After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, Willamette Pass finally opened for winter ski and snowboard operations on January 7, 2012 – the latest opening in more than 20 years. With the anemic snowpack, operations were limited to the backside and K-P, the ski haul road on the front side. Upon arriving at the Pass early in the morning, I was impressed to see the number of patrollers in the parking lot. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was suffering from a lack of lift riding and powder snow this winter. At the morning meeting, everyone was excited to get out and make some turns, but a bit suspect of how the snow conditions would be on the backside. Having made turns the week before, I had the advantage of knowing what to expect and told a few people the day was going to be good! I think they thought I was joking….
Heading out to catch the first chair up the hill, it was cold at about 26 degrees with a slight wind that chilled my face. I have to admit the ski hill didn’t look like much on the south facing slopes. The snow coverage was only about 60 percent, with rocks and dirt showing everywhere. When we unloaded at the top of the EPA however, it was a different story. The runs were nicely groomed leading to Peak 2 and it looked like winter due to the three to four fresh inches of snow that had fallen. Opening the mountain took a bit longer than usual, since we had to bring all the equipment to the top of the hill and distribute everything. After the sleds and equipment were in place, we set about opening the runs on the backside. I opened Down Under with the help of a fellow patroller also named Matt. There were some obstacles which required marking, but coverage was good for the most part. The hill was ready for the skiing public by about 9:15 and the season had begun. I should note….all pictures of this day were taken after the hill opened to the public!
As expected, not too many people showed up for fear of sub-optimum conditions, so the few of us who were there had Peak 2 mostly to ourselves. It was kind of like having your own private ski area with several of your closest friends all to yourselves. Plus, there was 4 inches of fresh over a soft base with bluebird skies. Pretty hard to beat…
I spent the morning running laps on Down Under, Northern and through the trees with Dan and Todd. Our legs started to get a bit tired around 11:30, so we broke for a lunch down at the patrol room. The run back down K-P was less than desirable, but there was adequate coverage to have some fun. After eating a burger cooked up by the social committee, we headed back out for some more. Interestingly enough, we found ample powder in the afternoon around the Dragon’s Back area, and I don’t think the temperature on the backside rose above freezing all day.
Simon was stoked on the snow out at Dragon’s Back, and for good reason, and each run seemed to include another person from patrol looking to score some afternoon powder. I think we made about 5 runs out there in about an hour period. Here’s a shot of Todd enjoying some of the fresh….
Finally, the day drew to a close, and it was time to close the mountain at 3:30. Sweep went quickly with all the help, and after it was complete we headed to the top of the EPA to close K-P. Dan and I skied Eagle’s since there were a few tracks down it, and it was ok, but nothing like the excellent snow we earned from the week before. I was able to snap this shot of Peter looking out over Success and out towards Diamond prior to heading down for the day…
Down in the patrol room, people were pretty happy with a day that exceeded expectations. Once the evening meeting was complete, the beers were poured and the usual stories and camaraderie that goes with patrol were shared and enjoyed. Driving home, I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets over Diamond Peak I’ve ever seen, and it gave me hope that this season will still be a great one! Snow is in the forecast for this week, so we can only hope!