Flood Express chairlift and expansion into Still Creek Basin, the Timberline ski area is essentially built-out now. The area has no plans for any further terrain expansion. However, Timberline has ambitious plans to improve access by constructing a gondola connecting Timberline Lodge with central Government Camp. Given that the proposed alignment would be along a path previously used by the 1950s-era "SkiWay" areal transport lift (a suspended city bus!), there are relatively few environmental concerns. And the benefits would be huge: dramatically reduced traffic along Timberline road and an environmentally-friendly solution to Timberline's current parking shortage. Timberline is working with Skibowl on this project, and it's on pace to get underway within 5 years. The primary obstacle is funding; the project could cost $15-20 million.

Another project on Timberline's horizon is a new Operations building near the top of Molly's Express. This new building would be larger and more "Timberline-esqe" than the current Operations building in the same location. It would also include a new Patrol Headquarters, allowing that space in the Wy'East Day Lodge to be used for a new Day Care center.

Other projects include underground parking and land restoration in front of Timberline Lodge and a new beginner's complex in the area below the Day Lodge. Farther down the road (and further ahead in time), Timberline would also like to explore the possibility of building parking, a lodge, and overnight accommodations near the bottom of Molly's Express.

Timberline has published a nice brochure outlying it's plan for the next 50 years; you can download from Timberline's website:

Mt. Hood Meadows

First, some history. In the late 1980s, Mt. Hood Meadows announced its intention to create a very ambitious new Master Plan for the future. Lots of new lifts, new terrain, new lodges and overnight accommodations were part of that plan. In response, a group of local environmental protectionists formed the Friends of Mt. Hood, a group dedicated to opposing further development at Mt. Hood Meadows. While the Forest Service approved Meadows' proposed Master Plan in 1991, the Friends of Mt. Hood appealed that decision -- and the appeal was successful. Mt. Hood Meadows then modified its plan, reducing the scope of development and eliminating plans for overnight accommodations. This revised plan was approved (with a couple exclusions -- mainly a rejection of terrain expansion into the White River Canyon) by the Forest Service in 1997. The Friends of Mt. Hood, together with other environmental groups, again challenged the approval -- this time in court. In 2001, the court upheld the Plan's approval, but denied permission for parking expansion, pending further study of parking alternatives. In 2004, Mt. Hood Meadows finished the first major project included in the Master Plan: the Vista Express chairlift.

The above is a brief summary; much more information is available (including a litigation summary) at the Friends of Mt. Hood website:

Despite the approval of Meadows' overall Master Plan, each individual project will require specific approval by the Forest Service -- and that approval can only occur after extensive and satisfactory environmental analysis. The public, including environmental groups, will have the opportunity to comment and potentially challenge each major project.

Now, on to the projects. Several new chairlifts are possible:
  • A high-speed quad to replace the Stadium (Yellow) chair, with a possible extension to the top of the Heather lift... which would allow easy access to Shooting Star & HRM

  • A high-speed quad to replace the Daisy chair in a similar alignment

  • A new high-speed quad that would begin somewhere near the North Canyon run and would roughly follow the Upper Elevator run to the top of the Cascade Express lift

  • A new lift connecting the Annex parking area to Buttercup

  • A new lift above Cascade Express servicing Dallas Bowl and providing access to Superbowl and upper Heather Canyon

Also, a mid-mountain lodge is proposed near the top of the Heather and new Stadium chairlifts. This lodge could be open year-round with lift access from the new Stadium quad. Additional night skiing expansion is possible as well. Meadows is also pursuing parking expansion possibilities, permanent snowmaking, and permission to open gates into the backcountry.

The full Mt. Hood Meadows 1997 Master Plan, with additional details about what is listed above, is published and available for public review. While I've not seen it online, there are hard copies out there. The copy I read is kept at the Portland State University library.

