Average is usually not much to get excited about. But when average follows hard on the heels of downright dismal, it looks pretty good by comparison.
It's why ski area operators are enthusiastic about forecasts for an average snowfall in the Oregon Cascades this winter, which officially begins today.
"Last season was one of the most challenging in the history of the ski industry," said Dave Rathbun, Mount Bachelor's president and general manager, in a letter to season pass holders.
Nationwide, skier visits were down 16 percent last season, and California "saw declines of nearly 30 percent from 2010-2011," Rathbun said.
The problem? Day after day of warm rain melted early snowpacks that had allowed several ski areas to open at Thanksgiving. As a result, the lucrative Christmas period was wiped out at many ski areas in the West.
By mid-January, every Oregon ski area had plenty of snow. Mount Bachelor, in fact, got 106 inches in one week. But they could never make up the loss of the busiest holiday week of the year.
By season's end skier visits at Oregon resorts totaled 1.95 million, or 5.7 percent less than in the 2010-11 season, according to John Gifford, president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association.
A more routine winter would be welcomed this season, Gifford said.
And that's pretty much what the Oregon Department of Agriculture's seasonal climate forecast calls for in the Cascades — based on weather patterns over the Pacific Ocean: "Near normal precipitation with slightly colder than normal temperatures."
Meanwhile, skiers and snowboarders will find several changes at Cascade-area resorts this season. Mount Bachelor and Willamette Pass raised the price of their adult daily lift tickets, to $76 at Bachelor and to $49 at "The Pass" (increases of $3 and $4, respectively).
Hoodoo held the line at $48 for "peak" days (holiday periods, generally) and $45 for off-peak days.
Fee increases are routine in the ski industry, Gifford said, because operating costs are constantly rising. "Both Oregon and Washington have minimum-wage laws that increase every year, and fuel costs continue to go up," he said.
One noteworthy change this winter involves Willamette Pass Ski Area's operating schedule. The resort dropped night skiing but added a fifth day to its weekly schedule. The Pass will be open Wednesday-through-Sunday (plus daily during school vacation periods and on Monday holidays). The ski area had been on a four-day schedule since the 2005-06 season.
Willamette Pass is also cutting the number of lifts it will operate on weekdays during non-holiday periods.
"We're going to concentrate on a smaller pod of terrain and make sure it's all groomed out and really nice, instead of trying to open 100 percent of our 2,018 acres," owner Tim Wiper said.
Generally, that will mean two of the four lifts will run weekdays, and all four on weekends.
Mount Bachelor dropped its three-tier pricing system — which last season offered prices of $53, $63 or $73, depending on snow conditions — to a single rate for each category of skier this year.
"Having that middle ticket tier was a little too ambiguous," said Andy Goggins, director of communications at Bachelor. While only the $76 rate will be published this year, Goggins said mountain managers will have the ability to offer a lower "fall-back rate for extremely stormy days."