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Mt Hood's Summer Skiers Cross the Finish Line A Month Early

Mt. Hood’s Timberline Resort is the only place offering a full summer ski season in North America. But not this year. The resort closed to the public on August 2 -- five weeks earlier than normal. And that’s after a dismal winter ski season.

Even in August, there is normally enough snow at 6,000 feet to keep avid skiers busy -- particularly those in training -- at Mt. Hood’s Timberline Resort.

But now, dirt and rocks have won the battle. The Magic Mile Chairlift remains open for breathtaking views of the Cascades, but most of the skiers have already packed it in.

“Usually in the morning we could have 300 plus skiers out here with a line out to our pool. In this last week we had about 50,” said Chad McCuen. He’s worked in lift operations at Timberline for about eight years. He said that even the diehards could no longer deny the truth.

“They’re skiing on a continuously dwindling snowfield that’s smaller and smaller,” McCuen said.

'Complete dirt all over the mountain'

Merumo Ishimaru is 13 years old and she wants to ski for Japan in the Olympics one day. This is her fourth year training at Mt. Hood and she said this year is really different.

“The snow is really bad and the condition is really bad and there’s only few snows,” Ishimaru said. “It’s so, so bad.”

The Timberline Resort is home to several private ski and snowboard summer camps. Although the resort is closed to the public, the camps technically remain open. Kids have flown in from all over the world. But some crucial things are missing: a lift, a terrain park. And a mogul course -- there’s not enough snow for all the bumps.

“I’m here for Mt. Hood summer ski camp to improve my mogul skiing skills,” said Ella Barzel, a 15-year old competitive mogul skier from Truckee, California. “I think it’s really impacting our training in that we don’t have a mogul course. We only have a jump and there are no more lanes. There’s just complete dirt all over the mountain.”

Timberline can offer summer skiing because normally, it gets a springtime dump of 100 inches. That didn’t happen this year. And when June temperatures soared, more snow was lost.

Seventeen-year-old Nigel Stein, a counselor-in-training from Marshfield, Massachussetts, has been coming here for six years. He said to keep the kids skiing, the camp has gotten creative.

“They take a Snowcat which are used for groomers and they’re putting a tow rope behind it,” he said.

It’s like hanging onto a t-bar -- what they used to do before chairlifts.

Stein said, “You take it, your grab hold, they pull you up and then you traverse across into your lane,” and then ski downhill over rocky terrain on last year’s snow.

Hopes for a snowy winter

Timberline Marketing Manager Ricky Hower had the same question a lot of people have.

“In the back of our minds, are we thinking ‘what if this keeps happening?’ Of course, but everyone in the industry is thinking that way,” he said.

And why are they thinking this way? Because climate scientists are predicting warming temperatures in the Northwest -- meaning more rain and less snow.

Local businesses in the nearby town of Government Camp are also thinking about their future.

Kevin Bastin, owner of The Taco Shoppe for 14 years said, “This is definitely the slowest summer we’ve ever had. The revenue is, like, way off.”

He said he’s making half what he normally does. Or less.

And that doesn’t mean he gets to work less. He said he’s had to cut back on employees and do a lot himself.

“I would come in the morning and do all the cooking, ordering, bookkeeping,” Bastin said. “Now I’m doing more line cooking.”

And making less money.

But like a lot of people here, he said he has hope that next season will be better.

Hower still has visions of piles of snow.

“Actually what I’m really hoping for, is having to shovel my car out every single day when I leave work,” he quipped.

Next season, he said he won’t change a thing. He’s expecting a full re-opening in the fall as he has for 15 years.