Oregon's Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood has one advantage compared to many other ski resorts in North America. Two of its lifts crawl up the southern face of the mountain to reach the permanent Palmer Snowfield. The snowfield's high elevation and good snow pack this year allowed it to open this morning for the first day of fall skiing.

Conditions are ripe for running the Palmer Lift this year for fall skiing, and it is the only place to ski or ride via lift in North America right now.

"There's plenty of snow up top. More than usual this year," Spokesperson Jon Tullis said.

A long-lasting winter kept snow coming well into spring, prolonging the snow pack—especially on the Palmer snowfield. Partly sunny conditions today made Friday's fall opening a go, but clouds are expected to roll in by Saturday, perhaps bringing rain.

"Palmer is this funny little thing mostly used for summer and fall skiing. It closes down for winter," Tullis said.

The Palmer Snowfield sits above tree line between 7,000 and 8,500 feet in elevation, making it skiable in autumns like this one. Winter operations generally shift lower on the mountain, where trees help provide visibility and more consistent operational conditions.

Mount Hood

The Palmer Snowfield is accessed via the Magic Mile and Palmer Lift at Timberline Lodge. Photo by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid/Flickr.

To ski the Palmer Snowfield, you must hop on the Magic Mile Skyride and then the Palmer Lift. The snowfield allows 1,500 vertical feet of skiing on one big wide run. The skiing is generally best on warm, sunny days when visiblity goes for miles. Dreams of pounding the powder will have to wait until later in the season.

"About 100-200 people per day come up to ski Palmer," Tullis said. "There's a demand for it."

This morning, skiers and riders were loading up the lift to get their first tracks of the fall.

The Palmer Lift runs for fall skiing from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., Fridays through Sundays. Those heading up to ski or ride should call the snow phone (503-222-2211) or check the website prior to hitting the road, as conditions change daily. The lift runs only when weather and conditions permit, and the resort makes the call each morning whether conditions will allow for safe skiing.

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The Palmer Snowfield, visible from the air on the south flank of Mt. Hood, can have weather conditions change fast. Photo by Ryan James/Flickr.

"The irony is that we want clear weather for skiing Palmer, but we all want winter snow to come to start the season," Tullis said.

The resort plans to run the Palmer Lift until new snowfall allows the shift into its winter operation, which usually occurs some time between late October and the middle of November.

Season passes for this coming winter are valid for fall skiing and riding on Palmer. Daily tickets cost $56. For more information, click here.