Although we’ve yet to see any flakes fly in Hood River, Mother Nature is already busy dumping plenty of snow up on Mount Hood.

That’s great news for the Mt. Hood Meadows, where as of Tuesday morning, over a foot of snow has settled at the ski resort’s main lodge, which lies at an elevation of 5,366 feet. According to the National Weather Service, snow is forecast to fall for at least the next several days on Mount Hood, with a Thursday storm predicted to dump anywhere from 3-7 inches of fluffy white powder.

With snow accumulations on the rise, the question on many skiers’ and snowboarders’ minds is, “When can I hit the slopes?”

According to Dave Tragethorn, marketing and sales director for Mt. Hood Meadows, it seems increasingly likely the resort will be open by Thanksgiving.

“The snow we have right now makes us optimistic,” he said.

It’s not just the current snow accumulations that have Meadows staff smiling. At its 21st annual Winter Weather Forecast Conference, the Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society presented data that indicated that snow accumulations will be slightly above average this winter in the Cascade Mountains, and that temperatures will be near or below average.

In a video posted on Meadows’ blog, Kyle Dittmer, a hydrologist and meteorologist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, reported that spring 2014 will be a particularly good time to go play on the mountain.

“Be on the lookout for March, April, and May,” he advised. “I think we’ll probably see a prime snow accumulation this year, which has been kind of the pattern the last few years.”

To prepare for the upcoming winter recreation season, Meadows staff has been busy this summer working on a variety of improvements to the resort. One of the upgrades that will likely be most noticeable to patrons will be an ice-free Paradise Sun Deck. Approximately 3,000 square feet of the patio on the back side of the main lodge was retrofitted with ice-melt coils this summer, which will allow the deck to remain open for guests to enjoy during heavier snow months.

Another noticeable change will be expanded terrain for youth and beginner skiers and snowboarders. About 4 acres of a terrain park that was serviced by the Easy Rider lift has been repurposed as a training area that Tragethon said will be “a little more learning and family friendly.” He explained the training area will help new skiers and snowboarders transition from Buttercup, the beginner lift, to Easy Rider — a nearby lift that accesses more challenging terrain.

“Growing our sport is very important to use,” Tragethon noted.

On the technology side, a fiber optic network was installed to improve internet speeds at the resort. Meadows has also joined Claim My Run: a website where skiers and snowboarders can upload videos of their runs for a chance to win prizes. The quality of a run can also be analyzed via another new service at Meadows this season called Alpine Replay, which tracks the number of calories burned on a run, speed, airtime, and other variables.

Three new “state-of-the-art” snow cats have also been added to Meadows’ fleet this season to assist in trail grooming operations. Brush clearing occurred this summer on alpine trails near the Hood River Meadows section of the resort and is expected to provide more consistent grooming and an earlier opening date as shorter vegetation means less snow is required to cover it up. Stump removal at the nearby Nordic trails should provide similar benefits to cross-country skiers, and Tragethon expected that these trails could also have a Thanksgiving opening this season instead of their usual mid-December debut.

As for how much snow it would take to open the resort, Tragethon said 3-4 feet would be ideal, but noted that operations at Meadows could begin with less.

“A settled base of over 30 inches gives us a good opportunity for at least a limited opening,” he said.

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