Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Finally... Big Snow!

Short post tonight... but I had to at least acknowledge here that big snow is falling. And it will continue to fall this week.

The 24-hour snowfall has far exceeded expectations: 2-3 feet! Unfortunately, it's been a wet, heavy & thick snow. That will change later this week as colder air bleeds in from the northwest. Heavy snow should continue, but the freezing level should fall to as low as 1,500 feet by Thursday... meaning that the 12-18" of new snow Wednesday & Thursday will be lighter & drier than what's on the ground now.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Snow Drought

Remember that miserable winter of 2004-2005? (In case you forgot, that was the winter when several lower elevation ski areas were closed more of the winter than they were open.) Well... that winter was dominated by what we (meteorologists) call "split flow" -- a pattern that features several "cut-off" storm systems that plug-up the jet stream pattern. The result is a weak or nearly non-existent jet stream and a lack of storminess in the Pacific Northwest, with the cut-off storm systems ending up over California. Lots of mountain snow down south... but little over the Northwest. It's been four years, but that dominant weather pattern has returned -- and has been frustrating to us powder hounds in the Northwest for more than a month now.

Unfortunately, I don't have good news in the short term. After a few dry and mild days, some light (wet) snow may return later in the weekend and early next week. But I see no sign of significant storminess returning to the Northwest anytime soon.

To end on a more positive note, my co-worker at FOX 12 (Mark Nelsen) looked up some data earlier tonight and noticed that we've had quite a stretch of dry Februarys in recent years. In fact, every February since 2002 has been drier than average. And this February is on track to be no different. So... where's the positive news, you ask? It's March! After each dry February, the following March has been nearly equal to or wetter than average.

Despite the lack of big powder days recently, conditions have been surprisingly good at the ski areas. Unlike 2004-2005, there's plenty of snow on the ground and all the terrain is well-covered. And the groomed runs have been fantastic. But... it will be nice when the big powder days return.

Think snow!


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TRIP REPORT: Mt. Bachelor & Hoodoo

In an effort to visit more Oregon ski areas this season, I made a trip to Central Oregon to ski at Mt. Bachelor and Hoodoo this past weekend. Since it's been such a bummer snow month, my expectations were low. My, was I surprised. At both places, the snow was in excellent shape!

Mt. Bachelor - Sunday, February 1st

I had a marathon day, skiing from 8:30am until 3:45pm. That's how good the skiing was! Despite that it was purely a groomer day, Mt. Bachelor is large enough and grooms so many runs that I never got bored. Being Super Bowl Sunday, there wasn't much of a crowd. I waited 5 minutes to board the Sunrise Express once, but otherwise I never waited more than a minute or two.

The grooming team at Mt. Bachelor is top notch. I've skied at other resorts famous for their grooming (Deer Valley and Sun Valley) -- and Mt. Bachelor's groomed runs were of the same calibre as the runs at those resorts. The snow was hard-packed and fast, yet still carvable. And while the mountain could certainly use additional snow, there isn't a problem with rocks or bare spots. Everything is well-covered.

The damage from the early-January ice storm was incredible. Unfortunately, it's going to take several feet of new snow to cover all of the trees that are down in the forest. Without significant new snow, the tree-skiing season is over. I had heard reports about the damage, but I was unprepared for the sight of so many snapped & downed trees. And nearly one month after the storm, there is still thick ice on trees & lift towers on the west side of the mountain. This "blue" ice is nasty stuff - totally bulletproof. Some of it still coats the snow off the groomed runs... which is why the groomers are the only place you want to be until snowstorms return.

Thankfully, Mt. Bachelor is not short on groomed runs. Among my favorites (by lift):

Rainbow chair: Flying Dutchman, I-5.
These runs had the best snow on the mountain, as the eastern part of the mountain featured softer snow. These runs also had the fewest people skiing them, so even at 3:00pm, the runs were still smooth.

Summit Express: Beverly Hills, Healy Heights.
The summit was hard-packed and icy... but these are classic, steep cruisers no matter the groomed snow surface.

Pine Marten Express: Tippytoe, West Boundary
While Thunderbird is usually my favorite warm-up run, Tippytoe & West Boundary see far fewer skiers/boarders and have similar pitches. Tippytoe isn't always groomed, but when it is... it's a "dig in the edges to avoid a skid" screamer. Love it!

OutbackExpress: Boomerang, Down Under
Not always groomed... but when they are, both of these runs feature long, steep & sustained pitches. The runs on this side of the mountain are generally steeper & longer than those on the east side.

Northwest Express: Snapshot Alley to Atkenson's Zoom, Osprey Way to Sparks Lake Run
These are long, rolling & winding screamers that start steep & become gentler towards the bottom. Narrower than many of Bachelor's other runs, the runs in the Northwest Territory are among my favorite runs in the entire USA! At two miles, they're leg-burners for sure... and they demand control and skill when skiing at speed.

Overall, I was very impressed with the conditions at Mt. Bachelor on Sunday. The staff was friendly as well -- the lift operators and ski patrolers were kindly professional during every exchange I observed. Mt. Bachelor is one of those mountains that is so big that, even with a large number of skiers/boarders on the mountain, it never seems that crowded.

Hoodoo - Monday, February 2nd

On my return to Portland, I stopped by one of Oregon's oldest ski areas on Santiam Pass. But while Hoodoo's history goes way back, it's facilities are anything but ancient. The lodge and quad lifts are brand new. And while the runs are much shorter than Mt. Bachelor's runs, Hoodoo's groomed runs are generally steeper than those at other Oregon ski areas (especially when compared to the Mt. Hood areas). Unfortunately, I could only spend about 3 hours at Hoodoo before I needed to get in the car and head home to Portland. But during those 3 hours, I was able to get in about 15 runs.

I have never skied an Oregon mountain so deserted of other skiers/boarders. It was rare that I encountered another person on any of my runs. It was almost eerie. The weather was beautiful - comfortable temperatures & little wind beneath blue sky & sunshine. And yet no one was there. With such a low skier count, the groomed courderoy remained as courderoy the entire morning. I must give a shout-out to Hoodoo's grooming department as well -- the grooming was expansive and flawless. And unlike at Mt. Bachelor, Hoodoo's off-the-groomed snow was soft enough to ski -- especially in the sun-exposed spots. The Grandstand run off the top had small moguls, and by 10:30am they were soft & fun to ski.

Once at the summit, with a couple exceptions, one can ski nearly 360 degrees off the top of the Butte. I've never been to Hoodoo on a powder day, but I can imagine that the summit runs of Crater, Face, and Chuck's Backside would be heavenly when the snow is deep & fresh. Hoodoo rarely gets crowded enough for liftlines, so powder lasts longer here than at other areas (so I'm told!).

While Hoodoo is a much smaller ski area than Mt. Bachelor or the Mt. Hood areas, I definitely recommend a visit if you've never been there. It's a friendly place with a nice, caring staff. There is terrain for all abilities. And the mountain & lodge don't get overly crowded (but I hear the parking lot can fill on the busiest days). Hoodoo's annual Winter Carnival is this Saturday (Feb. 7th) -- check it out!