Rain can bolster Cascades snowpack

Snow scarce now, but benefits loom in the long run

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The recent clear weather may make the rain earlier this fall seem a distant memory. Those rains didn't leave much snow for Thanksgiving weekend skiers.

But rain strengthens the snowpack, and what's already fallen may reduce the avalanche danger in the Cascades.

Just a few days ago, early season skiing looked promising throughout the Northwest. Mount Hood's Timberline Lodge even opened a chairlift.

But then freezing levels rose and snow turned to rain at many ski areas.

"We're going to do everything we can to get open, even on a limited basis, for the weekend," said Dave Tragethon, a spokesman for Mount Hood Meadows Ski and Snowboard Resort. "The thing that scares me is whether we feel we can sustain it because I just hate opening and then closing."

In the last 20 years, Tragethon has seen opening days range from early October to mid-December.

Julie Koeberle, a hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, follows the snowpack closely.

Koeberle says rain washes away lower elevation snow, but at higher elevations it helps form strong, stable snow layers.

"That's going to be good in the long run because we don't want loose, light, fluffy snow underneath a heavy, wet snow," Koeberle said.

Starting the season with strong, stable snow is less likely to trigger avalanches. In the backcountry and at local resorts, avalanches can cause injuries or even deaths.

As Northwest ski areas begin to open, eager skiers and snowboarders may not be praying for rain.

But if this ski and snowboard season lasts through April, they may appreciate a stable, wet snowpack.

This story originally appeared through the EarthFix public media collaboration.