MOUNT BACHELOR — After what had been a long, warm winter, patient powder hounds finally got their payoff in a big way this past week at Mt. Bachelor and other area ski resorts.
Last Friday, the line of cars heading up Century Drive from Bend to Bachelor seemed to mirror the line of skiers and snowboarders waiting for the Summit chairlift to open at the mountain.
By Monday, Bachelor had received 42 inches of snow over the previous seven days, nearly doubling the snowpack at the mountain to 98 inches. That included 29 inches in three days from a weekend storm that battered the mountain with blizzard conditions, including 50-plus-mph winds. At one point on Sunday, snowfall rates measured more than an inch per hour, according to Drew Jackson, Bachelor’s director of marketing and communications.
Last Friday at Bachelor, during a brief respite from the prolonged storm activity, I made the trip to the mountain — and so did seemingly everybody else. A midwinter break for some schools in Washington and California accounted for some of the crowd, but no doubt eager locals accounted for a big number of skiers and snowboarders on the slopes.
Jackson called last week one of the busiest Monday-through-Friday periods at Bachelor in years. He said that for the first time, Presidents Day — Monday, Feb. 19 — will likely go down as the busiest day of the season.
“It (the busiest day) is almost always one of the days during Christmas or a Saturday or Sunday over Presidents weekend,” Jackson said. “But for it to be the Monday itself is huge, and I think that speaks to how good the conditions got and the pent-up demand.”
While other skiers lined up for Summit to open, I headed to the Cloudchaser lift. From the top of the lift, I made my way down the Wanoga run, veering off into the nearly 2 feet of fresh powder that had fallen over the previous few days. The dry and light snow made for easy turns near the trees and back on the groomed slopes.
From the top of the Summit chairlift, skiers and riders enjoyed access to the back side (south side of the mountain) and west bowls for the first time this season, as 100 percent of the resort’s terrain was open. In a typical season that happens by mid-January, Jackson said.
An increase in the accessible terrain makes for less cramped slopes.
“Over the holidays, especially, we have probably felt more crowded than we would normally feel just because the same number of people are compressed into a smaller area,” Jackson explained. “But now we can be ourselves again.”
In deep-snow conditions, skiers and snowboarders should always ride with a partner and maintain a line of sight with their partner, according to Jackson. Tree wells — areas of deep, unconsolidated snow around trees — are a significant hazard in these types of conditions, and falling into such areas headfirst can be fatal.
“The tree wells are particularly dangerous after storm cycles like this one,” Jackson said. “If someone is skiing real close to trees and has a little mishap and takes a spill, they could fall into a tree well and they’re stuck. The only method of rescue is for someone to be right there next to you and to pull them out. You just can’t get out by yourself.”
Up to a foot of additional snow was forecast for Wednesday night and into Thursday. The long-term outlook for March calls for lower-than-average temperatures, but the precipitation forecast is somewhat unclear, according to Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University in Corvallis. She added that a high pressure ridge, which resided over Oregon for much of this dry winter, could return to the West this late winter and early spring.
“Where it sets up decides what storms make it here or not,” she said.
Dello said that the snowpack for most of the West is far below average, with the exception of Washington and the northern Rockies.
“We’re running out of time,” Dello said. “We’ve had miracle Marches before, which is what we’re hoping for. But the odds decrease pretty quickly through the month of March to make up snowpack.”
The recent snowstorms and prolonged cold weather, however, should set up Bachelor and other resorts in the region for good skiing and riding through spring break. Jackson said that plans call for Bachelor to remain open through May 27 (Sunday of Memorial Day weekend) if snow conditions allow. Two weeks ago that looked quite unlikely, but after a snowy late February it now seems possible.
And snow in early March will keep skiing and snowboarding on the minds of local outdoor enthusiasts, who sometimes move on quickly to other springtime pursuits in low-snow years.
“In previous years, when the region’s been really snow-challenged, we’ve seen that if the season is still really sluggish in early March, people do start to lose hope and they kind of move on in their head,” Jackson said. “The fact that we found an ‘on’ button here in the middle of February, I would like to believe has rescued March for us. And then if we have a decent March, that can allow momentum to continue into April and May, and hopefully through our planned May 27 closing date.”
As of Wednesday, Bachelor reported a snow depth of 95 inches, Hoodoo Ski Area near Sisters reported a base of 65 inches, and Willamette Pass, southwest of Bend off state Highway 58, remained closed due to lack of snow. Mt. Hood Meadows (106-inch base) received more than 7 feet of snow (89 inches) in a nine-day period from Feb. 17 through this past Sunday.
Jackson said that many of Bachelor’s customers who purchased 12-day or four-day passes during the resort’s preseason deals have waited until the recent snowstorms to redeem them in ideal conditions.
“Some folks are waiting for the right opportunity,” Jackson said. “We’ll see a lot of that coming up from people who might have come earlier. But the way this season has been, they’re going to come later instead.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,