Molly Juillerat works down Where's Waldo in heavy snow at Willamette Pass. Photo by Lee Juillerat

Enjoying a big snow day at Willamette Pass

We weren’t expecting a powder day, but the snow was so blustery we felt like were skiing inside a vigorously shaken snow globe.

After a lap on snow-fluffy Where’s Waldo, one of the runs on the backside at the Willamette Pass Ski Area, my daughter Molly and I decided to give it another go. Amazingly, on our second lap we couldn’t see the tracks we’d made only several minutes earlier. And the snow was even deeper than the first time around.

“WHeeeee!” yelped Molly as she seemingly floated along atop the snow.

Her husband, Andy, was more focused, making tracks of his own in the trees alongside Waldo. Molly would normally be alongside him and her friend Lisa, but she was being careful, recovering from a muscle tear that only days before had left her limping.

We had arrived at Willamette Pass, the ski area located, appropriately, near the summit of Willamette Pass on Highway 58, later than planned. So we jumped on the speedy Eagle Peak Accelerator, a six-pack chair that took us to the Eagle Peak and accesses the Backside, an area of intermediate and expert runs, including, among others, Where’s Waldo.

For the next four hours we mostly imitated skiing gerbils, whipping down a variety of Backside runs, regrouping, loading onto the Peak 2 lift, unloading and then doing it all over again. And again and again, always with some variations.

Andy and Lisa found fresh powder, some good for weaving between the trees, some heavy and chunky, as they carved do-it-themselves routes.

Because of the late start we skipped lunch, munching instead on energy bars and whatever we had stashed in our daypacks knowing that Molly had packed PB&J sandwiches for the drive home.

After several hours on the Backside, because I wanted to check out some of the South Face runs leading back to the lodge, Molly and I headed off.

It was a different world. On Kaleidoscope, Perseverance and Rosary Run, the snow was hard-packed and fast. Instead of having the slopes to ourselves, we slithered between other skiers and snowboarders — and moved aside as one rider, a tiny young boy barely 2-foot tall, flew past us. Many of the South Face runs, except for challenging black-diamond runs like Good Time Charlie, Timburr and Eagle’s Flight, are designed for beginners to beginning-intermediates.

Willamette Pass has an impressive history. One of Oregon’s oldest ski areas, it opened in 1941 with several rope tows and added a Poma lift in the mid-1950s. The Wiper family, as Oregon Skyway LLC, added a high-speed, six-passenger — six-pack — lift in 2002, the first in Oregon.

Its recent history has been mixed. Several years of drought kept Willamette closed until the 2015-16 season. This season could be even better — more snow has been falling this season, including several inches earlier this week. Here’s hoping for even more and more.

— Lee Juillerat has been writing about outdoor adventures in Southern Oregon and elsewhere for more than 30 years. He can be reached at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

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