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Something to cheer about

Skiing, snowboarding season hits the slopes

Forget that stuff printed on calendars about winter starting on the 21st of December.

Winter is officially here -- right now. Yeah! Yippee! Yahoo!

Oregon's three largest ski areas -- Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt. Bachelor and Timberline -- have been leading the cheers for winter's arrival since the day after Thanksgiving, the customary opening day of ski season in the Pacific Northwest.

A day later, last Saturday, all three resorts opened for the 2001-02 season, thanks to a holiday storm that swept over the Cascades range and generously dusted their slopes with more than two feet of packed powder in lower elevations, and as much as three feet higher up.

In Washington, Mt. Baker and Crystal Mountain were the first to start up operations (albeit on limited scales). Stevens Pass and Ski Bluewood plan to open Thursday, followed by 49 Degrees North on Friday and White Pass on Saturday. Mission Ridge is set for first tracks on Dec. 8.

Skiers and sliders who were lucky enough to make it to a mountain -- any mountain -- last weekend were treated to some sweet conditions for testing their own early-season physical conditioning or breaking in their latest gear.

The lift lines on those first two days of limited operations were full, but not long; sort of what one would expect on a late-season spring day, after a storm has deposited one last load of snow to briefly spark up interest.

It's safe to say at this point in the season that skier/slider interest has been piqued. And, if the snow continues to fall and accumulate over the next few weeks, the lift lines quickly will grow longer as more and more skiers and sliders take notice and hit the slopes.

So far, so good, on the snow front.

As of Tuesday morning, each of the three aforementioned Oregon resorts was boasting a 30-inch or greater snow base on which each hopes to add hundreds inches more, and host thousands of additional skiers and sliders, before the season runs its course next April.

Larry Schick, ski weather meteorologist for Northwest News and an avid skier, reported on the website Tuesday that, starting Wednesday morning, another 10 to 20 inches of snow could blanket Northwest mountains by this weekend.

"This next storm has major dumpage potential, and [there] ain't nothing better than a major league dump," he quipped.

Schick is predicting the odds favor a better ski season than last year. He's basing that prediction on current and forecasted weather and ocean patterns in the Pacific Ocean, which indicate a near neutral pattern, with a slight but negligible tilt toward an El Ni¤o model.

"This winter's pattern favors a `normal' to `above-normal' snow year. It's doubtful we will have a poor snow year like last year. The dice are loaded in a favorable direction -- toward better conditions than last year."

But, he cautioned, forecasting winter mountain snows under a neutral pattern is "a bit of a shell game."

With a neutral pattern, he explained, three possibilities of equal chance exist: either a below-normal snowfall (boo!), normal (yeah!) or above-normal (yahoo!).

"Since normal, or above-normal, accounts for two-thirds of the possible random outcomes, I am optimistic we will have a good year," he said, adding, "We will have more yeahs and yahoos than boos this season."


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