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Dream a little Dream: storms line up for snow

Powder hounds have had little to howl about this winter, but storms at midweek raised hopes that the second half of the ski season will be something to shout about.

By noon Wednesday, Mount Shasta had received a foot of new snow since overnight, and it was snowing hard. Mount Ashland had 6 inches of new snow with temperatures in the teens, and Crater Lake had 8 inches of new snow for cross-country skiers.

One sure sign of a real winter storm stood out Wednesday — severe weather forced temporary closure of the Ariel chairlift on Mount Ashland.

Skiers and snowboarders have been waiting for enough snow to open Dream and Caliban, two of the most popular runs on the mountain, along with the steep chutes in the Bowl — all at the top of the Ariel chair.

By Wednesday afternoon Ariel was running again, and the ski patrol opened upper Dream to advanced skiers. The surface hadn't been groomed, but mountain managers were hopeful there would be enough new snow to get grooming equipment onto the upper part of Dream by the weekend, said Mike Dadaos, Mount Ashland's special events manager.

"We still need a little more snow to groom it," Dadaos said.

At the Mount Shasta Board & Ski Park, the grooming crew was working hard to open the trails served by the Coyote Butte chairlift, which had been closed for lack of sufficient snow. Tentative plans called for those trails to be open by the weekend, said Jason Young, Mount Shasta's marketing director.

Forecasters were expecting stormy weather to continue for at least a week, said Chuck Glaser, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. He said there have been plenty of storms this winter — they just haven't hit the Siskiyous or Mount Shasta dead-on.

A jet stream image on the Internet showed why the latest series of storms is good news. The high-altitude winds that carry moisture from the Pacific Ocean were coming onshore just below the Oregon/California border.

"We're getting the stuff we're supposed to be getting," Glaser said.

The forecast for Mount Ashland called for snow or snow showers through at least Tuesday. Forecasters can't estimate snow accumulation in a storm more than about 18 to 24 hours ahead of its arrival.

Mount Shasta's grooming crew and snow-making equipment were working hard last week, with as little as 12 inches on the ground at the lodge. Young said the groomers were "farming" snow — moving it from places where it wasn't needed — to keep 12 trails open and groomed.

By Wednesday morning, there was 30 inches at the lodge and 48 inches at the top of Coyote Butte.

Mount Ashland hasn't had enough snow to move around to cover bare spots on Dream, just downhill from the summit. Early-season snow was cold and dry, and that airy, fluffy snow blew off the wind-exposed slope without ever building a base for the grooming equipment to groom. The machines need a solid layer of snow to ride on to prevent damaging the tiller that churns the snow surface and the comb that drags across the surface to make the distinctive corduroy surface of freshly groomed slopes.

Skiers have been able to reach lower Dream (downslope from the big rock halfway down) and lower Pistol by traversing through the woods from Avon (the sidehill trail from the top of the Windsor chair), on a narrow path that goes through the trees, but that's not for everybody.

Dadaos said even small storms would be welcome to help build the base. "Two or three inches at a time is the best," he said, because the snow builds up slowly and can be groomed consistently.

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