by: blackthunder - 25th December 2007

  • 2
  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced/Expert
  • 3All-Mtn. Terrain
  • 4Family Friendly
  • Aprés Ski
  • 1Terrain Park
  • Overall Value

Full review

Having called this area my "home" resort for 9 years, I have since renounced my locality and later moved to Europe. Willamette Pass has amazing natural terrain when the conditions are right, the scenery is amazing on sunny days, and there is a very low-key atmosphere. I have had some of my best and most memorable days when it was 60 degrees, sunny, and ridiculously bad late-season slushy snow coverage. On powder days, the steep tree runs are an absolute delight, on the backside especially. There the trees are spaced well apart and there are plenty of steep sections to really dig in and crank some tasty turns. There are a handful of unmarked trails that do not show up on the map that give you access to some fun terrain. There is a fatal flaw to this place, and it boils down to this: Willamette Pass hates you. Seven years ago they began to experience a downswing in numbers, and since then it seems they have been crunching in order to compensate for lack of ticket sales. This includes only being open Thursday - Sunday, holidays and breaks for public schools as the exception. This also includes doing everything humanly possible to convince you to come and ride, even if that entails downright lying about conditions and running lifts. Also included is making as minimal effort as possible to accommodate its users properly. It seems to be a fairly common practice for ski resorts- "editing" conditions reports in order to steer otherwise discerning wallets in their direction. But Willamette Pass has honed this into an art. Some discrepancies are very easy to spot, such as listing fresh snow as "powder" when the temperature is 35 degrees. The flagship blanket statement is "packed powder", as this can mean anything from powder that is simply tracked out and truly packed, to bulletproof ice that sends the edges of your snow-sliding device(s) running for dear life. If things begin to turn inhumanely bad, the next step to take is groom the trails (which most ski resorts do on a regular basis), and list the snow conditions as "groomed". If you are having a look at their snow report on the web, the red flag is when they list primary conditions as "groomed" and the secondary conditions as "packed powder". Pay close attention to the temperatures they list as well, as this can give some insight into what the snow is actually like (I don't think they can adjust the numbers of the temperatures). The resort is located at the very forefront of the Cascades, just above the chronically mild Willamette Valley, and 140 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Temperatures will tend to be on the warmer side, and new snow can either be very wet, or quickly turn wet with the next change in weather patterns. But true powder days are absolute gems when they do happen. The true cake thievery takes place when lifts are having technical difficulties. As is standard for most resorts, they run a beartrap-buttcheeks no refunds policy for lift tickets, no questions asked. As one other user mentioned, they will fail to mention that lifts are not working on their snow phone and reports. I will touch back on this later on, but please be aware that they are more than capable and without honor enough to let you pay full price for a lift ticket without prior warning... only for you to find out that the main lift, the only high speed lift, that gives access 3/4 of the area, is closed. And they, on legal high ground with their no-refunds policy, have effectively extracted what they want from you- and you can either ride beginner slopes or go home. As can be expected, the majority of the employees are paid minimum wage, most likely hate their job, their boss, and you. This is especially apparent at the ticket offices and in the cafeteria. The lifties are OK for the most part, and actually make positive interaction with some of the customers. There are also random people (are they ski patrol, instructors, or just people who are paid to be annoying?) who will stand at the tops of the lifts and bark at beginners who fall on the offloading ramp to "get out of the danger zone!"... To which my friend and I would help by singing that catchy Top Gun song, to which they respond with a dirty look. Bottom line is, the employees are typically very jaded, and many reflect the negligence that seems to trickle down from the management. The lodge is nice and comfortable, and has a good view of the central slope. But be aware that, as with basically all other ski resorts in the universe, food is overpriced and of poor quality. If you must buy a meal, I suggest splitting a large pizza with your friends/family. One large pizza will easily feed 3-4 people and broken up, the price is reasonable. **Be aware that there are two food lines, and you need to be in the correct one to order pizza, or they will refuse to take your order and send you back to wait in the other one, 20 feet away.** Terrain parks- this is another shameful area in the history of Willamette Pass' insolent management. Since they began building jumps (and I use this term loosely) in 2000, they have always been bare-minimum tabletops and a few random dysfunctional objects such as hips or rollers. As soon as they began to add rails and boxes to their repository, they did not miss a beat in making them too small, oddly shaped, and poorly designed to the point of being dangerous. In 2002 they bought Mt Bachelor's old pipe dragon, and proudly announced they have the power to build a halfpipe. The problem with this was that from the get-go, the pipe was poorly shaped, improperly maintained, and reduced even experienced riders to barely clearing the lip because the transition is so badly kinked and icy. The last outing I made to Willamette Pass in early 2007, the "park" had one terribly shaped tabletop, an arsenal of rails and boxes that are either A) too short, or B) so oddly placed that hitting the rail feels like a life-or-death affair, even though it is no more than 8 feet long. One wretched example of this was a straight rail, at least 5 feet above the snow, with the most haggard and inadequate jump, 3 feet down from the beginning of the steel. Up to this