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Great expectations

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Mount Hood resorts, area businesses hopeful for powder-packed winter season.


PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - A group of snowboarders ride the ski lift at Timberline Lodge.While the winter of 2014-15 proved the driest and most devastating in decades to Mount Hood-area ski resorts and recreation-oriented businesses, “real” winter made a comeback last season.

Now, with temperatures dropping to the 30s and a dumping of snow forecast on Mount Hood for Thanksgiving weekend, many whose livelihoods and well-being depend on significant snowfall think this season will be even whiter.

Based on what he’s studied and heard so far, John Burton, director of marketing at Timberline Lodge Resort above Government Camp, is among them. The Hood River resident augments official weather reports with what he hears on his way to work each morning.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Ben Johnson gives a snowboarding lesson to Jamie Carlton during her first downhill experience at Timberline in 2011.
“The orchard guys say they can feel it in their bones and see it in the trees that we’re in for a long, hard winter,” said Burton, who chats with local farmers in Parkdale during his morning coffee stop. “The Farmers Almanac says we’re gonna get pounded.”

With the transition from fall to winter weather well underway, snow sports-oriented businesses in Sandy and Gresham — along with Mount Hood-based resorts — are hopeful the La Niña-driven forecast for the season will translate to frequent snowfall and temperatures consistently low enough to keep what does fall on the ground throughout season.

Andreanne Rode, owner of Ottos’ Ski Shop in Sandy, felt confident enough about the forecast to leave the store behind at a time she’d normally be preparing like mad for the coming Nordic ski season.

“I took a trip to Cozumel (Mexico),” she confessed. “It was phenomenal. I went in October, which is not when ski shop owners are supposed to leave town.”

Fortunately, with the help of her staff of about six, Rode made up for lost time. They prepared the shop for what she hopes is an influx of cross-country skiers looking to rent and purchase skis, snowshoes and related accessories for the 2016-17 winter season.

“We’re getting ready as fast as we can,” she said last week. “We’re working through new arrivals, getting everything placed, (putting away) paddle boards and bikes and moving the ski gear to the forefront. If someone came in the door wanting to rent snowshoes, I could do that.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Hillcrest Ski and Sports employee Matthew Johnson works on adjusting ski bindings under the watchful eye of  shop technician Scott Schrepping. The Gresham shop is gearing up for the 2016-17 ski season.Significant changes

Further up Highway 26 on Mount Hood itself, crews at Timberline Lodge spent this fall preparing the resort’s slopes, lifts and facilities for an influx of visitors. The resort’s ski area opened Saturday, Nov. 19, with more lifts expected to open when additional snow falls on Thanksgiving weekend.

After what Burton calls a “crazy busy” summer recreation season, Timberline is ready for skiers and snowboarders.

“We’re really excited to get rolling and see customers back up here,” he said. “We hope to have a great, snowy winter.”

The resort’s Wy’East Day Lodge Cafe and bar has been remodeled into what Burton calls a “more contemporary, apre ski-pub fusion” theme. Features include equipment upgrades to accommodate more efficient food service, new high-definition TVs, outdoor webcams, and a glass overhead-type door that faces south from Mount Hood.

“You’re looking down at the Cascades and Mount Jefferson,” he said. “It’s a significant change, for sure.”

Characterized by below-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean, La Niña conditions tend to translate to higher-than-usual rainfall in the Pacific Northwest.

Although the National Weather Service outlook for the season is more reserved, calling for an “equal chance” of normal vs. above or below normal precipitation and temperatures, the venerable Farmer’s Almanac says the 2016-17 winter will be “rainier than normal,” with temperatures below normal and “above normal” snowfall.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Snow is quickly accumulating at Ski Bowl in Government Camp, and the resort hopes to be open in the coming weeks. Cosmic preparations

At Mt. Hood Skibowl in Government Camp, the closest major ski, snowboard and tubing area to Gresham and Sandy, resort spokesman Hans Wipper says enthusiasm is running high for another strong season to counteract the low point of early 2015.

“We’ve got great expectations for the season. We just got nine inches of snow,” he said on Wednesday, Nov. 16. “Another nine-10 inches and we’ll be open for skiing. It’s looking very promising with the La Nina now: above-average precipitation with below-average temperatures. It’s looking like the perfect formula for snow this winter.”PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Snowboarder Adam Jenkins gets major air while skiing on Mt. Hood.

Crews are attending to routine pre-season items such as new-employee training and preparing the resort’s snowmaking “guns” and the audio-visual accoutrements that make the resort’s “Cosmic Tubing” hill a striking nighttime experience. This season, Cosmic Tubing will be available on Sunday nights.

“We have over 600,000 LED lights,” Wipper noted. “Lasers shine down, and the music’s rockin’. It’s an experience that’s truly cosmic.”

New to Skibowl this year are an upgraded and expanded snowmaking system and new equipment to replace almost half of its ski and snowboard rental fleet.

“We are able to make a lot of snow at once,” Wipper says of the new piping and larger water reservoir. “It’s a great improvement. We’ve also added a second conveyor lift to the tubing hill. It’s really going to help speed people through there and get more runs in. They’ll have more fun with the time they’re here.”

Skibowl collaborates with Timberline Lodge on a combined “Fusion Pass” for the season, available for purchase on each resort’s website.

Over at Mt. Hood Meadows, Dave Tragethon, the resort’s vice president of communications, said storm forecasters’ prediction of several feet of snow on Mount Hood in the next few days is just what the resort is looking for.

“We have about a half-foot base right now, and as soon as we get enough depth we’ll get snowcats on the hill to prep trails for a possible opening Friday,” he said in a statement issued Tuesday, noting crews were “thankful” to be working on Thanksgiving to prepare a Friday opening. “Just how many lifts and how much of the mountain will be open is dependent on how much snow we receive and when we receive it.”

Meadows has begun a “Countdown to Opening” with a Facebook Live broadcast each day at 9 a.m. on their Facebook page.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Andreanne Rode, owner of Otto's Ski Shop in Sandy, feels confident about the coming ski season on Mount Hood. 
The known unknowns

In his 16 years of operating the Meadowlark Ski & Snowboard rental shop in Sandy, Dave Livermore has seen many weather-related ups and downs. He’s hopeful this season will be even better than last winter’s “comeback” from the 2014-15 season.

“We had a fairly good season last year,” he said. “There’s momentum, people are excited from last year when we were coming off of a terrible season.”

The phone at Meadowlark, which Livermore said caters roughly to equal numbers of skiers and snowboarders, started to ring with the first dusting of Mount Hood snow in mid-November.

“Most people don’t ski until after the holidays,” he admitted. “Thanksgiving creates the expectation, when people start seeing snow on the mountain.”

Given the mercurial nature of early-season weather, Wipper is keeping his reserves of rampant enthusiasm in check.

“When there’s a little more than a dusting, people start coming in and talking about it,” he said, “but it’s Oregon, so you never really know.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Dave Livermore, owner of Meadowlark Ski & Snowboard in Sandy, hopes this coming ski season is even better than last year.

More Info

Check skiing and snowboarding information and conditions here:

• Timberline Lodge, 27500 W. Leg Road, accessed from Highway 26 at Government Camp

Website: www.timberlinelodge.com/conditions

Call: 503-272-3311

• Mt. Hood Skibowl, 87000 Highway 26, Government Camp

Website: www.skibowl.com/winter/

Call: 503-272-3206

• Mt. Hood Meadows, 14040 Highway 35, Mount Hood

Website: www.skihood.com

Call: 503-337-2222