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The 'Tween Season: Skiing in Autumn 

Early-season skiing, firewood cutting and some sad news

September skiing on Mt. Bachelor.

Peter Alport

September skiing on Mt. Bachelor.

Peter Alport, an area photographer and videographer, is obsessive about checking the weather. And for good reason—quality photography often hinges on meteorological trends.

The 37-year-old outdoor athlete and artist isn't shy about his weather obsession and readily admits to spending an inordinate amount of time hitting refresh on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website. Often, where Alport is going, high into the hills or deep into the backcountry, there are no real-time sensors or digital thermometers.

Alport, then, was not caught off guard when in late September the first snowflakes started to fall in the mountains. What did surprise him—and many others—is precisely how much snow fell, and how much still remains piled atop the craggy cliffs of the Cascades.

In our part of the world, snow in October or even September, is fairly common. What is atypical, however, are the consistently cooler temperatures that have chilled Central Oregon and the rest of the Pacific Northwest. And two weeks ago, those cooler-than-average temps combined with a sizeable storm that left feet of snow (yes, feet) in the mountains. Since then, adventurous skiers from Whistler to Mt. Bachelor have been taking to the hills to get in some precious early-season turns. Also surprising is the quality of the skiing—locals say it's been remarkably good.

Alport is part of a small cadre of Bend shredders who have already hiked or skinned their way to the top of Mt. Bachelor and caught a golden sunrise from the summit before slicing their way back down the hill, enjoying the quiet solitude and untracked powder that comes with riding in September and early October. As of press time, Mt. Bachelor was still reporting 10 inches of snow at mid-mountain, but Alport says he and his crew enjoyed stashes that were more than a foot deep. Mt. Bachelor's Andy Goggins says September's dump was in fact a record, at least for as long as they've been tracking such things. Mt. Bachelor's September snow, it turns out, wasn't an isolated incident.

A website for Mount Hood's Timberline ski area reports accumulations of more than two and a half feet since Sept. 1. Crystal Mountain, further north and a two-hour drive from Seattle, actually got so much snow during the same recent storm cycle that it opened early—for one day only—in order to let a few lucky locals enjoy the September powder. In a video the mountain made of the recording-breaking day (it was the earliest Crystal has opened in 51 years) a joyous skier exclaims: "Shin deep on October 1!" Crystal recorded up to 22 inches of snow and still has 15 inches on the summit. Then there's Northern Washington's Mt. Baker ski area, which, on average, annually receives more snow than any other ski resort in the world (641 inches). Two weeks ago, forecasts for the 10,781-foot Mount Baker (the volcano) were calling for as much as 13 feet of snow. The resort, which is much lower, topping out at 5,089 feet, received 14 inches.

Big snowfalls are exciting, but what skiers and snowboarders like Alport really appreciate are the below-average temperatures that have helped preserve Central Oregon's autumnal snow. According to the Weather Channel's website, the average high in Bend (not in the mountains, which are at least 2,000 feet higher and thus colder), for September is 74 degrees. At times, it's been 20 degrees colder than that, and has regularly been 10 degrees colder. On Sept. 29, the mercury in Bend didn't rise above 50 degrees. On Oct. 1, the high was 52.

Alport, whose work has been featured in Snowboarder Magazine and in Poor Boyz Productions films, has already taken full advantage of the prime early-season conditions. He and his crew have ridden snow and shot countless photos around South Sister, Broken Top and Mt. Bachelor.

"It's pretty normal that we get snow, but not that much," Alport reiterates. "It's uncommon for it stay around. There's literally feet in some spots."

Chop Wood!

Looking for cheap firewood? It's do-it-yourself season in Central Oregon, where scores of amateur lumberjacks are taking to the forests in search of usable timber. Before you go all Henry Stamper out there (fall is also a great time to read Ken Kesey's "Sometimes a Great Notion," if you haven't already), make sure your cutting is on the up-and-up. Get a permit and consult the personal use firewood synopsis on the Forest Service website. The site has maps that show where you can and can't cut and exactly which trees are fair game. Permits are $10 a cord ($11, including a $1 fee) and are available locally from Bi-Mart and the Butler Market South store, as well as the Deschutes National Forest supervisor's office (63095 Deschutes Market Road), which was still unmanned as of press time thanks to the government shutdown.

In Memoriam

Last Thursday, the tight-knit U.S. cycling community lost a dear member. Amy Dombroski, a successful 26-year-old road and cyclocross racer, was killed when she was hit by a truck while training in Belgium. Dombroski hailed from Vermont and Colorado, but raced and trained in Central Oregon on numerous occasions and, during those times, touched the hearts of many with her easy smile and warm heart. She will be missed.


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