Mike Annett was a young ski coach from Canada by way of Upstate New York the first time he traveled out West to sample the summer snow on Mt. Hood, in 1978.
There was some blissful tree skiing to be had over the weekend on Mount Hood. There were also monster lift lines made worse by power outages, bumper-to-bumper back-ups on mountain highways and access roads, jam-packed parking lots clogged with beached vehicles, freezing-cold chairlift rides, dreaded shuttle bus trips, and clueless snow-drivers making business for the local tow truck companies.
The wind howled up to 44 miles per hour at 6,000 feet on Saturday, causing a power failure at Timberline Lodge and sending employees scrambling to fire up generators to provide basic amenities and functioning chairlifts. For a while the one lift operating at Timberline was the slow-crawling Pucci lift, where the Metro League was attempting to run a high school race. Between all the racers rushing to get in their runs and the crowds of redirected boarders and skiers, things got crowded and tempers ran short with the 30-minute lift lines.
Timberline rider Sean Haseldens reported through Instagram, "Worst lift lines ever due to power outage and ski racers, but we've waited a while for this."
Timberline ended up shutting down all chairlifts at 2 pm Saturday. "Luckily, tomorrow is looking much better," the resort announced through Twitter. "Bring your pow boards."
Mt. Hood Meadows also cranked up the marketing to lure people up to the mountain Sunday, sending out a press release at 5:30 am headlined "Powerful storm drops 3 feet of snow on Mt. Hood Meadows" and following up at 7:10 am with a tweet saying, "It's deep out there and still dumping... Ride w/ a buddy!"
By 9:05 am there was a solid line of cars backed up from Govy to the Meadows parking lots, and the main lot was already full. By 10:15 Highway 35 was temporarily closed and vehicles were being turned back away from the resort. By noon all Meadows parking lots were full and the resort was shuttling guests from satellite parking lots at Parkdale Mt. Hood Country Store and Welches Middle School.
Timberline's parking lot also was full by 10 am Sunday, forcing the resort to close Timberline Road and run a shuttle up from Skibowl West. Timberline has been parking Fusion Pass guests in places normally occupied by snowbanks this season, but that strategy fell apart this weekend with the return of the snowbanks. It didn't take long for the parking/access road scene to descend into chaos.
It was also a bit of a mess on the slopes. Ripping winds caused the newly opened Jeff Flood chairlift to slow and stop often, and Stormin' Norman was closed for hours, making for large lift lines.
By 3 pm Timberline had taken the rare step of apologizing through Facebook, saying, "Sometimes we get too much of a good thing, and it can cause problems... With all the new snow and excitement, we reached our parking capacity earlier than expected, and didn’t do a good job of keeping our guests updated of the situation."
Timberline's mea culpa drew about 100 comments Sunday, most of them applauding resort crews for working hard to make the best of a a challenging situation. Chris McDermott commented, "Yep, surely was a bummer. What a train wreck of a day. I do feel for ya'll with the amount of folks heading your way however. Once Skibowl has snow, the crowds will thin out. Thank you for recognizing the crazy situation, I applaud that and others should too."
The situation turned even crazier with the midday weather change Sunday. The snow turned to sleet and then rain, and the lodge was soon full to overflowing with soaked guests wringing their gloves out and crowding around the fireplace to warm up.
No way around it, it was a mess. But still, for all the chaos it created, that storm was key. Timberline's snow base has grown to 68 inches, Meadows is up to 54 inches and Skibowl may finally be getting close to opening, with a 22-inch base on the Upper Bowl at 5,000 feet.
Unfortunately, the snow turned to rain at Skibowl yet again Sunday afternoon. Did they get enough snow to open the chairlifts? I will let you know as soon as I hear news.
Oh, and one more thing. Very soon Shred Hood will be launching a Real Time Trail Report service on our Weather and Conditions page. The idea is to provide a platform for people on Mount Hood to let others know what true conditions are like on the roads, in the parking lots and on the slopes, in real time, illustrated with phone photos. This could turn into a useful service for the community, so please consider using it once it launches.