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Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

HOODOO SKI AREA - Burgers on tailgate grills in the parking lot, "corn" snow on the slopes and coconut oil on bared arms - all served under an umbrella of blue sky and bright sunshine.

That was the menu for spring skiing Sunday in the Oregon Cascades.

It served as a reminder that skiing in March, April and May can be a special experience.

And that the arrival of Daylight Savings Time and the impending official end of winter are not reason enough to hang up the skis and boards.

Blue skies, mild temperatures and easily carved corn snow all make spring a great time to be on the slopes. In addition to better visibility and better weather, spring skiers can usually count on shorter lift lines and less crowding.

And 2008 promises to be a banner year for spring skiing in Oregon, thanks to one of the deepest snow packs of the past decade.

"We're going to have an excellent spring season of skiing," said Frankie Labbe, communications manager for Mount Bachelor Resort west of Bend. "Mount Bachelor is seeing some of the best conditions in years."

Mount Bachelor and Hoodoo each have more than 10 feet of snow on the ground, and Willamette Pass Ski Area has almost seven feet at its lodge.

And Mother Nature's probably not finished. It's not unusual for the deepest snow readings of the season to be recorded in April.

"Historically, March has been a very good snow month," said Rick Rockholt at Diamond Lake Resort," which had 57 inches of snow on the ground.

"The rule of thumb here has been, as much snow falls in March as there is snow pack at the first of March. New snow would be nice, but we do not need another 50 inches."

Longer breaks between storms is one reason spring's skiing in Oregon is often better than winter's.

A resort's highest-elevation chairlift is often closed in winter due to stiff winds on top of the mountains. And even when summit lifts are open, visibility is sometimes so limited "you can't really cut loose," as one sunworshipper in the Hoodoo lift line put it Sunday.

Mount Bachelor's Summit Lift, for example, is closed one-third or more of the time in winter, but is almost always open in spring.

Adding to the attraction of Mount Bachelor this spring is the opening of 160 additional acres of skiable terrain.

That was made possible by the recent connection of the "backside catchlines," trails that form ski area boundaries on the south side of the mountain off the Summit chairlift.

The East and West catchlines are now joined on a ridge on the southeast side of the mountain. The spot where they meet is called the East West Divide, and from there skiers can choose whether to head east for a 2.4-mile ride to the Sunrise lift or west for a 3.1-mile ride to the Northwest lift.

"We just made the mountain a whole lot bigger," said John Millslagle, Mount Bachelor's avalanche safety supervisor, who conceived the new design.

The new boundary line allows access to an additional 800 feet of vertical that was previously below the old catchline and out of bounds.

The newlyopened area is made up of steep bowls of expert terrain separated by treed and lava ridges. Skiers are encouraged to always ride with a partner in these areas, and to inquire about conditions from the Summit patrol before going there.

"Besides offering a lot more vertical drop below the Cow's Face area, this will open up more spring corn skiing," Millslagle said.

Corn snow - large, roundedcrystals of ice formed by repeated melting and re-freezing - is a staple of spring skiing.

Early in the day after a cold night, or when the weather is cold or cloudy, the snowpack can remain a sheet of ice. That's not spring skiing at its best.

The prime conditions occur after the sun's radiation or therising ambient air temperaturesoften the top layer enough for it to be carved by ski edges.

Ski areas with lots of different "exposures" to the sun provide the most opportunities to find snow that's neither too hard nor too slushy throughout the day.

Mark Elling, author of "The All-Mountain Skier: The Way to Expert Skiing" and a guide for Mount Bailey Sno Cat Skiing at Diamond Lake, says "Mount Bachelorhas some of the best spring skiing anywhere on the planet."

Because it is a cone-shaped volcano, Elling said, "you can `sun dial' your way around the mountain, skiing aspects where the corn is `going off.'''

Mount Bachelor typically remains open until Memorial Day, but reduces operating hours sometime in April. Hoodoo and Willamette Pass generallyshift to weekends-only operation in early April.

Of course, you don't have to be a downhill skier to take advantage of spring conditions.

Cross-country and backcountry skiers also find the going is easier and "breaking trail" becomes unnecessary, or at least less of a chore, in spring.

Also, the threat of avalanche is reduced once the snowpack has settled.

Spring skiers, however, do need to exercise extra caution when it comes to protecting their skin and eyes from the sun's rays. Reflected off the snow, the sun at high altitude can cook winter-whitened skin like a burger on a tailgate grill.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 11, 2008
Previous Article:March hikes offer challenge, splendor.
Next Article:Hole Hogs are put on notice by the Oregon State Marine Board.

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