In replies to comments on Mt. Hood Meadows' blog, Meadows President Matt Drake has repeatedly indicated that discussions concerning Meadows' future plans are "in a sensitive place". In other words, Meadows executives are privately meeting with representatives from the Friends of Mt. Hood to see if any common ground and/or compromises can be reached concerning future expansion. Both sides would prefer to avoid costly and time-consuming lawsuits, and both sides have agreed to keep the meeting notes confidential. I expect some information about the next couple projects in Meadows' future to be released sometime this year -- most likely by Matt Drake in Meadows' blog.

Mt. Hood Skibowl

Most of Skibowl's future plans center around creating a destination resort in and around Government Camp. Skibowl's parent company owns, operates, and is expanding the Collins Lake Resort, and the company also has plans to add a new lodging complex next to the Skibowl East (Multorpor) parking lot. A central village core in Goverment Camp (as part of Collins Lake Resort) is also in the works. The gondola to Timberline will originate in this village core, with an extension of the gondola connecting Skibowl with Goverment Camp proposed as well. When complete, Government Camp will be a significant bedbase and transportation hub. The number of shops, restaurants, and bars is also expected to increase. It should be a fun little village when all is said and done.

On the mountain, Skibowl's plans are less ambitious. An old Skibowl Master Plan indicates that future projects could include a couple short chairlifts in the novice terrain off the southwest (backside) of the Upper Bowl. A bottom-to-top chairlift is also possible down the road. In the short term, Skibowl is attempting to get permission to cut a run run off the Multorpor chair that would become home to the area's terrain park.


The future plans I've discussed above, for all three areas, are little more than wish lists by our local resort operators and owners. It's probable that at least some of the projects outlined will eventually become reality... but it's also likely that many of the projects will never get beyond paper plans & dreams. I look forward to seeing how things turn out down the road.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Milder Week

After a week of huge powder down to very low snow levels, this week looks more "normal". That means we'll see more of a fluctuating snow level from day to day. The jet stream pattern has changed such that we're getting more of a westerly flow now, which means that each arriving storm will push a tongue of warmer air out ahead it. And behind each passing front, colder air will arrive again with lowering snow levels.

As of now (Tuesday morning), it appears that today, Thursday, and Saturday will be the milder days. Snow could switch to rain for a brief time along the lowest runs & lifts at Mt. Hood's ski areas, but any rain that falls will be short-lived, as arriving colder air will switch the rain back to snow within a few hours. The best days this week will be Wednesday and Friday. The stormiest day will be Thursday... with lots of wind and wet snow.

Unfortunately, this warmer storm cycle will take it's toll on the fantastic cold powder we've been spoiled by lately. While rain won't be much of an issue (except down very low), heavy/wet "Cascade Concrete" snow will be more common this week. Avalanche danger will become high again with the increasingly heavy top snow layer, so Heather Canyon at Meadows will likely be closed more than it's open this week... and backcountry skiing/boarding will be very dangerous.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Monster Snow Week

Two to four feet of new snow fell since Monday... and there will probably be another two to four feet before the week ends. This has been an incredible snow season... and all indications are that the weather pattern won't change significantly coming up. The storniness will ease a bit as we head into the weekend... but overall, the dominant long range pattern continues to look snowy.

Below is a chart of the base depth at Mt. Hood Skibowl (at mid-mountain) on January 29th each winter back to 2001.

You can see that this year is the biggest snow year at Skibowl this decade... and it's a bigger snow year than most years in the 1980s and 1990s as well. I can't remember a year when Skibowl's base depth and Timberline's base depth were so near in total. That's a testiment to the low snow level that has persisted most of the winter.

