Clarnitty Gritty digs the goods. (Photo © Brian Stevenson)Words by Ethan StoneI am beaming stupidly from ear to ear in the passenger seat as Claire guns the Subaru through White River Canyon. We’re on our way to opening day at Mt. Hood Meadows—hence the shit-eating grin—but there are a few things a bit unusual this time. One, it’s almost midnight. Two, it’s the second week of December. And if that isn’t enough, the road we’re roaring down is supposed to be covered in mud and volcanic rock.Four weeks ago, winter announced itself in the Pacific Northwest with a week of torrential rain, dousing Portland and Seattle with record-breaking precipitation and wreaking the kind of havoc that give storm systems like this one names. Meet the Pineapple Express, a jet-stream delivery of warm, moist air from the south Pacific that infrequently blasts the West Coast with monsoon-like rains, and invariably ends in flooding and chaos in general. Even as the warm weather dashed any hopes of early-season powder, the Express had another, even pricklier thorn for Oregon snowriders. As it saturated Mt. Hood’s permanent ice fields, the rain caused what’s called a glacial outburst, which is a fancy way of describing a flood when a glacier is involved. The outburst, caused by water pressure inside White River Glacier, sent a few million tons of rock, mud and water down White River Canyon (a part of the Hood backcountry that separates Timberline and Meadows, where mad booters get built in the summer), tearing gaping holes in Highway 35 and burying over two miles of highway under several feet of debris. A separate flood damaged the highway to the northeast, rendering both approaches to Mt. Hood Meadows ski area impassable.
Glacial outburst: wow. (Photo courtesy Mt. Hood Meadows)Meadows staff and local government officials were quick to respond. Within days, general manager Dave Riley was touring the damaged roadways with government representatives, including Oregon Governor Ted Kulongowski, and keeping Hood locals updated on his blog. A response mobilized quickly as the Northwest’s first winter storm rolled in, and the Oregon Department of Transportation and independent contractors dispatched a small fleet of heavy equipment to repair the damage. With crews working around the clock and a lot of snow already on the ground, it wasn’t long before the highway’s re-opening, tentatively scheduled for December 15, was announced six days ahead of schedule.
Repair gets underway, and meanwhile...
...this was the incentive to get the job done quick.I wake in the back of the Subaru to find about five inches of fresh on the hood of the car. Funny, it wasn’t snowing last night. Maybe the deity in charge of snow in these parts is trying to make up for the rain god’s mischief. Our crew makes a dash for the lift line, where a small group of snowboarders has already beaten us for dibs on first chair. Second will have to do. The parking lot fills up fast while we wait—looks like half of Portland has turned out for this. Good thing we decided to spend the night here. I hate waiting in traffic.No long interval later, we’re disembarking for the first run of the day. The snowboarders cut left — park rats. We drop to the right, beelining for Shooting Star until Heather Canyon opens, and all of sudden I’m skiing nice, soft, untracked fresh, and from the looks of it, there’s a whole lot to go around. For opening day—glacial outburst or no—it doesn’t get much better than this.
Reed Lewis: Straight up gangsta. (Photo © Brian Stevenson)
Smallwood gets freshies. (Photo © Brian Stevenson)