Thursday, March 12, 2009

Big Snow Coming

Lots of new snow coming this weekend & early next week! I expect upwards of 2 feet of new snow by Sunday evening, with even more snow on Monday & Tuesday. The snow level will waver between 1,500 and 3,500 feet, so the snow could be a little wet & heavy at times. But it will be deep.

Beware the wind, however. It will be a stormy few days... strong winds will affect lift operations at the higher elevations for sure.


Spring Deals... and an 80th Birthday

Oregon's ski areas are offering some incredible deals this spring... here is a list of my "top 5" spring skiing/boarding deals:


Hoodoo wins top honors for the best spring deal: $295 for an UNLIMITED Season Pass -- good for the rest of this season and ALL OF NEXT SEASON. This represents a nearly 50% discount... which is almost unheard of. But here's the catch: brand new Season Pass purchases only have 2 days to get this deal -- this Saturday & Sunday (March 14-15). Current Hoodoo pass-holders can renew for next season at this same price starting Monday (March 16) and continuing through March 31. (The $295 is for adults -- the kids' price is $195.)

Hoodoo will operate daily (except Wednesday March 18) through March 29 (with night skiing on Friday & Saturday nights), and then will re-open for a final weekend April 4-5.


An unlimited season pass for the rest of the season... for just $99. This includes free ski check and a $10 credit good for any purchase at the ski area. The $99 price is for ages 7 & up... passes for kids 6 & under are free (with the purchase of an adult pass). Daily lift tickets remain regularly-priced at $54.

Meadows plans to operate daily through April 26, with a couple weekends in May possible depending on snow conditions and attendance. Night skiing has ended for the season.


Skibowl's spring pass is just $80. A good deal, for sure... but the best spring deal will be offered on one day only -- this Saturday, March 14. Skibowl is celebrating their 80th anniversary that day. All lift tickets, for all shifts, are just $18... snack foods will cost just 25 cents... and fireworks are scheduled for 8pm that evening. Several other fun events are planned for the day as well.

Skibowl will maintain their normal, published operating hours through Spring Sreak (with expanded hours likely during Spring Break). After that, the operating schedule is still to-be-determined... with operations likely limited to the weekends.


Timberline's best spring deal is its $99 unlimited spring season pass -- good every day through May 25. And for an extra $80 ($179 total), you can make it a "Mt. Hood Fusion Pass" -- good for both Timberline and Skibowl.

Timberline will be open daily (weather permitting) throughout the spring and summer. The Palmer chairlift typically opens in time for Spring Break. After Memorial Day, the lower mountain will close for the season and only summer season passes will be valid.


The "Skiesta Pass" is just $89 ($79 for those under 18)... and it's good for unlimited skiing through the end of the season. And daily lift tickets are now among the cheapest in the state at just $29 (weekdays) and $34 (weekends).

Mount Ashland operates daily (except Tuesdays) through March, and then Fridays-Sundays in April. April 12 is the season finale.


- Mount Bachelor is allowing season pass-holders to purchase $29 lift tickets for 5 of their friends every day except Saturday. Kids also ski free at Mt. Bachelor with the purchase of any adult multi-day ticket.

- Anthony Lakes is offering 1/2-price lift tickets on Thursdays through the rest of the season.

- Willamette Pass is discounting their "Five Day Super Pass" to just $119.

- Check out the "Ski Free with Shell" deals that continue through mid-April. Two-for-one deals are available at various ski areas on certain days of the week with the purchase of a full tank of gas. Go to for more information.

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!

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!


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!