One of the trade-off's of all the deep and fresh snow: it's very difficult for patrol crews to keep up with avalanche control work. This winter's snow has been more slide-prone than most winters' snow... and with the frequent stormy days, it's often been impossible to visibly survey slopes to asses the real avalanche threat. Here in the Pacific Northwest, because the humidity is relatively high most of the winter, the visibility is often much worse than in other mountain areas across the USA. For example, when I was in Montana, even when it was snowing heavily, the cloud base was above the peaks and the visibility remained quite good. That's because the air is much drier there than it is here... even when it's snowing. On Mount Hood, when it's snowing heavily, it's rare that the visibility isn't poor... mainly due to low clouds and fog. This makes a huge difference for patrol crews. They must be able to see. When they can't; the terrain stays closed... and for good reason.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Weather Outlook

We're headed back into a snowy pattern. Starting Saturday afternoon, the snow returns... and accumulating snow is likely every day in the foreseeable future. Some days will feature higher snow totals than other days, but I expect at least 6 inches every day... and as much as 18" of new snow possible on a couple of the days. The snow level should stay low -- 500 to 1,500 feet -- most of the week. It's going to be fantastic... enjoy!

TRIP REPORT: The Yellowstone Club

I just returned from spending several days near Big Sky, Montana, at the most exclusive ski mountain in North America -- The Yellowstone Club. It was a surreal experience.

The Yellowstone Club is a private club with strict financial and behavioral requirements of its members. In addition to annual dues and an initial six-figure joining fee, members are required to own real estate in the area. Potential members are screened, financially and morally, to ensure that those admitted are wealthy, humble and friendly. No garish people are invited.

Once in, skiing/boarding (winter) and golfing (summer) privileges are included in the membership cost. In other words; there are no lift tickets to buy or wear. In my case, as a guest of a member, I was free to ski at my leisure... and at no cost... once I was through the front security gate.

About the skiing...

While I don't have any actual numbers to support this claim, I honestly believe that there were more employees on the mountain than there were skiers and snowboarders. The main mountain has three high-speed quad lifts and two shorter, fixed-grip chairs, while some of the secondary mountains have additional lifts primarily dedicated to providing home access. Rarely would there be anyone waiting to board any lift. The lifts frequently run in circles with no one aboard.

The main mountain itself has a nice mix of steep pitches, glades, and carefully groomed runs. From the top, the front face features several steep chutes between cliffs and outcroppings. The chutes widen and level-out towards the bottom. The powder was incredible here -- apparently, not many of the Club members like dropping through the narrow chutes at the top.

The backside of the mountain has some of the longest glades I've ever skied. The pitch starts out fairly slight, but the terrain steepens with each turn. After nearly a mile and half, the glades empty to a long runout back to one of the lifts on the frontside. The runout is flat... too flat... such that a lot of pushing & skating is necessary. Snowboarders had to walk, and they were apprehensive about returning to that side of the mountain. This part of the mountain was literally deserted; partner skiing was an absolute necessity. If alone and injured, bears and mountain lions would find you far sooner than a human would.

It was VERY cold when I was there -- the coldest weather I've ever experienced, in fact. It was -23 F Monday morning. They delayed opening for an hour because of the extreme cold. I skied that afternoon, but the temperature never exceeded -10 F. I did OK... I covered my entire face and used hand & foot warmers in my gloves and boots. It was a beautiful sunny day with no wind (thankfully). Tuesday was slightly warmer, and it turned cloudy with snow increasing later in the day. Three inches of new snow greeted us Wednesday morning, along with bluebird skies again. The three inches easily turned into a foot in the bowls up top. The powder was the best I've ever skied. Interestingly, the snow was a bit slower than I would've guessed it to be. Apparently, when it gets THAT cold, there's such a lack of (liquid) water in the snow that it's not very lubricated and the snow crystals are more abrasive. The result is more friction on the base of the ski/snowboard.

Not all the runs were powder-filled; many are groomed nightly. Since most of the Club members join because of the allure of "Private Powder", the groomed runs aren't particularly popular. Much of the courderoy remains untouched well into each afternoon. One member I briefly skied with kept using the phrase "ABC" -- an acronym for "Anything But Courderoy'.

