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Socializing is half the fun at Warner Canyon

The ski area kicks off night skiing this weekend
Photo by Lee Juillerat Skiers ride the triple chairlift to begin a run down Warner Canyon's slopes.
Photo by Lee Juillerat A group of skiers follow a groomed run at Warner Canyon.

Some were from Klamath Falls, others from Alturas and even a few from Bend. But, as always, most of the people enjoying a sunny day on the slopes at the Warner Canyon Ski Area or sitting, chatting and snacking on the outdoor deck were from Lakeview and neighboring communities.

Most had already been skiing or snowboarding earlier in the day but were sipping a cup of coffee or a quaffing a beer while patiently waiting for the morning’s crusty slopes to soften. And while they relaxed, they chatted with friends. One table was circled by men while another was surrounded with women.

A few sun-seekers were just there to watch and wait while their children skied. One youngster, finishing his most recent run, skied to the deck and announced to his very relaxed father, “Dad, I think I’m think I’m getting hungry.” Then, after a pause, he amended, “I am hungry. Can we eat lunch?”

“Take one more run,” his father answered. “Then lunch.”

Among those relaxing was Eric Wolf, who took over this season as president of the Fremont Highlands Ski Club, the group that oversees the ski area. He’d already made several runs but, like other seasoned Warner Canyon veterans, was waiting for the afternoon’s slope-softening sun.

“Socializing is about 50% of the fun,” Wolf said. Like others, he’s hoping for more snow, noting, “We’ve still got plenty, but it would be better if we get some more.”

Despite January’s dearth of snow, it’s been a busy season at Warner Canyon. Several weeks of steady snow allowed the ski hill to open in December, always an advantage because the school holidays lure eager skiers and riders from Lakeview, an easy 14-mile drive. While the rush has slowed, Wolf and other Highlanders expect — and hope — some special events, including one that’s happening this weekend, will reignite interest.

One of the igniters began Thursday, the first round of three evenings of night skiing. Skiing under the lights will continue Friday and Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. Once again, Peterson Cat and Pardue Construction, which installed lights on select runs, are sponsors. Lift tickets are $15 for all ages.

This weekend’s night skiing is in addition to the regular hours — 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Depending on snow conditions, the season will run until the March 19-20 weekend.

Another special event, the annual Snow Fest, is set for Saturday, Feb. 26. Activities will include family races and a torchlight parade. The event is a fundraiser for the ski patrol.

One of the ski patrollers is Wolf, 40, who works for the Fremont-Winema National Forest/Lakeview District Bureau of Land Management as a wildland fire specialist/helitack crew chief. During the winter he’s a Warner Canyon regular and is often joined by his wife, Kara, a Lakeview native who learned to ski as a 3-year-old, and their 4- and 6-year-old daughters, who also began skiing as 3-year-olds.

Wolf skied before moving to Lakeview 20 years ago but, “Once I moved here, I started skiing a lot. It’s so close and so affordable. This is a true hidden gem,” he says of Warner Canyon. “We’re fortunate to have it.”

The ski area is fortunate to have the patrollers and Highlanders. Last summer volunteers helped improve some of the area’s 21 runs — five each beginner and intermediate and 11 advanced — by removing rock and dirt to help improve trail grooming. The towers on the triple chairlift, which rises 780 feet to a peak elevation of 6,480 feet, were repainted for the first time since being installed in 1998 and, much to the delight of people riding the chairlift, its pads were replaced.

Wolf says future plans include installing a rope tow to make it easier for beginning skiers and riders hesitant about riding the chairlift to a planned easy beginner run.

“People want to learn to ski or snowboard, and we want to encourage them,” he says, noting lessons offered earlier this season drew 60-plus beginners.

The lodge, which has been upgraded in recent years, offers meals during most hours when the area is open. It’s also rented for weddings, graduation parties and other gatherings. This season the concession food service is being operated to raise money to cover travel expenses for Lakeview High School’s girls softball and boys baseball teams.

For more information about Warner Canyon, visit the website at www.warnercanyonski.com or call 541-947-5001.

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