Break out the downhill skis

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter



Snow showers are predicted today on Mount Hood as the early-season snow-rain pattern turns favorable for skiers for the holiday weekend.

Mount Hood Meadows and Timberline Lodge both started winter operations last week. On Wednesday, Meadows was operating six chairlifts while Timberline had five chairs running. Meadows reported 39 inches of snow, while Timberline had 55 inches.

Mount Hood Skibowl opens for the winter at 9 a.m. Friday.

“Our snowpack is weathering the storm…and we expect more snow Thanksgiving Day and Friday as a cold front pushes the storm through,” said Dave Tragethon, executive director of communications for Mount Hood Meadows.

He said officials will see how much snow this storm dumps before deciding whether to open additional chairlifts and the nordic center.

Skiers will find several changes when they visit the resorts on Mount Hood. Among those changes:

Mount Hood Meadows — Stadium (a.k.a. Yellow), one of Meadows’ original chairlifts, has been replaced with Stadium Express, a high-speed, detachable quad lift.

It is the ski area’s first new chairlift since 2005. The resort does not disclose the costs of its capital improvements.

Stadium Express has an uphill capcity of about 2,000 people per hour, compared the the current capacity of 1,200, which the lift rarely achieves, Tragethon said.

“The new lift will be more stable in high winds and will therefore run at maximum capacity more often,” he said.

The bottom terminal is much closer to the lodge. The top terminal is on the ridge near the top of Heather lift. This will improve access to north areas including Heather Canyon, Shooting Star and Hood River Meadows.

Tragethon said the lift also will join Mount Hood Express for night operations, giving evening riders two high-speed quads.

Stadium Express also will make it possible for Meadows to restore 1.5 acres of wetlands from the base of Blue chair over the the bottom of Mount Hood Express and continuing to the base of Stadium.

Meadows had a good season in 2010-11, operating continuously from Nov. 20 through May 1, he said. The resort experienced a 6 percent increase in skier visits compared to its three-year average.

Good snow conditions made for strong early-season and late-season skiing, Tragethon said.

“We had phenomenal winter powder in March and April,” he said. “We still had good winter snow, not spring snow, in May. We finished with a bang.”

The peak of the season in January and February was not as strong as most years due to rainstorm that spanned Thursday through Monday of the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.

Meadows has increased both its daily chairlift and season pass ticket prices. An adult day lift ticket has increased from $69 to $74.

The revenue is needed to continue to make improvements such as Stadium Express as opposed to operating in holding pattern, Tragethon said.

“It’s important to distinguish ourselves as a premier mountain resort experience, to continue to improve on the guest experience instead of cutting back into discount mode,” he said.

Timberline Lodge — More than $1.5 million in improvements have been invested in Wy’east Day Lodge with the construction of a new mezzanine with seating capacity for 140.

Timberline also added two snow cats to its grooming fleet and doubled the size of its demonstration rental fleet. For $50 a day, customers can try as many new models as they’d like.

This winter kicks off the 75th anniversary of Timberline Lodge, dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Sept. 28, 1937.

The first week in April has been designated Heritage Week. A delegation from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame will visit plus from the International Skiing Heritage Association.

Mount Hood Skibowl — The area has installed a moving carpet lift for its tubing hill and Lower Bowl and created a three-trail, all-abilities free-ride bike park.

Mount Bachelor — More than $3.5 million was invested at Mount Bachelor toward upgrades in all the lodges and work on existing high-speed lifts such as Skyliner, Northwest and Summit Express.

The new Umbrella Bar for Sunrise Lodge will seat up to 60 people in a heated, circular structure with removable glass walls and a retractable umbrella ceiling for sunny days.