Big Sky ski area is adjacent to the Yellowstone Club, and there are connecting lifts and trails to and from. I didn't get a chance to venture over there; in part because the skiing was so good where I was... and in part because I didn't want to deal with the security guard stationed at each trail entrance back into the Yellowstone Club from Big Sky. Security is tight; a former director of the Secret Service is the current Director of Security for the Yellowstone Club.

As you can imagine, the homes in the Yellowstone Club area are large and spread out. The area is very large, spreading over a couple mountains and thousands of acres. There is no village core; it's more like a mountain neighborhood. Nearly every home there has ski-in, ski-out access, and there are several short feeder lifts to and from the homes. Those home-access lifts remain idle most of the day; once a member/guest approaches, a bored employee becomes excited to see an actual person and starts-up the lift.

I took some pictures; I'll post some of them later (my camera's batteries are dead at the moment).

Overall, this was an incredible opportunity that few get to experience. I am very grateful to my friends for inviting me to share it with them. They've invited me back; I intend to return sometime!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bits & Pieces

Trip Report (1/18/08 - Mt. Hood Meadows) - I was able to get up there for a few hours before I had to work Friday evening. It was sunny and warm (about 40 degrees); the groomed snow was nice and easy to carve, but the snow not groomed was frozen, choppy hardpack. After a couple hours of sunshine, Upper Heather Canyon (and other non-groomed areas with sun exposure) softened nicely -- a I had a great run down Silver Bowl in Upper Heather. And then I did another lap by dropping into A-Zone and traversing/hiking over into Clark Canyon. I was able to traverse across the huge, south-facing wall (which is often unskiable given its exposure) -- it was SO smooth and not too soft. Very nice! The top of that ridge was melting out, though, so there were quite a few small rocks rolling down the slope that I had to dodge. Overall, I had fantastic day.

New Ski Review - So I finally got to try my new Rossignol Zenith Z9 skis. In short, I LOVE them. They were so smooth on the groomed -- nice and stable even when I was flying down Boulevard as fast as I could. I have a pair of Salomon Scream X-hot skis that tend to chatter a lot on this type of snow; my Rossi's didn't chatter at all. The Z9s also did well in Heather Canyon, but not as well as on the smooth groomed. I have a pair of Rossi B2s that probably would've been better in the Canyon. Overall, I'm really happy with the Z9s -- they'll be a lot of fun in the spring when it's firm hardpack in the morning.

Weather Outlook - As you've probably heard, it's going to get very cold for a few days. There will be a little new snow Saturday afternoon/evening/night (maybe 4-8" at most), then after that it'll be dry again for several days. Temperatures will fall from the 30s into the 20s by later Saturday, and then into the teens by later Sunday. Monday's and Tuesday's temperatures will be 5-15 degrees. Brrr! And the wind will pick up too -- by later Sunday, it'll be blowing hard out of the northeast. Monday looks windy, but Tuesday and Wednesday look much calmer. Lots of sunshine, though... but with the extreme cold and wind, the snow surface will become boilerplate hardpack by Monday. The next chance for any new snow will be Thursday... but that weather system looks very weak.

I'm off to Montana - Ever hear of The Yellowstone Club? It's a private ski area (about the size of Mt. Hood Meadows) adjacent to Big Sky in southern Montana. I have friends who are members and have a house there -- and they've invited me to spend a few days with them enjoying the "private powder". The average number of people on the mountain each day is about 50! I'll be sure to write a trip report and post it here, as this should be quite an experience!

Have a great weekend...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Condition Reports, Snowphones and Websites

In the "old days" (before the internet), there was only one way to find out what conditions were like on the mounain. The snowphone. As a kid, I would call several of the resorts' snowphones so often that my parents had to put limits on the number of times I could call each day. (I believe the limit was three.) I still have the numbers memorized. And I still remember the names of some of the voices on the line -- Camille, Bill and Don at Timberline... also Jon at Timberline and Karen at Skibowl (both of whom are still there!). And on big snow days, I would call and call and call... only to get a busy signal. The volume of callers would frequently overwhelm the resorts' snowphone lines.

