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First-timers and veterans find things to like at Warner Canyon

LAKEVIEW — From its highway entrance, the Warner Canyon Ski Area is deceiving.

But first impressions are revised when first-time Warner Canyon downhill skiers and snowboarders ride the triple chairlift to the area’s 6,480-foot summit, where expansive views west to and beyond Lakeview and east toward the vast high desert country are revealed. Even better, because of its location — Warner Canyon is 10 miles east of Lakeview off Highway 140 East — its variety of beginning, intermediate and advanced runs are seldom crowded.

“I’ve lived in the area 20 years and I had no idea this was here and is so beautiful,” said snowboarder Tony Swan of Klamath Falls, while making his first Warner Canyon visit last weekend.

“I’m really impressed,” echoed John Paulson of Roseburg, who until last weekend had skied every ski hill in Oregon except Warner Canyon.

Comments like those don’t surprise Jim Copeland, a retired Lakeview school teacher who’s completing his 15th year as Warner Canyon’s hill manager. “Basically, for all the people skiing here for the first time, it’s been a great experience,” he said.

Even on days when there were lift lines, something rarely experienced, Copeland said out-of-town visitors were not discouraged. One busy Saturday, when he estimates there were 500 to 600 skiers and riders, Copeland created formal lift lines with singles joining doubles to fill the chairs and reduce the wait time. “I’d never had to set up lift lines before.”

“We’ve had people from all over,” Copeland said, noting some have come from Southern California, Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area. “We’re not a secret anymore.”

This winter about 175 local people and families bought season passes. Regarded as a “backyard ski hill,” Warner Canyon has been offering skiers and riders a surprising variety of offerings since it opened in 1938. The slope rises 780 vertical feet to its summit, and skiers and riders can hop off about halfway up the mountain, with easy access to several beginner and intermediate trails.

Overall, Warner Canyon claims five beginner trails, five intermediate routes and 11 advanced/expert runs. Most of the beginner and intermediate runs are groomed, while some trails for more advanced skiers and riders are take-em-as-they-are runs untouched by grooming machines.

Although overall snowfall has been well below average, snowstorms have been happening at optimal times for Warner Canyon, which is normally open only on weekends. The decent to good snow, combined with a desire by people in and around Lakeview — along with others who have “discovered” the mountain — have combined to create one of the ski area’s best seasons financially.

“We were slammed,” Copeland said of the influx of visitors. “Our hidden little ski area isn’t hidden anymore.”

Warner Canyon has been “slammed” even though it’s only been open 20 days. In exceptional snow years the area is open 40 or 45 days, especially if early season snow allows for skiing during the Christmas to New Year’s holidays.

Among last weekend’s skiers was Kelli Gusumano of Summer Lake, who took time between runs to walk with her dog, Sage. While skiing and riding are the prime attractions, Warner Canyon is also a place to socialize. The ski lodge, which serves hot meals, and outdoor tables were filled with “locals” happily chatting about work, play and ski conditions. Last Sunday, taking advantage of nonexistent morning chairlift lines, I managed six runs in an hour before meeting up with friends, slowing the pace but still more than doubling the morning total over the next few hours.

Chances for skiing Warner Canyon are lessening. With winter nearly over, Warner Canyon will be open only two more weekends — this Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the same hours March 20 and 21. To help celebrate the successful season, half-day prices will be charged both weekends, $26 for ages 19-68, $18 for ages 13-18, $16 for ages 6-12, $11 for ages 69 and older, and $5 for children 5 and younger. Oregon Sno-Park passes are required for parking.

For more information, see the website at www.warnercanyonski.com or call 541-947-5001.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

First-time Warner Canyon skier John Paulson carves his way down the Outback Run. Photo by Larry Turner