DIAMOND LAKE — In 28 years working at Diamond Lake Resort, John Jonesburg had never seen it so bad.
Normally at this time of year, visitors are flocking to the area to enjoy thick, fluffy snow just right for skiing, snowmobiling, snow tubing, or just a good old-fashioned snowball fight.
This winter has been different.
The lack of snow has forced the resort to shut down some of its operations and lay off more than half of its winter staff.
Most of the staff members have been at Diamond Lake for multiple seasons, and Jonesburg said last week that the resort plans to hire them back on if it gets enough snow to operate.
“We need a lot of snow to get things open again,” said Jonesburg, marketing and events coordinator for Diamond Lake. He said pansies were already blooming where the snow needs to be around the lake, located on the western flank of Mount Thielsen, about 100 miles southwest of Bend in eastern Douglas County.
The resort was able to keep its snow-tubing hill open through the holiday season by hauling truckloads of snow to the hill every morning. When that stopped being cost-effective, the resort closed the tubing hill after New Year’s weekend, and it had not opened as of last week.
Backcountry cat skiing at Mount Bailey on Diamond Lake’s west side remained closed last week, and snowmobiling from the snowless lake level has been nonexistent. Those wanting to ride snowmobiles can still do so by pulling them on a trailer to the Three Lakes Sno-park at Mount Bailey, where snow can be found.
“I think this is the worst I’ve seen,” Jonesburg said. Though Diamond Lake itself was frozen over the holiday season, it has since thawed, meaning no ice fishing anytime soon.
“Depending on what this next storm does, we’re contemplating putting boats into the water,” Jonesburg said last week. “It feels like spring up here.” He said putting charter boats back in the water could allow the resort to bring some of the staff members back to work.
But help appears to be on the way.
According to the National Weather Service, several inches of snow was expected on Wednesday, and more snow was in the forecast into the weekend.
It’s a good thing. Compared with a usual year, Jonesburg estimated that as of last week the number of visitors, and the amount of revenue and business in general this year, was down about 60 percent.
As of Jan. 17, Diamond Lake was behind its 30-year average of 9.6 inches of snowpack, according to the Northwest River Forecast Center. At the same time last year, Diamond Lake had 14.4 inches of snow pack, 152 percent of normal. This year, the Rogue-Umpqua region was 50 percent below normal snow levels at mid-January.
Dick Dolgonas, a member of Edelweiss Ski Club, said the club normally makes its first ski trips in December or January, but this season got off to a slow start.
“We’re waiting and hoping,” Dolgonas said. The group usually visits the Diamond Lake area regularly, and it is hoping enough snow in time to put on its annual Community Ski Day event planned for early February.
“We’ll have to wait to see if these will turn into big winter storms,” Jonesburg said. “Mother Nature’s going to have to tell us what we can do.”