Today, the internet is trying its best to make the snowphone obsolete. It's rare that I call anymore. (Don't get me wrong; I am still obsessive-compulsive about checking the snow condition reports -- but now I use a computer instead of the telephone.) I am not alone... one resort official told me recently that the number of phone lines they now dedicate the snowphone is only a small fraction of the number they had during the pre-internet days. And jammed lines or busy signals are almost unheard of anymore.

Ski areas have long been accused of lying about their conditions on the snowphone. Alright, lying isn't the best word -- perhaps "omitting" or "exaggerating" are better word choices. Regardless, skiers and boarders had no way to knowing whether or not the voice on the phone was speaking the full truth, the complete truth, and nothing but the truth, unless they ventured up to the mountain to see for themselves what conditions were like. But not any more, thanks to the vast amount of weather data from automated weather sensors on the mountain. That's why, despite my nostalgia, the movement of the snow-reporting emphasis to the internet is a very good thing. Not only does it force accuracy, but it allows the resorts to disseminate SO much more information than a voice on the snowphone could ever deliver. But this is only true if the resorts choose to disseminate a lot of information. Unfortunately, many still don't.

The Mount Hood ski areas have made great progress with their on-line condition report web pages in the last couple years. Mt. Hood Meadows' page is the best of the batch -- they display more information on their site than Timberline and Skibowl display on their sites. But, when I surfed around other ski area sites around the USA, I saw some amazing web pages that put our Mt. Hood ski area sites to shame. My favorites:

Mammoth Mountain (California) ( What I like about this site: lift status is updated automatically, in real-time, with status indications of OPEN, CLOSED or STANDBY during operating hours, and indications of EXPECTED or CLOSED each morning before the mountain opens for the day. There are also detailed new-snow reports and live weather conditions with several LIVE web cameras scattered throughout the resort to view.

Okemo (Vermont) ( What I like about this site: The snow reporter writes a lengthy, detailed report about the conditions each morning. True, there's a lot of "selling" in the reports, but I still appreciate the effort. I really like the list of EVERY run on page, with indications about each run's open/closed status and symbols showing if the run has been groomed, had snow made on it, or is full of bumps.

And, my favorite: Sugar Bowl (California) ( What I like about this site: It's not a tradional snow report page; instead, it's an interractive trail map with real-time open/closed status of lifts, trails (with grooming information), lodges and facilities along with clickable views of webcams from various spots on the mountain. There are even clickable views of terrain parks and podcasts that describe the terrain.

Sugar Bowl is on the right track, and is headed in the information-dissemination direction that all resorts should be headed. My dream snow report page would indeed be in the form of an interractive map. I would hope to see numerous clickable information points on the map, with each point showing:
  • live weather conditions
  • 24 hours of weather history
  • snow accumulation information
  • a live/interractive camera view.

Each lift, when clicked on the map, would be indicated as open/closed/expected, the lift's operating hours would be shown, the current lift-line wait time would appear, and there would be a description of the terrain served. Each run, when clicked on the map, would be described and indicated as open or closed and there would be information about the current snow surface (groomed, bumpy, powder, bare spots, unskiable, etc.). Each terrain park area, when clicked on the map, would be described (in words and pictures) and a park status update would appear. And lodges & parking lots would be clickable on the map as well, allowing information to be displayed about facilities open/closed and how full the lots are with cars.

I realize that such an interractive map would require a tremendous computer programming effort and a large commitment to infrastructure so that the map could be highly detailed and updated in real (or near-real) time. But it's a target at which every resort should aim. Too-little, inaccurate and/or untimely/out-dated information are significant sources of guest complaints to ski areas. The resorts that hit the target with such a detailed, interractive map will benefit greatly, in my opinion, by being leaders in information dissemination and accuracy. I look forward to the day when a Mount Hood ski area overcomes the technology challenges to make it happen...

