The Pineapple Express that ripped across the Pacific Northwest this past week (1/6-7) left many ski resorts contending with wind debris strewn across slopes and roads closed due to mudslides, flooding, and avalanches. But not Mt. Bachelor.
The resort, which sits high in the eastern Oregon Cascades, found its lift terminals encased in several feet of blue ice. "It was like nothing we'd ever seen before," Tom Lomax, Director of Mountain Operations, told OnTheSnow.com. "This storm was huge." (Editor's note: Lomax is the author's brother).
Lifts on the lower mountain's front side continued to operate Friday, but five lifts - Pine Marten, Red, Outback, Northwest, and Summit - were closed. By Saturday (Jan. 11), Pine Marten was back in action. Summit could reopen Sunday depending on winds, but Outback and Northwest may be closed until early in the week.
The storm pummeled the resort for 48 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving Mt. Bachelor shrouded in ice. The ice bent a tower lifting arm, tore safety bars off chairs, snapped hundreds of trees like toothpicks, smashed wiring, broke communication lines, and entombed lift terminals. When the storm abated and Bachelor's famed bluebird skies returned, lift terminals were cloaked and unrecognizable in ice three to four feet thick. Outback and Northwest lifts took the worst of the beatings.
Wet Pacific weather systems frequently rime lift towers at Mt. Bachelor with a light crystallized crust that forms from freezing fog. "We deal with ice a lot, so we know how to clean it, but this was the worst I've ever seen," said Lomax, who has worked at the resort for 15 years.
This ice, however, was not rime. The ice formed from rain spewing down in below freezing temperatures, leaving buildings looking like they were covered in frozen waterfalls. "It was clear cocktail ice," explained Lomax. "We couldn't even safely clean off towers. When ice fell off, it fell in huge chunks."
Mountain crews began the deadly job of chipping out lifts, dodging falling blocks of ice the size of linebackers so they could climb up lift towers. Lomax used crampons on Saturday to walk down to a tower on Northwest. "There was light new snow on blue ice," he said. "It was scary."
Warming temperatures aided the buildings in shedding some of their frozen cloaks. Refrigerator-sized blocks of clear ice tumbled off the top Summit terminal. Crews even ran a diesel engine inside one patrol building to help melt its shell of four-foot-thick ice outside. Every chair grip had to be cleaned off individually before it could run through the terminal.
High winds accompanied the ice storm. But the resort has no record of how high the winds topped out because ice froze the wind instruments in a thick sheath. Lomax estimates that about 1,000 pounds of ice glommed up one of the wind towers.
Lomax also estimates that about 500 trees were blown down in the storm. "The trees were super coated with ice," he said. "The downage wrapped all the way around the mountain, but it was way worse on east side."
Mt. Bachelor brought in four teams of loggers, sending each team out with a snowcat to cut up trees and pull them off the runs.
Most of the ice that encased Mt. Bachelor's lifts now sits in jumbles of big blocks at the base of lift towers, buildings, and terminals. Hazardous trees have been chucked from the runs. However, normal tree skiing areas, like Hemlock Forest, now hold a clutter of downed trees. Lomax notes that skiers will need to use caution in the trees until new snow buries the fallen trees.
"With opening Pine Marten today, we're heading back to normal," summed up Lomax. "The skiing is good, and we're headed for better weather."