Thursday, March 15, 2012

54 Degrees

Last week a heat wave hit the Portland Metro area.  On Thursday, temps were predicted to top 60 degrees in town.  That meant above-freezing weather on Hood for sure!

Slopeside wackiness

Thursday was also the final ski bus day of the season.  But even though the warm weather meant less-than-ideal snow conditions, I couldn't miss the last bus!

Barb tries out some demo skis

It was already warm at 9:30 in the morning, when the bus pulled in to Mt. Hood Meadows.  Upon deboarding, I realized I'd put on way too many layers.  I should've left my extra clothes on the bus right then and there, but since you never know what the wind's doing up on top, I kept everything on.  I paid for that decision dearly, sweating it out all morning.

My great skiing buddies

The bad thing about skiing on super-warm days, is that you only have a short window of time before the snow turns to mush (aka "mashed potatoes").  Once snow reaches this point, it gets extremely sticky and grabby.  Not good for someone bombing along on skis (the cause of many a face-plant).  I reckoned we had until 2 or 2:30 before conditions would force us off the slopes and into the bar.

Heather Canyon, looking in from A-zone

But my skiing friends and I were determined to wring as many runs as we could from the day.  Our plan was to start at the lower slopes, and as the temp rose, move higher.  I buddied up with Linda, Judy, and a man named Pat, one of Judy's high school friends.  We later met Barb, who'd been held up renting some demo skis.

Entering Heather from A-zone

Although the day was warm, I was enjoying the sunshine.  And you can't beat the wonderful views from Mt. Hood Meadows' slopes.

Sunshine reflecting off an icy slope

Photographer Grant was out on the slopes, taking advantage of the blue skies to get some skier shots.  I stopped to say "hi" and we chatted for a bit.  Grant told me the ski patrol was going to open some of the bowls off of Heather Canyon, and when that happened, he was heading over. 

Linda pauses mid-canyon

Hmmm......Heather Canyon.  I'd only skied in there once so far this year.  Most Thursdays, I've had my tele-skis and I'm not a good enough tele skier yet to go down double-black diamond runs (which is all there is in Heather).  But today I had my alpine skis, and was ready to rip things up. 

Heather Canyon is huge!

It was almost lunchtime by then, but the seed had been planted.  I convinced Linda and Pat that we needed to take a trip down Heather, before the snow turned into slushees.  At the top of the lift, we talked to a really nice patroller who gave us the rundown on which bowls were open.  Apparently only the south-facing bowls had snow soft enough to ski.  The bowls that didn't get the morning sun were still very icy.  But A-zone, the highest lift-accessed run on Heather, was open and conditions were rumored to be good.

An incredible place to be on a sunny day

Pat and Linda rarely ski Heather.  So I became the de facto leader, guiding our group to the top of A-zone's steep face.  Peering into the abyss, the snow appeared to be very cut up.  But we were already here, and there really wasn't any way to go but down.  So we pointed our skis and entered the canyon.

Hood view from Heather runout

Heather Canyon is a beautiful place.  It's a huge ungroomed skier's paradise.  From the bottom of A-zone, people on the slopes above looked like tiny ants.  The summit of Hood loomed large at the top of the canyon.  Linda, Pat, and I picked our way down the bowls and gullies, occasionally pausing for rest and scenery breaks.  Although the snow wasn't too bad in A-zone, the lower we traveled, the stickier it became.  At the very bottom, there is a long flat run to the lift, and if you don't get up enough speed, you'll end up walking.  I was afraid the snow conditions would slow us on the runout.  But we tucked the final slope and were able to make it all the way.

View from the Heather Lift

The Heather lift crosses over the top of the Shooting Star lift.  On the ride back, I whipped out my camera and captured this unique view.

Lunchtime gear pile

Lunchtime was past due!  We headed to the lodge to meet up with Barb and Judy, who'd gone in before our Heather expedition.  Everyone was so warm, once inside, we shed as much clothing as possible.  Barb laughed at all our clothing piled up on the counter.  A sure sign of a warm spring day!

"Love Bus" riders on top of Cascade

After refueling, our group returned outside to grab skis.  Meadows had put out a bunch of picnic tables on the patio, and they were full of people enjoying a sunny lunch.  The snow was melting like crazy.  There were puddles of water everywhere.  We heard someone say it was 54 degrees outside.  54 degrees?  Wow!  That's awful warm to be trying to ski.  I hoped the snow was still okay.  This might be a short afternoon.

Can't beat the blue skies!

My friends and I headed up to the Cascade lift.  On top we discovered, much to our delight, that the snow was nice and soft, but not sticky.  My group ran into a bunch of people from our bus, all skiing together.  We combined into one large massive swarm of skiers and completed several runs.  It was great fun to ski in such a large bunch of people.  And of course, I had great fun taking photos of everyone.  The snow up top stayed just cold enough, so we ended up skiing until 3:00, much later than expected on such a warm day.

All I can say is "yahoo!"  (photo by Grant Mrydal)

I skied at temperatures of 54 degrees and survived!  Not only did I survive, but I had loads of fun.  I'm sorry the ski bus is done for another season, but skiing is definitely not over yet.  The Cascades tend to get their biggest snowfalls during the month of March, and Meadows usually is open until early May.  Lots more good times ahead.  And I love spring skiing!

So I leave you with one last photo from my buddy, photographer Grant.  When I saw his photos from the day, I just had to buy this.  He captured me perfectly in a moment of pure bliss.  I have nothing else to say, but WOO-HOO!



  1. Looks like an awesome day! I remember one time, back in the 70's, when we were skiing and it got quite warm out - lots of people were skiing in shorts and tee-shirts. What a sight - I'll never forget it.

  2. Looks beautiful and FUN! I can imagine the slushy is not all that much fun but probably better than nothing :) Even though it was the last bus, will you ski more this season?

  3. Lovely. Love that shot with the sun glaring down on it


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