Riding on Silk through the Wind and Snow

Timberline Lodge Ski Area Opens Late But Delivers Fresh Groomers

CASCADE MOUNTAINS, ORE., Dec. 28, 2008 -- Downed trees and iced-up lifts delayed opening for two hours at Timberline today. About 11 am, however, the No. 3 and Flood Express lifts began turning, giving the skiers who braved high winds and driving snow a chance to ski the inch of fresh snow that topped the frozen groomers. The skiing at Timberflats was, for once, fast.

During the drive up the mountain, I saw a lot lightweights heading back down. The weather was apparently too much for them. But the rain turned to snow on the Timberline road, and on arriving at the parking lot I rejoiced because there weren't many people there.

The weather had, it seemed, delayed Timberline's opening. I've never been impressed with Timberline's mountain operations crew. They are slow to dig out their lifts and get them open; when it comes to opening lifts and getting people on the mount, they seem to have a decision-making disorder. Yes, there can be severe weather, just as at all the other ski areas at or above treeline in the Pacific Northwest. Considering that the pro patrol does not typically need to do any avalanche control work after a storm, Timberline's opening performances are often subpar.

For example, last May brought a windy, cloudy morning that, understandably, kept lift ops from opening Palmer. As the gusts of wind died out and the clouds lifted and the sun came out, we began to wait for Palmer to open. None of the crew could make a decision. The lift crew were waiting for the go-ahead from the patrol, but only vollies were on the mount. They couldn't make the decision even though -- quite clearly by now -- everything was in order and it hadn't been windy for hours. Finally, the head of the pro patrol showed up and told them to load the lift. He could have done that by radio at least a half hour earlier.

Anyway, I digress. On Sunday the weather did not repel my friends' 8-year-old and 4-year-old. They geared up and headed out, with the 4-year-old skiing from the lodge to the bottom of the Flood Express chair, no problem.

The inch or so of new snow over the frozen groomers made for some fast skiing, something of a rarity at Timberline (unless Palmer is open).

So: What do I like about Timberline? You can park within walking distance of the lodge; you don't need to ride a shuttle just to get from the lot to the lodge, like at Meadows or Crystal. At Timberline, there is room in the lodge: Room to stretch, room to sit quietly and chill. You don't need to use the lockers because there is very little theft -- just throw your stuff on top of them.

Best of all, the mountain is a relatively safe place for kids to ski or ride. At Timberline, with the exception of the Storming Norman chair, kids are largely free from marauding teenagers skiing or boarding beyond the level of their skill and intelligence.

And when the Palmer chairlift opens in May, and the sun comes out to reveal six inches of new on top of a wide-open, groomed-smooth run, it can be a beautiful place. If they can get the lift open before closing time.

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Day No. 9 for the 2008-2009 ski season.

Trip Report by Steve Hoenisch. Published Feb.7, 2009, in Seattle, Wash.

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