Thank the snow gods for Palmer Snowfield. The frosty holdover from the last ice age bestows Mount Hood’s Timberline with one of the country’s longest ski seasons while other Northwest winter recreation areas scramble to adjust to an ever-shrinking window for alpine fun. (Oh, hi, climate change!)
But Timberline, home to the historic Depression-era lodge of Kubrick lore, isn’t waiting around for Palmer to start melting. In addition to an ambitious 10-year plan that includes new chairlifts and maybe even a gondola, the ski resort debuts its Timberline Mountain Bike Park this summer.
Building eight miles of winding, Douglas fir–shrouded singletrack might not seem like much of a feat, but it’s been 10 years in the making—with ecological surveys, and legal challenges from several environmental groups, including BARK and the Sierra Club slowing progress. The park finally broke ground last summer. John Burton, Timberline’s director of marketing, plays up the outdoor enthusiast fantasy: “In the morning you can buy a lift ticket, go skiing, have some lunch in the lodge, and, in the afternoon, go mountain biking. You can’t do that anywhere else in the world.” (Note: you can at a few other resorts, like Whistler in Canada.)
What does a deluxe, Timberline-funded mountain bike park look like? The first stretch of the park, the only part to open this summer, will function much like the ski resort: three levels of trail riding, with green runs for beginners and families, blue intermediate routes with optional jump-lines, and precipitous blacks for experts. Mountain bikers will have the Jeff Flood chairlift all to themselves.
Timberline plans to offer season passes, day passes, and post-work “twilight” tickets (pricing TBD). A pro shop will open in the Wy’East Lodge, with rentals, maintenance, and mountain bike lessons. Phase two of the park—an additional seven to 10 miles—is slated for fall 2020.
This snow-free investment makes sense; Timberline may not be able to count on a powdery future. Last year, researchers at Oregon State University published a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters indicating that our relatively resilient snowpack is the result of natural variability, a.k.a. random wintry weather trends. That climate-change-masking weather, say the paper’s authors, is likely to be followed in the coming decades by a bubble-bursting rapid melt.
Seven miles down Highway 26 from Timberline, Ski Bowl is a poster child for getting creative in warmer weather. Says Mike Quinn, vice president and GM of Ski Bowl: “Being the lowest ski resort on Mount Hood forces us to diversify.” It’s offered alpine slides and chairlift-assisted mountain biking for more than 30 years, and in 1999 it added a tubing hill that requires very little snow.
Will Mount Hood’s next generation of mountain junkies catch their thrills on wheels instead of skis? If Timberline’s new park is any indication, it might not be the worst thing.