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Changes make sure Mount Bachelor has competition.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg / The Register-Guard

THAR'S GOLD in them thar Cascades - and most of it was poured there by ski area operators.

It's surprising how much money is being spent by ski areas in the Central Cascades jockeying for your winter recreation business.

Between them, Willamette Pass and Hoodoo ski areas - both owned by Eugeneans - spent $5 million this year on new ski lifts alone.

Hoodoo replaced its double-chair lifts, Red and Green, with two new "quad" chairlifts, at $1 million apiece. "The Pass" invested about $3 million in a high-speed, six-passenger chairlift that will double as a sight-seeing gondola ride in the summer.

Add to that the almost $6 million Hoodoo owner Chuck Shepard poured into his massive new day lodge on Santiam Pass, and you realize a lot of lift tickets have to be sold to pay for all this.

Willamette Pass officials say they hope to draw 100,000 visitors this season. Shepard says Hoodoo's goal is to attract 65,000 "skier visits."

The two ski areas reported attendance of about 135,000 last winter - or about 35,000 fewer than they hope to see during the coming winter.

And that was during a record-setting season for Oregon ski areas, which set an all-time, single-season attendance mark of 1.65 million skier visits, according to the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association.

David Riley, an executive at Mount Hood Meadows Ski Resort who serves as chairman of PNSAA, said the spike in business on Oregon's mountains might well have been a result of changes in the public's travel habits following the events of Sept. 11.

"This past winter, Northwesterners appear to have traveled more often by car, spent more time closer to home, and invested a larger percentage of their leisure time reconnecting with family and friends on trips to Oregon's mountains," he said.

Ski areas also benefitted from generally good snow conditions over the season, with good early snowpacks and an uncommonly large number of days and nights with new snowfall to help keep the slopes appealingly fresh-looking.

Prior the last winter, the ski business had been often described as "flat," and the industry had been working to attract new people to the snow sports.

Did last year mark the beginning of a new upsurge in skiing and snowboarding? Or was it just a fortuitious "spike" in business? Time will tell.

But one thing is certain. All the construction money poured into the Cascades during the summer of 2002 means area snow enthusiasts now have three state-of-the-art resorts vying for their business. With its new lodge and lifts, Hoodoo has eliminated the facilities shortcomings that hampered it for many, many years. Willamette Pass' new high-speed lift addresses the serious skiers' complaint that too much of their day was spent getting to the summit and not enough skiing.

(Plus, the gondola cars that will replace the new Accelerator's chairs during the off-season open the door to significant summer business. In fact, the PNSAA said last year's attendance record wouldn't have been possible without the tens of thousands of sightseers who rode lifts at Mount Bachelor and Timberline during June, July and August.)

Even the neighborhood bully of the ski business - Mount Bachelor, which drew 509,000 visitors in 2001-02 - spent money to put itself on a stronger base. Literally. Bachelor gets so much snow that it is often first in the Central Cascades to open - and almost always last to close. Nevertheless, its new owners felt compelled to invest in snow-making equipment, primarily to assure that it has enough of a snow "base" at about Thanksgiving to provide "a good start" to the season, as well as to ease the worries of people holding reservations to visit over the Christmas holidays.

Mount Bachelor is a "destination resort," meaning it depends on attracting travelers from afar for a good share of its business.

But Bachelor must now be concerned that more of its Oregon clientele will be drawn to one or both of its smaller, less-expensive and increasingly attractive neighbors.

Hoodoo, after all, is closer to Bend and Redmond than to Eugene and Corvallis. And Hoodoo's rates for an adult day pass this winter will be $15 less than Mount Bachelor's on weekdays, $12 less on weekends and during holiday periods. Prices at The Pass are $10-$13 less than Bachelor's.

"We are keeping prices low because that's what people expect, and we want to keep it accessible to families," said Shepard, Hoodoo's owner.

Willamette Pass Ski Area, meanwhile, is focusing its efforts trying to "grow the market" by promoting a learn-to-ski program that has proven successful at producing repeat business.

"If the same percentage of people ski, we won't be able to support all this capitalization," said Randy Rogers, director of skiing at Willamette Pass. "We've got to get a bigger percentage involved, and high-speed lifts, shaped skis and comfortable clothing all help make skiing that much more enjoyable.

"It's not us against Hoodoo. It's us against the mall, the movie theaters, apathy and cable telelvision. ... We are really working to promote winter outdoor recreation as a health concern. "

Mike Stahlberg is the Register-Guard's outdoor writer. He can be reached at mstahlberg@guardnet.com.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 21, 2002
Words:866
Previous Article:Academic honors for Oregon, OSU.
Next Article:Outdoor Digest.


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