If you’ve tried to ski at Timberline anytime in the past 10 years, with the hopes of being one of the first skiers to hit that fresh powder, you know the scenario: a pre-dawn wake up, and a speed-limit-ignoring rally car race up Highway 26, only to arrive at the mountain by 8:30 a.m.—30 minutes before the lifts even open—to discover the lot is full. Limited parking, outdated chairlifts, and greater snow coverage on trails have plagued the mountain.
Well, take heart, ski bums: relief may be coming to Mount Hood. Eventually.
In a 104-page 2019 master development plan submitted to the US Forest Service in January by RLK & Company (the private lodge operator since 1955), a wish list of proposed upgrades includes such things as a new park and play portal, an expanded snowmaking system, and reworked chairlifts. Here are some highlights from the plan:
1. More parking is coming.
The proposal’s main upgrade to the mountain would be to open an area called “Molly’s Portal,” sitting roughly two miles from the main lodge at the base of Molly’s Chairlift. The undertaking would solve the existing parking issues by creating 800 additional parking spaces, along with the buildout of a new day lodge for easy access to food and indoor space, and an adjacent “snowplay area” for tubing and recreation. This would also allow riders to use the portal as an access point to the main lodge via Molly’s Chairlift.
2. Upgraded lifts and snowmaking systems FTW.
The Pucci and Bruno chairlifts are the oldest on the mountain, and the wear and tear shows.
The master plan would replace the Pucci fixed-grip triple chairlift with a much faster detachable quad. The plan also opts to remove the existing Bruno’s Chairlift entirely in favor of a newly designed beginner’s area as well as three moving carpets.
3. Did someone say "gondola"?
Also in the works is the development of the Summit Ski Area, which was purchased in July 2018 by a sister company of RLK. Although Summit sits all the way down in Government Camp, an updated master development plan is slated for early 2020 and is expected to include the construction of a gondola, which would connect Timberline to Government Camp. This is not part of the master plan but rather another solution to parking woes and a significant step towards a project that Timberline spokesperson Jon Tullis refers to as accomplishing “the dream."
So what’s a realistic timeline for these modern marvels of engineering? “Theoretically” in the next 10 years, says Tullis. He explains that the company’s mandated 10-year master plans must first be accepted by the Forest Service. Once accepted, RLK can propose specific actions (e.g. Molly’s Portal) contained in the plan to the Forest Service, followed by two to three years of environmental studies and then approval by the Forest Service. Then, it’s just a matter of RLK coming up with the funds needed to break ground. Red tape, anyone?
In the interim, RLK has been working with the Oregon Department of Transportation and transit authorities to increase the number of buses to Timberline and the creation of a TriMet stop in Government Camp. The ultimate vision, Tullis says, is to turn Government Camp into a traditional “alpine town” (think Park City) as a “jumping-off spot to all the recreational opportunities in the national forest.”
Can't wait a decade? Check out our guide to Mount Hood's ski resorts here.