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Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

S k i i n g

For skiers and snowboarders, the Oregon Cascades are a land of winter wonders - such as wondering when the season will start, wondering what kind of snowpack there will be this winter, and wondering why the price of lift tickets keeps rising.

Wonder no more:

The 2006-07 downhill ski season in the central Cascades is already off and gliding. Mt. Bachelor opened with five lifts running Saturday, tying with last year for the earliest start since 1998.

Willamette Pass and Hoodoo ski areas are scheduled to follow suit Thursday and Friday, respectively, or as soon as snow levels permit. That may be Sunday, at the earliest, or into next week.

And the snowpack in the Cascades this winter will, a panel of expert meteorologists unanimously agrees, be "about average," which is pretty darn good for skiing.

Lift ticket prices go up, in part, because resort operators keep re-investing in their facilities. A case in point is the $3.5 million Mt. Bachelor spent over the summer replacing the old Pine Marten chairlift, the resort's most-used lift.

The brand new high-speed quad, installed by Doppelmayr CTEC, has fewer mechanical parts than its predecessor, according to Director of Maintenance Rick Brooks, `meaning it operates more efficiently" and is less likely to break down.

The new chairlift highlighted a $4.5-million off-season work package at Mt. Bachelor that included clearing second-growth trees from the area between the Sunrise Express lift and Marshmallow.

The trees had limited access to the area for the past 8 to 10 years and their removal means more "glade" skiing will be available, according to Communications Manager Jeannette Sherman.

Mt. Bachelor officials said on the company Web site that the cost of the improvements and inflation led to a need to raise the price of the basic daily lift ticket - in the process breaking the $50 barrier for the first time in Oregon.

Skiers this winter will pay $52 per day to ride the lifts at Mt. Bachelor, and $58 per day during the three busiest holiday periods. Last year's base rate was $49.

Prices at the other two ski resorts east of Eugene are $39 per day at Hoodoo and $38 at Willamette Pass.

At Hoodoo, the biggest change "is in the way we look at midweek skiing," resort owner Chuck Shepard said. After holding the midweek price several dollars lower than the weekend rate for several years, Hoodoo is now charging the same base rate every day.

"But we're going to have lots of specials," Shepard said. Specials scheduled to start in January include "Tightwad Tuesdays," on which skiers and snowboarders can ride for $19, and "Munchie Mondays," when lift tickets will cost $20, plus two cans of food to be donated to a local food bank.

"If you forget to bring the food, you pay the regular price, but you get a certificate good for $10 in our dining room," Shepard said.

At Willamette Pass, "we will probably have the most affordable skiing," said Mountain Manager Ray Gardner. Still, at $38, the rate there this season will be $2 higher than last year's.

Willamette Pass purchased a second pipe grinder to ensure snow raiders have a professionally cut halfpipe in which to play.

"The big thing we're going to focus on this year is the terrain park," Gardner said. "The new Terrain Master Sno-cats are designed for building pipe features and terrain."

Like last year, "The Pass" will operate only four days per week, Thursday-Sunday.

The reduced schedule resulted in "a little bit higher average count" per day, Gardner said. "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday - those were slow days anyway."

As usual, with the approach of Thanksgiving, skiers in the southern Willamette Valley are antsy about what kind of snow conditions to expect at their local resorts.

According to the Oregon Meteorological Society's 14th annual winter forecast, this will be neither a banner snow year like 2005-06, nor a disaster like 2004-05.

Overall, the five meteorologists on this year's panel said they expected a slightly drier, slightly warmer than normal winter.

Oregon state climatologist George Tayler said resorts should compare the upcoming season to the 1951-52 season and the 03-04 season, according to Hoodoo's Shephard, who attended the Oct. 20 meteorological society meeting in Portland.

In 2003-04, Hoodoo received a good early snowfall, with a 40-inch base by mid-December and 80 inches by Jan. 1. The snowpack shrank about 20 inches during a mid-January dry spell, but was back up above 100 inches by the time March arrived.

"That was a pretty good year for us," Shepard said. "Not as good as last year, but pretty good."

The Hoodoo season that year started at the end of November and went 115 days, Shepard said. "We consider anything over 100 days as acceptable. Over 110 days is excellent and under 90 days we consider to be less than acceptable."

An average snow year "is really good for us, because too much snow can be hard (keeping roads and parking lots plowed) and too little snow, of course, is bad."

Of course, the weather pattern Shepard would love to see repeated is the one that arrived exactly 50 years ago.

In 1956, operator Ed Thurston announced on Nov. 5 that he was opening Hoodoo Ski Bowl much earlier than planned because, following a storm that dropped 6 inches of snow overnight, the snowpack at the bowl - wonder of wonders - measured 50 inches.
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Title Annotation:Recreation; Uncertainties aside, a good ski season is expected
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 21, 2006
Next Article:My brother, my hero, my goodness, the scenery.

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