The powder was sweet and ticket sales were brisk until the rains came. // Photo courtesy Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort
High hopes for the Oregon ski industry’s most successful season in history got swamped by a rain-soaked January that caused resorts to close lifts and limit service.
This year’s ski season started off with positive snowfall levels as early as Thanksgiving, boosting ticket sales. According to Dave Tragethon of Mount Hood Meadows, the resort reached 99 inches of snow before Christmas.
“Anytime you can get to 100 [inches] by Jan. 1, you're doing pretty well,” says Tragethon.
Prior to the meltdown, resort employees were confident in claiming historic levels of attendance and season pass purchases.
“In the 2007-2008 season, we had close to 130,000 skiers visit through December. We are up almost 10% compared to that year,” says Tragethon. Jon Tullis, a spokesman for Timberline Lodge, says the company saw so much business in December that employees had to turn people away. “It was really something,” Tullis says. “It was almost too busy. Most ski areas were parked out by 9:30. We are used to traffic jams heading down [the mountain], but there was a traffic jam heading up.”
Then came the rains. The snow base at Mt. Hood Meadows melted away from over 100 inches to under 80 inches, and ticket sales plummeted. After a similarly promising early season in Central Oregon, snow levels at Mount Bachelor also dropped below average, to 91 inches in early February. An unusually warm rainstorm on Mount Hood swamped parking lots and forced resorts to shut down popular trails and lifts during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, washing away profits.
“If [skiers] were dressed for it, conditions were OK,” says Tragethon. “[But] weather has been an issue. There were three days with potential [to see] 5,000 skier visits that we didn't see. It's too substantial to just make up.”