Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When Does the Snow Return?

It's time for some new snow! That's the message I've been hearing loud and clear from my fellow skiing & boarding friends. Well, there is SOME good news -- there is a weather pattern change on the way.

It looks like we'll be getting a shot of cold air from the north late this weekend into early next. As this cold air arrive arrives, a weak low will attempt to form off the Oregon Coast. The result will be some light snow over the mountains -- and that snow will fall at nearly every elevation (including down to sea level!). Later Saturday through Sunday the time frame for the snow.

That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that the new snow amounts are likely to be minimal. I can't see any more than 6" from this late weekend system. And it could be more like 1-3". With such a small amount of new snow, conditions will be "variable" -- meaning that the new snow will barely cover a bullet-proof, hard-packed base.

And beyond this weekend, it appears that we'll head back into dry regime again. But I suspect that next week's dry spell won't last for long... there are longer-range signs of a return to wet & snowy weather beyond next week. We'll see... and hope for it!


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Calmer Weather... Finally

Since Christmas, the weather in the mountains has been.... AWFUL. True, there have been a couple good days, but some of the days have featured the harshest weather in my memory. The normally busy Christmas holiday was a nightmare for the ski areas. Attendance was devastatingly low given the heavy rain, freezing rain, strong winds, and snow in Portland.

And this week was no better, as the past two days were truly terrible in the mountains. Here's a summary of this most recent storm's effects:

- Timberline and Ski Bowl were closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Mt. Hood Meadows had Buttercup open, but decided to close completely Wednesday afternoon.

- Mt. Bachelor had several days of freezing rain and damaging wind. The ski area was open only on a limited basis Monday and Tuesday, and was completely closed Wednesday. There are hundreds of trees down all over the mountain. The ski area managed to get a small portion of the area open today, and they're hoping to get more of the mountain open Friday.

- The wind peaked Tuesday evening -- there was a gust to 130 mph at the top of the Magic Mile lift at Timberline, and a gust to nearly 80 mph at the top of the Mt. Hood Express lift at Meadows. This is about as windy as it gets up there.

Now... some much better news. The worst is over. Today (Thursday), the situation is far improved, as the temperature has dropped and new snow has returned. Friday will feature several inches of new snow, and the sun will come out during the day.

Overall, the weather pattern is now going through a significant change -- from super stormy to super serene! After tonight, there won't be much new snow for many days. And next week looks sunny, warm and calm every day. It's a much-needed break!


Monday, January 5, 2009

TRIP REPORT: First day... finally!

So... after the late start to the snow season, and then all of the weather craziness keeping me at work, I FINALLY got to ski on Sunday (January 4th)!!!!

I went to Mt. Hood Meadows, whereI skied from 9am until 5pm (minus 1 hour for lunch). Yes, it was a long day... and my knees are feeling it today. Overall, it was a really good day.

A few observations:

1) There is plenty of snow. This year has gone from famine to feast in a hurry.

2) There is so much evidence of last week's storminess. It's obvious that ski area crews had significant clean-up work to do. Many trees fell, and there is very thick ice still caked onto many of the lift towers. The storm on New Year's Day was especially brutal, and I understand how and why it took most of the day-after to recover from that storm. The snow itself was pretty good -- some nice dry fluff above some "variable" snow underneath. The groomed snow was sufficiently carvable, yet still fast.

3) Despite the challenging conditions of late, Meadows had all lifts and runs open on Sunday, with the exception of Cascade Express (and the upper mountain runs served by that lift). It was apparent that crews we working up there -- blasting some potential avalanche spots and de-icing the lift tower machinery. They were doing this despite the forecast for increased storminess that surely would undo much of their work.

4) Heather Canyon (and the lift serving it) is now open for the season. The Howitzer is there, and they're using it when necessary. While the weapon may help get the Canyon open earlier each day, its real benefit is to make the avalanche control work safer and more effective for the patrol crew.

It may be several days before I'm able to make it up there again, but if you have a report to share, feel free to leave a comment for me to post.

Briefly turning to the weather... we'll have to survive a couple days of rainy and windy conditions before more pleasant winter weather returns. The snow level will be at or above 8,000 feet through Wednesday. Rain will be light through Tuesday, but Wednesday looks like a soaker. Skip that day. The snow level will dramatically plummet early Thursday, and significant new snow is likely Thursday (but it'll be windy). By Friday, it'll be dry and calm... and Friday will begin an extended stretch of dry and mild weather in the mountains. While the snow may turn spring-like, the break in the storminess will allow mountain crews to get their upper mountains open... for the first time this season!