Snow-sport season off to a rough start

Whether you ski cross-country or downhill, ride a snowboard or drive a snowmobile, winter so far hasn't provided much to get excited about.

Snow has been scarce, and we're still waiting for the deep pack we've come to expect by mid-January. You can probably count the number of really good days so far this season on one hand, even if your standards are pretty low.

So far, it's been one of those winters where the big storms seem determined to avoid Southern Oregon. Snow depth data from Crater Lake National Park tells the story: through Monday there was just 47 inches on the ground at park headquarters, at elevation 6,200 feet. That's about 62 percent of normal for Jan. 11. Total snow accumulation for the season at the park was just 128 inches as of Monday, 61 percent of the average accumulation of 211 inches.

On Mount Ashland, the biggest dump of the season so far brought 14 inches to start the new year — nice, but nothing to write home about, especially when you think back to 2008, when 5 feet of snow buried the mountain in just three days during the first week of the new year.

Fortunately, the storm did cover many of the formerly exposed rocks, but there were still too many bright-orange hazard stakes on favored runs such as Dream and the Ariel chairline.

By last weekend, things were looking bleak. Rain had compressed Mount Ashland's snowpack, and what remained of the pack was wet enough to prompt cancellation of some practice races for the high school teams. Down at Mount Shasta, it was even worse — the Coyote chairlift was closed. It was too warm to make snow, and there was a meager 17 inches at the lodge last Sunday.

It was almost a blessing that Mount Ashland was closed Tuesday as part of its regular two-day midweek closure.

By Wednesday morning, things were looking better. Mount Ashland managers were delighted to report 8 inches of new snow, although snow depth was reported at just 30 inches at the lodge and 45 inches near the summit, even with the new addition. That's down considerably from where we were 10 days ago.

Mount Shasta had 6 inches of new — enough to re-open the Coyote chair. Crater Lake staff reported about a foot of heavy wet snow over Tuesday and Wednesday — training exercises interfered with their regular posting of precise daily weather data.

On Wednesday, the forecast for the end of the week and into the Martin Luther King holiday was encouraging — drying today and Friday with cooler temperatures, and a chance of snow Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

We'll hope for the best. We all know how quickly conditions can change.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 541-776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

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