A bit more snow, please

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter



The chairlifts are ready, the temperature is cold enough and the calendar almost says December. Only the moisture is missing as Mount Hood gets off to a skimpy start to the 2013-14 skiing season.

Timberline Lodge started daily operation last Friday, running Magic Mile, Pucci, Bruno’s and Palmer chairlifts.

Mount Hood Meadows had a “preview weekend” with limited terrain, limited snow and discounted prices. The area reopens at 9 a.m. Friday with three or four chairs scheduled to operate.

Mount Hood Skibowl opened its tubing hill at 10 a.m. this morning and will be open through Sunday.

Although the winter forecast is for average snow, there’s relatively little on the ground now as a cold and dry weather weather pattern has had a grip on the Northwest for more than a week.

Timberline reported 21 inches on Tuesday, while Mount Hood Meadows reported 18 inches and Skibowl 1 to 7 inches.

Here’s a look at Mount Hood’s big three ski areas for the winter:

Mt. Hood Skibowl — The tubing hill at Skibowl East will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday

“With the cold temperatures and low humidity, we’ve been able to make more than five feet of snow,” said Hans Wipper, a Mount Hood Skibowl spokesman.

The opening includes the tube hill conveyor lift, indoor play structure, 800-foot-long zipline and the Multorpor Lodge featuring a cafe, bar and grill.

Cosmic tubing with its lights and lasers starts for the season from 6 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. A hundred neon, four-person tubes have been added to the fleet, increasing hill capacity by a third.

At Skibowl, the parking lot rope tow is being replaced with a 220-foot conveyor lift to improve the experience for new skiers and riders.

Also new is a fiber optic upgrade and a snow groomer.

Wipper said internet service to the Skibowl west base area has been improved with high-speed lines.

There will be a WiFi hotspot in the Wiwnu Wash Tribal Cultural Center so guests can stay connected. Improved ticket scanning and increased speed for sales processing is another benefit.

The new groomer is designed specifically to groom terrain parks.

Wipper also said the slopes received “an extensive buzz cut” this summer.

“A special brush-cutting tractor trimmed all the lower slopes, while our crews hand-cut the upper steeper runs,” he said. “Loose rocks were removed. With the improved snow-making system, Skibowl can open on the least amount of snow of any area on Mount Hood.”

Improvements made to the Log Road will help open the Outback terrain earlier.

A federal grant paid to install an electric vehicle charging station. The station provides a 240-volt trickle charge and a 480-volt quick charge. The trickle charge takes three to six hours depending on the vehicle, while the quick charge needs 20 to 30 minutes.

The station is not yet operational.

Mount Hood Meadows — Plans call for running Ballroom Carpet, Buttercup and Daisy from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Cascade Express also will run, conditions permitting.

Chairlift tickets will cost $39 this weekend.

Summer improvements included allocating more terrain for training, stepped up trail maintenance on the lower mountain and an ice melt project on the Sun Deck.

The resort is switching four acres formerly used by terrain parks to training, particularly for beginners transitioning to the intermediate level. The terrain, serviced by Easy Rider chair, will be family friendly for parents to take young children to advance their skills.

Trail maintenance included cutting brush on more than 20 acres of Hood River Meadows runs.

The brush removal should allow for earlier opening and more consistent grooming. The terrain includes Forest Park and Park Place, two of Meadows’ most popular terrain parks.

An emphasis on stump removal on six kilometers of cross-country trails should allow the Nordic Center to require less snow to open.

About a quarter of the Paradise Sun Deck’s cement surface was removed to install ice melt. The deck is popular in spring, but heavy snow in the heart of the winter limits use, even on sunny days.

The ice melt will allow the Alpenstube Restaurant to extend sit-down service outdoors whenever the weather allows.

A new fiber optic line increased Mount Hood, Meadows bandwidth by near 20 times, allowing guest to stay connected online and with WiFi hotspots throughout the resort.

Three new grooming machines have been added and Meadows is experimenting with two high-output LED fixtures to an existing pole. The lights require 75 percent less energy and can be more dependable in extreme weather.

Season pass and day-pass pricing have been reduced and the “peak pricing” model introduced last season is eliminated. The resort has introduced a “family day pass” allowing an adult to buy to two junior (age 7-14) for $19 each with the purchase of an adult day pass for $74.

Timberline Lodge — Timberline opened its lower chairlifts in mid-November, closed them most of last week, then reopened on Friday.

Palmer, Bruno’s, Pucci and Magic Mile operate daily, although terrain is limited on Magic Mile.

Timberline is encouraging skiers to try the new Mt. Hood Express, bus service from Sandy to Government Camp, Timberline Lodge, Skibowl and other locations on Mount Hood.

“That hasn’t happened in over 30 years to have a bus come up to the mountain,” said Jon Tullis, a Timberline spokesman. “It took years of work to get this.”

Financed with a $476,000 grant from the Federal Lands Access Program, the bus runs six times daily Mondays through Thursdays and seven times daily on Fridays through Sundays. The fare is $2 each way.

The schedule can be found online at www.clackamas.us/socialservices/mountainexpress.html.

Skibowl and Timberline Lodge have the Mt. Hood Fusion Pass, which allows skiing at both areas. Now, Pass holders become members of the Powder Alliance, Tullis said.

Members receive three free days at all other participating ski areas, plus special offers on lodging, rentals, buddy tickets and more.

There are 12 resorts in the alliance.

“It’s some of the best ski resorts in the West,” he said. “It’s pretty cool, opens up options and hedges a little against conditions.”