Govy-to-Portland Traffic Jams Cause Ski Resorts to Shift Strategy

There were hours-long commutes to the mountain and packed lots this weekend. Some resorts say it's normal. Some say it's worth looking into.

By Gabriel Granillo January 11, 2022

Weekend traffic on US 26 near Rhododendron

It was a perfect storm: a gorgeous bluebird weekend and the first sunny day since the new year, with about five to six feet of new snow on Mount Hood. The result? Hours-long traffic lines to and from the mountain and packed sno-parks and ski resorts

“Every single sno-park on Mount Hood, and most throughout the Northwest, was overwhelmed this last weekend and especially Sunday,” says Dave Tragethon, vice president of sales and marketing at Mt Hood Meadows. “Most of the snow happened during a timeframe that people were on holiday break, and they just didn't get a chance to get up to the mountain for snow play because either roads were closed or in the middle of a blizzard or all those reasons. So there was a huge pent-up demand, and that demand was certainly expressed on Sunday.” 

The weekend influx is causing some area ski resorts to implement crowd-control measures and limit visitation. At Meadows, the resort has limited the number of all-access season passes it sells and has stopped all sales of night and value passes. (Value passes restricts their holders from visiting the resort from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on peak days.) The resort is also cutting off sales of evening lift tickets (2 p.m. and later) for this upcoming Saturday and Sunday to determine if this past weekend was an anomaly or to expect in the future. 

Omicron is also partly to blame. With this latest COVID variant’s highly transmissible nature, it’s shaping some of the goings-on at Meadows. Youth programs like SnoBlasters and Trailblazers, which have traditionally provided busing up to the resort for anywhere between 30 to 50 children, have now forgone rideshares, so the participants are not probably heading up in multiple cars with families. In addition, Tragethon says the resort has seen smaller person-per-vehicle averages, a sign of less carpooling. Historically, he says the resort sees about 2.5 to 2.8 people per car. In the pandemic, and especially this new wave, he says the number has been lower, currently about 1.5 people per car.

At Mt Hood Meadows, the resort has limited the number of all-access season passes it sells and has stopped all sales of night and value passes.

Even within the COVID era, there are reasons why this year is different from last winter. With Portland-area schools mostly in-person (though not entirely at the moment), resorts are seeing more weekend clusters than a year ago, when school was mostly remote and ski resort visits were more spread through the week.

“We've been open basically for a month…. So we're still trying to figure out the data,” says Tragethon. “The patterns will emerge and they will align with the historical data that we have. And that will allow us to forecast that much better.”

Over at Timberline, director of marketing and PR John Burton says this kind of traffic is fairly typical this time of year, and it's business as usual at the resort. Burton says what might be adding to the hours-long traffic lines is folks not being prepared on the road. 

"With winter travel in the mountain, it’s important to have the right vehicle, to leave at the right time, and to exercise some grace and be kind to your fellow man," Burton says. "There's a lot of unnecessary frustration that could be mitigated just by being prepared." 

Before you head out to the mountain, you'll want to have a look at ODOT's TripCheck for travel alerts, closures, and road conditions. Bring snow chains or have traction tires on or at the ready, a shovel, blankets, a flashlight, a first aid kit, and extra food, water, and clothing.