A 2006 study by OSU professors Anne Nolin and Christopher Daly, titled “Mapping ‘At Risk’ Snow in the Pacific Northwest,” located the most vulnerable snowpacks in the Western United States. As it so happens, the Oregon Cascades contain the bulk of the West’s “at risk snow.” And, unfortunately, Hoodoo Ski Area, Corvallis’ local ski mountain, fell squarely in the study’s most “at risk” areas. The 2013/2014 winter may be validating that study.
It’s been a rough winter for Hoodoo Ski Area. Reading through the blog that Hoodoo has maintained can be a depressing and at times humorous existentialist excursion. Last November the blog was enthusiastically toting pre-season sale passes. Opening day would likely occur around Thanksgiving, as in years past. And yet there was no snow. On Nov. 24 the first outwardly innocent but inwardly worried blog headline appeared: “Pray for Snow!” Then, the next week: “Keep Praying for More Snow!” After all, Hoodoo does not make its own snow. As Matthew McFarland, Hoodoo’s general manager, told The Bend Bulletin: “This is a 100% weather-based business. We have no choice but to wait for snow. We are bound to Mother Nature.” On Dec. 6 the same headline—“Keep Praying for More Snow at Hoodoo!”—had become a mantra of desperation.
By Dec. 15, the blog’s tone had become mechanical, resigned: “We’re still waiting for more snow to fall here at Hoodoo.” On Jan. 2, 2014, as though still feeling the New Year’s Eve hangover: “Hoodoo closed until more snow falls.” Jan. 10 provided a rare instance of good news— “The Snow Is Finally Falling at Hoodoo!”—but then, five days later: “Hoodoo still closed until more snow falls.” Jan. 30 may well have been the season’s nadir. In a forlorn post titled “The Current Situation at Hoodoo Ski Area,” McFarland wrote: “Sadly, this last storm left us worse off than we were before it hit…The last two weeks have been spent mining snow from the trees and various pockets where the wind deposits it and hauling all the snow up to the top of Manzanita and Easy Rider so we would be ready to run with no delays following a small storm. Unfortunately, all of that work was washed away with the initial rain that came with the last storm and not a bit of the snow we stockpiled is there anymore. It’s quite depressing, really.”
Things briefly picked up in February—“Powder Alert! 13+ inches of new snow!” on Feb. 8—but despite voluminous precipitation that month, temperatures were simply too high. It rained on the butte just as it rained in the valley. Water from Ray Benson Ski Park settled in the ski bowl of Hoodoo, puddling up at the base of the lifts, submerging the main high-voltage distribution transformer. Not surprisingly, “Lake Hoodoo,” as they’d begun calling it, caused “limited operation” and “less than desirable conditions.”
And that, pretty much, was the season. There were ski days, for sure, but all in all Hoodoo has only received about 43 percent of its average precipitation. Even McFarland, who had done his best to remain upbeat through the hard times, admitted that it has “been a terrible year for skiing at Hoodoo.” With the number of warm winters in the PNW projected to increase significantly, it may not be the last.
By Nathaniel Brodie