Asit Rathod knows Mount Hood.
At 6 pm on Saturday, December 12, the entire ski area of Mt. Hood Meadows lost power. Chairlifts stopped, trail lights flicked off and everything turned dark and quiet. Within moments the mountain was decorated like a Christmas tree with hundreds of cell phone flashlights.
Meadows crews responded quickly to rev up their auxiliary generators and restore power, and operations ran on diesel through the weekend and into Monday. Most of the day trippers who raced to the mountain Sunday for fresh snow had no idea that the main power was out and the resort was running on back-up.
While they were dealing with Portland General Electric over the power shut-down, Meadows crews and contractors also were completing ongoing repairs to the Shooting Star Chair, which was knocked out of commission by a brutal November 17 windstorm that brought 70 mile-an-hour winds with gusts as strong as 115 miles an hour.
Two 100-foot-tall hemlock trees two to three feet in diameter fell across both cables of the Shooting Star lift line that night, approximately 100 feet uphill of Tower 1. Meadows crews removed the trees from the line and repaired the damage to the lifting frame and cross arm. The haul cable was not damaged, but the tower footing was.
A blog post from Meadows on December 5 explained, “We are confident in our abilities to repair damage and have a completely functioning lift. But even a relatively 'simple' repair can be a major undertaking considering the obvious weather and geographical challenges requiring us to make multiple plans. There are many moving parts to the repairs and we need to work through them systematically and thoroughly.”
Meadows brought in an outside contractor to repair the damage, and by December 12 the lift’s tower structure had been repaired and workers were focusing on the tower footing. The repairs necessitated concrete work in less-than-ideal mountain conditions, with high winds and frequent precipitation, and workers created a protected environment on the mountain similar to an outdoor surgical theater, to keep the elements out.
At press time, there seemed to be a good chance that Meadows would have the Star lift running by the weekend. Either way, even with the Shooting Star challenges, Meadows has been running more lifts this December than in the past two low-snow years. Mt. Hood Express and Vista Express have been regularly operating, and Hood River Express ran for the first time on Sunday. Heather Canyon requires more snow to build the snow bridges over the creeks for the run out, and high winds have prevented a lot of Cascade days on the upper mountain, but there is plenty of snow building up for future exploration of those and other areas. The blasts of the avalanche cannons were heard filtering out from the Private Reserve last weekend, and that bodes well for the steeps.
Meadows spokesman Dave Tragethon commended operations and maintenance crews for revving up the auxiliary generator quickly to restore power, and for dealing methodically with the Shooting Star repairs. “Within three minutes the auxiliary power was on, and the lifts were only down for about 10 minutes,” he said. “This was a good exercise and it was good to see that our team was properly trained for the situation.”
With fresh snow and a good base, Meadows drew over 10,000 skier visits from Friday to Sunday, about half coming on Sunday. “That’s a fantastic opening,” says Tragethon. “We’re seeing a lot of pent-up demand and the conditions have been awesome.”