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Snow puts skiers back on the slopes at Willamette Pass

After the winter of 2017-18, when a lack of snow effectively kept the Willamette Pass Resort closed, people are again hitting the slopes.

“We’re really hopeful of getting more snow,” says Tim Wiper, who has owned the ski area that straddles Klamath and Lane counties along Highway 58 since 1982. “We’d really like to have more snow, but we’ve been at full operations for the Christmas break.”

Fickle snow conditions have limited operations in recent winters, including 2017-18 when Willamette Pass was only open a single weekend. Although snow has been sporadic, skiing and snowboarding conditions were excellent on the North Face Backside Trails, where I joined family and friends for a series of top-to-bottom runs on Where’s Waldo, Boundary Pass and June’s Run.

Earlier in the day we sampled runs off the Twilight Lift because of mechanical problems that delayed used of the Eagle Peak Accelerator. The six-person Accelerator is a detachable chairlift that zips skiers to Eagle Peak, which accesses the North Face Backside and the several South Face trails. As is typical at Willamette, we mostly skied onto the chairs that had no or very minimal lines. According to Wiper, the area is designed to handle 2,000 skiers and riders, but most days only half that number visit.

Wiper, naturally, would like to see that figure grow. Most of the visitors are from the Willamette Valley — Eugene is 66 miles away — but he believes Klamath Basin skiers and boarders — it’s about 100 miles from Klamath Falls — should consider Willamette Pass as a less-crowded, low-cost alternative to Mt. Bachelor. For Rogue Valley skiers, he touts Willamette for its variety of runs and spectacular views.

Although he’s skied in the Alps and at other European resorts, “I’d still just as soon enjoy the views from Willamette.”

He says views from the 6,683-foot elevation Peak 2 chair atop the Backside, which on clear days offers expansive views of Waldo Lake and other peaks, and from 6,666-foot Eagle Peak, with its panoramic sightings of Odell Lake and Cascade mountains, are as beautiful as any he’s seen elsewhere.

On New Year’s Day, finding Wiper was almost impossible. As he explained, “I wanted to start the year making a couple of turns.”

His absence really wasn’t surprising. Wiper started skiing as a 2-year-old, and 58 years later he still enjoys skiing.

“I plan on skiing another 30 years. I think it’s a spectacular sport. It’s a life sport. Being an outdoor person, and an Oregonian, this is something I love to do. It’s invigorating, challenging and the scenery is incredible.”

Visitors to Willamette Pass should go prepared. As part of its cashless program, the area does not accept cash, American Express or personal checks. Instead, plan to use Visa, Mastercard or Discover cards or branded reloadable gift cards. Wiper says the cashless program simplifies its accounting and bookkeeping system, which creates savings used to keep ticket prices low while also allowing management to provide for more on-mountain maintenance.

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

COURTESY PHOTO The 6,666-foot-high Eagle Peak at Willamette Pass Resort offers views of Odell Lake and Cascade mountains.