point, it has been my observation that the park has been designed and built by doofuses who are painfully out of touch with the modern world of park building. This brand of carelessness does not help riders/skiers to progress and become better in freestyle riding- if anything it only retards their said progression by either hurting and/or scaring it's users, or boring them. If you are the park savvy type, steer wide and clear of this place. There is a reason that snowboard magazines hardly mention or even acknowledge the existence of this place. If none of the above really applies to you or concerns you, and you are looking for a good, fairly quiet place to ride some scenic trails and/or take the family, this is a great place. The view of the Cascades and the surrounding lakes is amazing, and creates a great backdrop during sunny days. The terrain is very trail-oriented, and for runs such as Kaleidoscope-Upper Rosary, the only factor that marks them as Blue Square runs is that the trails traverse the hill and can be narrow at times- not ideal for the beginner still learning to stay in control, but great for the beginner who has the basics down and would like to explore the mountain. Also note that on the aforementioned trails, during high season there are many small, fun hips in the sides of the trail if you want to practice hitting small jumps. On my final day of riding Willamette Pass, in early February, the conditions were unseasonably spring-like conditions, with firm icy snow in the morning (in shadowy spots it will stay like that all day), but softening up when the sun does its work by 10-11 am. My friend and I arrived late (around 10am) and purchasing our tickets at the ticket office, nothing signaled that something was amiss. I walked around the lodge to the side facing the mountain (the view of the mountain from outside the resort is well obstructed by the lodge), to see that the main lift- the only high speed detachable lift, was not moving. There were people sitting on the lift, signaling that perhaps it was running and just temporarily down. A fellow rider told me that within a few minutes of normal operation, the lift had stopped, and the people sitting on it had been there for over 30 minutes. We held out hope and waited for 30 minutes... for nothing. The lift was not running. Like I mentioned earlier, this lift gives access to about 3/4 of the mountain, and the only other lifts on the front side go midway up and access only the tamer trails. Upon giving up on the idea of riding the main lift, we took one of the smaller, slow lifts midway up, and went over to their new "terrain park". Upon seeing the only tabletop, a misshapenly sad looking pile of snow with a crooked landing, we laughed. It was an absolute joke of a jump. We also noted all the strangely placed rails, one in particular, sticking so high out of the snow and with a meager jump up to it with a large gap in-between. A deathwish of a rail that nobody in their right mind, not even an experienced jibber would try. We hit the main rail/box line, all of which were extremely short for rails (if you have any speed at all, it will feel like you tapped the rail). Fun to mess around on, but was terribly limiting. The diadem of the mess was a C-box, placed on such a steep pitch that with hardly any speed, by the time you came to the end of the rail you were flying at an awkward sideways angle and the landing was at the wrong pitch. In between our joke runs through the park, one of the two chairlifts that basically go to the same place, shut down as well, and all of us were herded into the same snail-paced lift. It was about at this point my friend had it with the sham of the day we were dealt. The main lift never opened, the park sucked, and most everything else was beginner terrain that experienced riders should leave to the beginners. We had the final straw and left at 1pm, having paid full price to ride a fraction of the mountain. Comparatively though, we had it pretty good, as those same people who were stuck on the main lift when we arrived, were still there when we left. They had paid around 36 dollars each to sit in the air all day. I doubt they were reimbursed with much more than the equivalent of a middle finger had they brought their case to the management. Worst of all is the event which completely eclipses anything I or anyone else could whine about, and that is that a 13 year old lost his life that day, losing control on an icy sheet of snow, hitting a piece of an exposed root and running into the trees and dying on impact. We heard about this after getting home, as this occurred about an hour after we left. The owner of Willamette Pass commented and sputtered some rhetoric about going too fast and losing control, and the ski resort having no responsibility in maintaining what is off of the runs- all of this without a word of solace or apology. With this, my friend and I swore that we would never pay another cent to Willamette Pass or ride there unless it came under new management and made significant changes. The underlying problem of all these issues is that they have a terrible attitude and practice disgusting ethics in treatment of their customers. Why, then, do people go there, and how does Willamette Pass stay in business? Because it is the closest resort to Eugene, a city about an hour and a half away, and most people from there can tolerate such treatment at the price of 1 1/2 hours drive- I did for years. Willamette Pass knows that Eugene is their main source of business, and in a detestable fat-cat fashion, make their decisions knowing that people will come regardless, and there is no incentive to be considerate, let alone progressive or innovative. Having ridden numerous resorts across the world, and seeing the effort put forward when even resources, nature, funding and numbers are against them- Willamette Pass, in these areas, does not even compare to the majority of it's similarly sized/situated peer resorts. All that said, and once again, if you can overlook all of those things, and aren't asking for much more than groomed trails and excellent tree riding, this is a great place when the conditions are on your side and the lifts are working. Thanks for reading through all this, have fun and be cautious should you choose to visit there.
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