By Andrew Mitchell
Despite excellent snow conditions Oregon’s Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort will likely not be open until mid-December.
Six days of heavy rain sent a debris torrent down the side of the mountain that knocked out a section of Highway 35 while burying sections in rock, mud, and wood debris. In other sections the highway was compromised as culverts plugged up and the water undercut the paved road.
The White River East SnoPark used by Nordic Skiers and snowshoers was not damaged, but it is unlikely that it will open this winter due to the volume of mud and rock over the access road and bridge.
The debris torrent cut phone and fibre optic lines into both areas, but the power line was not affected.
Cleanup and reconstruction efforts have already started, with crews shoveling debris off the road and into the ditches to be compacted, and the installation of newer, bigger culverts.
According to reports posted on the Mt. Hood Meadows website ( www.skihood.com ), Highway 35 should be open by Dec. 15, if not earlier thanks to a 24-hour operation by the Oregon Department of Transportation. At the same time it may be possible to open the resort by the end of the month, depending on how well cleanup efforts progress, from the Hood River side.
Meanwhile the resort is training employees at Hood River, and handling administration from another resort until phone and Internet service is restored. Mt. Hood operators are not refunding money on season passes, but have worked out details with other resorts where Mt. Hood regulars can get discounts at Washington and Oregon ski areas.
According to web postings from Dave Riley, president and CEO of Mt. Hood Meadows, the debris torrent occurred when glaciers filled with water during a six-day pineapple express. The weight of the water caused glacial outbursts that sent debris torrents down the canyons, filling them with enough material to spill out onto the road and interrupting the normal flow of water. Creeks, blocked by debris, backed up and dug new channels down the mountainside.
No other ski resorts were affected by the heavy rains, although Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington is reporting massive flood damage to roads and campgrounds. The route to the Mt. Baker Ski Area was not affected, and the mountain is currently open for operations.