Monday, January 14, 2008

One Last Powder Day

It's been a great 6 weeks... deep snow and high-quality powder (for the most part). But this spell of big powder dumps will end after this last storm moves through Monday night. Beginning Tuesday, it looks dry for at least a week... and the dry pattern could last into next week as well.

First things first -- Monday night's storm. When the snow initially begins late Monday afternoon, the snow level will be relatively high -- between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. There could even be areas of freezing rain along the lower slopes. But shortly after the precipitation arrives, the snow level will plummet rapidly and the wind will really pick up. Before 10pm, I expect the snow level to be no higher than 1,000 feet. The moisture supply quickly disappears after midnight, however... so most of the new snow will fall between 4pm and 10pm. The storm total will be 4-6", with the newest snow on top being fairly light and dry. But it will be windblown, as strong northwest winds will mark the arrival of the increasingly cold air.

Tuesday looks beautiful -- new snow on the ground with plenty of sun during the day. It should stay fairly cold Tuesday, with temperatures at the higher elevations staying in the low-mid 20s. Lower down, the temperature will approach freezing.

From Wednesday through Saturday, the sun will shine each day. Temperatures will be climbing, as the freezing level will be above 8,000 feet. A temperature inversion will likely set up, however, and that means that some chilly air may get trapped in the low spots... especially each morning. Up high on the sun-exposed slopes, it'll probably be mild enough to turn the snow into wet, spring-like slush in spots each midday. Then, in the late-afternoon, the snow will set back up again, making for hard-packed conditions each evening through morning. The groomed runs will be nice, but non-groomed areas will feature an unpleasant hard-packed base except for a couple hours around midday. Spots that stay completely shaded could maintain some winter-like snow for a few days. Night skiers/boarders beware -- this isn't a very good pattern for night-riding. By the time the lights come on each evening, the groomed areas will be skied-out, choppy and slippery, and the off-groomed areas will have frozen back into a rough hard-pack. Overall, it'll be very icy at night this week.

Frankly, I'm looking forward to this change in the weather. The powder has been great, but I'm itching to get in some high-speed cruising on nicely groomed runs beneath the daytime sun. Each resort should have their grooming fleets working hard, laying down lots of courderoy all over the mountain. My new high-speed Rossignol Zenith Z9s will get a much-needed test drive coming up. Can't wait to get up there...

Enjoy the sunshine!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Weekend Update

It appears as if the "big snow pattern" may finally be ending -- at least temporarily. Our weather pattern is definitely shifting away from frequent cold storms and more towards occasional storms with more dry weather than wet weather. I see several sunny days on the mountain coming up.

As of now, here's the outlook:

Saturday -- Increasing light snow in the afternoon. Snow level around 4,000 feet... which is a little high. But it's low enough to keep the precipitation as snow, albeit a wet snow. Expect only 3-6" with this storm -- it's not very strong.

Sunday -- Becoming sunny. The freezing level will be 5,000-6,000 feet, so it'll be fairly mild in the afternoon with temperatures into the 30s. There shouldn't be much wind. Overall, a nice day on the mountain.

Monday -- Increasing snow again in the afternoon. Expect about 6-10" of new snow by Tuesday morning. As the snow begins, the snow level will be near 4,000 feet... but it should fall to below 2,000 feet by Tuesday morning.

Tuesday-- Becoming sunny. It'll be cold in the morning, but afternoon temperatures will be 25-30 degrees.

Wednesday through Friday -- Mostly sunny and milder. The freezing level should be above 6,000 feet... meaning that the runs exposed to the sun may enter a freeze/thaw pattern. That means firm conditions in the morning with some afternoon softening. It is January, however, so once the snow gets firm or icy, it can be difficult for it to soften unless it gets unusually warm. Higher-elevation areas with a northerly exposure (such as Heather Canyon and the bowls off of Shooting Star Ridge at Meadows and the Outback & Northwest territories at Mt. Bachelor) may maintain winter-like snow for several days since the sun angle is so low, however.

