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Weather sends a Merry Christmas to skiers

Skiers got the best possible Christmas gift last week when the snow finally started falling.

Things looked so promising back at the beginning of November, and then the snow just stopped. A month later, the outlook was grim as we counted down toward Christmas. Now, every day seems to bring a new storm.

Unfortunately, we're paying for that lack of early season snow, at least here in Southern Oregon. Much of the snow that's fallen here has been so cold and dry that it hasn't packed well enough to make a firm base for grooming equipment to work the slopes. That means plenty of exposed rocks, brush, fallen logs and other obstructions. Some skiers who went to Mount Ashland's opening day last Saturday said it was as hazardous as they could ever remember on opening day, and there wasn't enough snow to open the Ariel chair and the terrain it serves.

"The top of Dream is way too rocky to run a Cat over it or to open it to skiing," Rick Saul, Mount Ashland's marketing director, said late Tuesday.

As of Wednesday, crews still had groomed just four runs — Sonnet, Blossom, Lower Juliet and Lower Romeo, and Ariel still wasn't open.

The Mount Shasta Board & Ski Park was faring somewhat better, with 13 of 25 runs open and groomed, but was still operating just two of its three chairlifts Wednesday.

Conditions may be improving by the minute as you read this. Forecasters were anticipating as much as a foot of new snow in the Cascades and Siskiyous Wednesday night and early today as the latest storm blows in off the ocean.

Here are a few things to think about as the season begins:

Sooner or later you will get a ticket if you don't buy a sno-park permit. Probably sooner.

The ticket is $30; you pay just $20 for a permit that's good all winter, and it's honored in Washington, Idaho and California. Ski areas sell them, or you can get 'em at places like Joe's or DMV offices. You can buy a three-day permit for $7, or spend $3 for a one-day permit. Vendors can charge a service fee.

If you haven't picked up your Mount Ashland season pass yet, you'll have to go to the lodge, on the mountain to get your photo taken and claim your new pass. Remember, your Mount Ashland pass also gets you a discounted $20 all-day lift ticket at Mount Shasta, Anthony Lakes and Ski Bluewood in eastern Washington.

Snow and weather information

If you like to know what's in the pipeline, nothing beats the National Weather Service Web site for storm information. Go to www.wrh.noaa.gov/mfr/. If their forecasts get too deeply technical for you, try the Weather Cafe (www.ovs.com/weather_cafe.htm), written by Rufus LaLone, a scientist by training and a weather watcher by avocation.

This time of year, the course of the jet stream tells us where the snow is going. If you want to look at where these high altitude winds are blowing, visit http://squall.sfsu.edu/crws/jetstream.html. This site will build animations of jet stream flow so you can watch how it slithers across the continent.

For comprehensive information about ski areas, go to www.skitiger.com to find snow depth, new snow, temperatures, and forecasts. This site links to all the individual resort sites, so you can use it as a portal to anyplace you want to visit.

Live cams

Both Mount Ashland and Mount Shasta now have live cameras to show conditions on site. If you're trying to decide whether make the trip to the mountain, a look at the camera can help you make up your mind. See www.mtashland.com and www.skipark.com

This column will run for the duration of the ski season. If you have ideas for what you'd like to see in this space, contact Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com