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.