By Dylan J. Darling
HOODOO — It was a bluebird day at Hoodoo Ski Area Tuesday, with clear skies and plenty of sunshine.
But the ski lifts were still and silent as the ski area west of Sisters has yet to open for the season. There simply hasn’t been enough snow.
“This is a nature-based business, and that’s it,” said Matthew McFarland, the ski area general manager at Hoodoo. “Either snow comes or not.”
As of Tuesday, Hoodoo had 8 inches of snow on the ground near midmountain. McFarland said he wants to have around 30 inches on the ground before Hoodoo opens. The 30-inch base of snow would be enough to cover dirt and rocks on the slopes, protecting skiers and snowboarders, as well as snowcat grooming machines.
More than two weeks into December and only two days so far this month brought snow to Hoodoo — 8 inches fell on Dec. 1 and 3 inches dropped on Dec. 6, for 11 total inches. The largest amount of snow this year came back in October.
“Usually this time of year we are operating on somewhere between 60 and 100 inches of snow,” McFarland said.
Hopeful there might be a turn from sunshine to snow in the next week, Hoodoo tentatively plans to open Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, McFarland said. The ski area also still plans to hold its annual New Year’s Eve Party on Dec. 31. Last year Hoodoo opened on Dec. 7. The three years before, 2009 to 2011, it opened in late November, and in 2008 it didn’t open until Dec. 20.
Opening after Christmas this year will mean that Hoodoo misses almost a week of the holiday break for school kids in Oregon, said Hoodoo office manager Daidre Streeter. Winter break is when the ski area typically does 30 to 40 percent of its business. Hoodoo officials declined to say how much money the ski area makes each season.
For now, like skiers and snowboarders hoping to hit Hoodoo’s slopes, Streeter is watching the weather and the Hoodoo website to see how it’s doing. On Monday night the website showed signs of an inversion sitting over 5,702-foot Hoodoo Butte. Streeter said the summit at Hoodoo had a temperature of 55 degrees at 9:30 p.m. Monday, and the base had a temperature of 26.
Tuesday was simply warm all around at Hoodoo. Shortly after 5 p.m., and more than a half-hour past sundown, the temperature at the summit and the base was 42.
“Just today it feels so warm,” Streeter said on Tuesday. “I don’t like it.”
The ski area has seven year-round workers, and the staff balloons to about 175 full- and part-time workers during ski season. While Hoodoo waits for snow, its employees — from lift operators to food servers to ski patrol — wait for work. Hoodoo is also waiting to put its new snowcat, a Pisten Bully 600, to work grooming the runs. The snowcat is the first new piece of grooming equipment for Hoodoo in about four years, according to the ski area, and it will be more efficient and powerful than the four other groomers.
In Sisters, Brad Boyd, owner of Eurosports, is also waiting on the snow and for Hoodoo to open. The shop rents out alpine and nordic skis as well as snowboards and snowshoes. Without Hoodoo open, rentals have stayed on the racks.
“We are not doing any rentals,” said Boyd, who is also the mayor of Sisters. “Until we get more snow, we are just sitting.”
At Mt. Bachelor west of Bend there is more snow on the slopes, and several lifts are open. Mt. Bachelor opened on Nov. 23 this year but has held off opening westside lifts and the lift to the 9,065-foot summit until more snow arrives.
“We are one big storm away from being able to open up 100 percent,” said Mt. Bachelor spokesman Andy Goggins.
He said there are 28 inches of snow at the base. And he said the snow has held up despite warm days this week.
A high-pressure system over Central Oregon brought the recent round of warm weather, said Alan Polan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pendleton. A cold front is expected to move in today, but it is coming from the far northwest corner of Canada so it likely won’t bring much snow, unlike weather systems that originate over the Gulf of Alaska.
“It has a slight amount of moisture coming from the Gulf of Alaska, ” Polan said.
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