So far, this winter has proven to be a schizophrenic personality of weather patterns.
In early December, Central Oregonians were treated to snow and temperatures plunging into negative double-digits. It was so cold that a few of the competitors in the seasonal finale cyclocross races at the Old Mill suffered frostbite. Less than a month later, in January, the mercury edged toward 60 degrees. Shorts were sighted in downtown Bend.
Then, just last week, a storm dropped 51 inches of snow in the mountains, a wintry blessing for a number of area industries that rely on white stuff for revenue. But the severe winter drought that preceded the recent dump caught many off guard. Among them, Hoodoo Ski Area, which only opened last Friday—nearly two months later than expected.
"No, we didn't see this coming," said Matthew McFarland, Hoodoo's general manager. "And neither did the forecasters. No one predicted [the snow drought] to be this extreme or that it would last this long."
Hoodoo tried to open earlier this season—on a number of occasions in fact—but was thwarted each time. Most recently, in late January when a highly anticipated snowstorm turned to rain and washed away any hopes of opening in the first month of 2014.
But McFarland remained hopeful. He kept on as many employees as he could and Hoodoo continued to prepare and preserve what snow it had. Then, during the first few days of February, Hoodoo's snow prayers were answered as the 5,703-foot butte received four unexpected inches. As McFarland made preparations to open on Friday, Feb. 7 a new storm rolled in. Opening day, it seemed, would be a powder day.
"We've got full coverage," said McFarland on opening day. "Actually, we were planning on opening with a lot less snow, but surprisingly it's been snowing lightly for days. The build-up was good. We announced our opening date and the snow started to fall."
I talked to McFarland less than an hour after Hoodoo opened for the 2014 season and he was as happy as the skiers and snowboarders who were finally carving down the hill.
"We're open right now, it's snowing lightly and everyone has a smile on their face," McFarland said. As of press time, Hoodoo was planning on operating Thursdays through Sundays through the end of April, though more weekdays may be added to the schedule if snowfall allows.
McFarland is no ski industry rookie. Hoodoo's cheery ski area general manager has been in the business since 1991, and at Hoodoo since 2000. In 2002 he took over as GM. As such, McFarland's very familiar with making something out of nothing, but explained that like farmers, ski areas live and die by the weather.
"It either rains or snows, or doesn't," McFarland plainly stated.
Such uncertainty does factor into Hoodoo's business plan, but retaining all 150 employees for two snow-less months is nearly impossible. Still, Hoodoo did what it could to keep its workers employed.
"They [Hoodoo's employees] really make us stick out because we have employees that care," McFarland said. "So we have to do what we can to keep them happy."
Because Hoodoo Recreation group manages a number of campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest, Hoodoo was able to assign a number of employees to forest cleanup missions. And Hoodoo's parent company, Umbrella Properties, a Willamette Valley-based property management company, was able to send other employees to landscaping jobs.
"We're lucky to have a good parent company," McFarland added.
Hoodoo's customers will soon feel that altruistic spirit, too.
In late January, after Hoodoo had already missed the first half of the Central Oregon ski season, management announced it would honor 2013-14 season passes for the entire 2014-15 seasons—an almost unprecedented move. Already, Hoodoo offers cheaper lift tickets than most, just $45 for a full-day pass—a price that's remained unchanged for three years.
Despite the gloomy, delayed start to the season, at no point did McFarland consider throwing in the towel.
"Our philosophy has always been if you can get a smile on one person's face, it's worth opening," McFarland said. Under previous management, McFarland explained, Hoodoo would close if operators expected fewer than 20 people. Hoodoo's current motto, "We'll run with one," is as encouraging as it is refreshing.
"Lots of businesses are run by an accountant that sits in a back room and who doesn't have a handle on the product they're providing," McFarland pointed out. "We're run by people not sitting in the back room."
Go Here: Nature Night: Wolves in the Land of Salmon. 7pm, Wednesday, Feb. 19 at The Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St. Free. Wolves: friend or foe? Over the last couple of centuries the American West has weathered a complicated relationship with one of nature's more elusive predators. Through stirring stories and stunning photos, David Moskowitz, author, tracker, and photographer, explains how wolves fit into the Pacific Northwest landscape. "Wolves in the Land of Salmon" is Moskowitz's latest book.
Or Here: NW Arenacross Nationals, Rounds 9 & 10. 1pm, Friday, Feb. 14 and continues through 10pm, Saturday, Feb. 15 at Deschutes County Fairgrounds, 3800 SW Airport Way, Redmond. $15. All the throttle-twisting, rip roaring (indoor) moto-fun you can handle.