A major plus to this upcoming break in the weather: Crews will have lots of opportunities to build parks and pipes in the coming week.

Have a fun weekend!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Little Warmer...

The past three weeks have been a real treat. The snow level has stayed low, and the temperature at the higher ski areas really hasn't been higher than 25 degrees. Much of the new snow fell at temperatures between 18 and 25 degrees -- which is cold for the Pacific Northwest (most of our snow falls between 25 and 30 degrees). So the quality of the snow has been excellent. (No complaints about the quantity either!) I was at Mt. Hood Meadows yesterday afternoon -- the snow was magnificent packed powder.

The weather pattern will be changing slightly as we head through this week... and not necessarily for the better. The storm moving through today is a little warmer. So the new snow won't be as dry & fluffy. And the Wednesday night & Thursday storm looks a little warmer yet... meaning that the new snow from that storm will be thicker and wetter. Avalanche danger will become very high this week with the denser snow overwhelming the deep, fluffy powder beneath it.

It appears as if we'll get a break from the storminess this weekend. A lot of high cloudiness will dim or block the sunshine, but I believe it will stay dry on Saturday and Sunday. It'll be milder yet, as the freezing level may rise above Timberline for the first time in weeks.

My day of choice this week is tomorrow (Wednesday). At least a foot of new snow will greet you in the morning, and the sun may make an appearance or two during the day. Friday doesn't look bad either, but the snow will be a bit thicker & wetter at the end of the week.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Snow Depth Comparison

So... how good of a year are we having so far? Well... in terms of the amount of snow on the ground, this year is up there with the good years so far this decade. The graphic above shows the settled snow, on the ground at Timberline and at Ski Bowl, on January 1st of each year. You can see that this year's snowpack isn't the highest... but it's close. It's even more impressive when you take into account that we've really only had one month of snowfall so far -- the base really didn't start climbing until around the 1st of December. In previous years, the base started building earlier... so this year's pace has been very impressive.

Looking ahead, there will be another 1-2 feet of snow this weekend. The snow level will start near 4,000 feet Friday, but by Sunday night, it will have steadily lowered to near 1,000 feet. There will be a little break between storms later Monday into early Tuesday, but then another powerful storm arrives later Tuesday and keeps the trees white through Thursday of next week.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Heather Canyon Opens

It's true... the Canyon opened Wednesday. The break from the storms Monday and Tuesday provided enough of a window for Meadows' patrol staff to finish their avalanche control work and to set up the necessary rope lines. Any first-hand accounts of what it was like?

Sorry for not posting for a while... I was in Orlando, Florida, during the past few days. But now I'm back... and I'm picking up my newest pair of skis today (Rossi Zenith Z9s -- high-speed cruisers!) following the binding-mount. (I bought them at the ski show two months ago... and just now got around to getting them ready.) But given the forecast for a snowy & stormy weather pattern to continue, those new Z9s of mine may sit in the garage for a while... as my Salomon 1080 Gun (fat) skis stay in the car.

More powder days are coming, but we'll have to wait until the weekend for the snow level to drop back down to below pass-level. Between now and then, it'll snow up at Meadows and Timberline... but it may rain at times at lower areas. From the weekend into early next week, the snow level shouldn't be any higher than 2,500 feet... meaning that a couple feet of additional medium-quality snow can be expected.

While still young, this winter is increasingly behaving like a classic La Winter winter; a little sluggish early, then an onslaught of Pacific storminess that results in deep snow and a rapidly growing base. I have every reason to believe that we're in for more of the same in the coming weeks... frequent snowstorms with only short, occasional breaks of drier and tranquil weather.