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It's been a snow lover's forecast

Skiers and snowboarders will remember January 2008 as one of the best months in years.

The sheer volume of snow would be enough to make this winter a winner. Seventy-five inches of snow fell on the Mount Ashland ski area in seven days right after New Year's Day, and after a brief mid-month dry spell new snow has been delivered every day or two for the past 10 days.

If all the snow weren't enough in itself, the cold temperatures have been an extra bonus. The cold arctic air that pushed snow levels right down to the valley floor has kept the snow on the mountain dry enough to push around on the slopes. The usual snow-sunshine-melt-freeze-boilerplate cycle that's so familiar to skiers and snowboarders in Southern Oregon and Northern California just hasn't happened much this winter so far, to everyone's delight.

The morning snow reports have been so rosy they sound like Colorado or Wyoming: 8 inches of new, 16 degrees; 11 inches of new, 18 degrees ...

The snow depths at Mount Ashland sound like end-of-season numbers: 85 inches at the lodge and 114 on the summit. It's not just Mount Ashland that's been blessed. Wednesday morning's report from Mount Shasta announced 3 inches of new snow overnight, 17 inches in the past 24 hours and a temperature of 17 degrees.

Mount Shasta seems to be getting all the snow it never got last winter. The snow phone trumpeted 166 inches at the lodge Wednesday and 209 at the top of the Douglas Butte (6,600 feet).

Mount Bachelor has been getting its share, too, with 12 inches in the past 24 hours, 139 inches on the ground at West Village and 148 inches at mid-mountain. Hoodoo was closed Wednesday, but reported 9 inches of new in the past 24 hours, 10 feet on the ground and 18 degrees.

How long this can possibly last is anyone's guess, but our friends at the National Weather Service think it will go on at least through the weekend. There's nothing but snow in the forecast through Sunday, and daytime temperatures aren't expected to get much beyond the mid-30s.

With all this snow we could easily be skiing in May. There's still all of February and March to go, and those two months often provide some of the best skiing in the region.

There's a cost for all of this new snow, of course. The avalanche hazard in the backcountry ratchets up as the new snow deepens. The Mount Shasta Avalanche Center's danger rating for Wednesday was "considerable" (the middle level of its five-level scale), which means, in its description, "Natural avalanches are possible. Human-triggered avalanches are probable."

Nordic skiers who choose relatively little-used routes could face the prospect of breaking trail for long distances. There's a huge difference between gliding along in somebody else's track on cold dry snow, and picking up the skis and pushing them forward for every step, so if you're considering a nordic outing, go with friends to share the work of breaking trail.

Get out there now. It's about as good as it ever gets in Southern Oregon.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com