News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Hoodoo opens with eagerness

Hoodoo Ski Area opened Friday, December 17, and not a minute too soon, apparently.

“We had a couple of families line up at 6:45 a.m., barely light, for Manzanita,” Matthew McFarland, general manager, told The Nugget when we sat down at lunchtime Saturday along with Chuck Shepard, CEO.

“At 8 a.m. the line started building for Big Green and by 8:45 we had well over 100 wanting to get on the slopes,” McFarland added.

The weather for opening day was as if McFarland ordered it from the Chamber of Commerce — clear, sunny skies, little wind, and all that unspoiled powder that had been accumulating since the first snowfalls in November. Saturday brought light, intermittent showers that did not dampen enthusiasm one bit. Sunday opened with heavy, overcast skies, a wintry mix, and winds in the high teens. The parking lot Sunday was about a third less than the full lots found on Friday and Saturday.

This entire week is one of expected snow as temperatures stay below freezing and smaller storms roll in from the coast. By Christmas, last Sunday’s 35-inch base is forecast to increase by another foot, maybe more, and by New Year’s, skiers and boarders will be well past having to contend with any thin spots or obstacles.

The CPC (Climate Prediction Center) shows mid-central Oregon a hairline below “above average” precipitation and “below average” temperature ranges that should usher in a steady stream of snow through April, suggesting a good year for the ski area that has been around for close to

75 years.

The most noticeable change to Hoodoo Ski Area this year compared to last is the lodge once again open for gear rental, ticketing, and dining. COVID-19 kept it closed all of last season.

A large number of Hoodoo’s workers are under 16. Shepard said the labor shortage is hurting their staffing.

“We’ve always paid more than the minimum wage,” he said. “Now we are $4 and $5 over that and still we are not at full staff.”

Kids 14 and 15 can work 18 hours per week in Oregon, and when school is not in session.

“The younger employees love working at Hoodoo,” McFarland said, “even if it’s only pulling rental boots or poles.”

Autobahn Tubing Park

McFarland and Shepard are hopeful that, unlike last season, the tube park can open this year. It takes about 30 inches of snow to run the skiing operation. However at least 60 inches are needed for tubing. Shepard explained: “We need that much to make the berms separating the lanes.”

McFarland is less concerned about having enough snow. It’s the 15 people he will need to staff the Autobahn that has him worried.

“Under the best of times, it’s a demanding job,” McFarland said. “There is no shelter. You have to be in the elements pretty much eight hours with only a lunch break.”

Working in the lodge or being under the chair-loading area does seem more desirable on those days when mother nature does her thing.

New Year’s fireworks show

The annual Bigfoot New Year’s Eve celebration is Hoodoo’s signature event with a huge fireworks presentation that is in jeopardy this year. The company that has produced the fireworks spectacle for years has suddenly and unexpectedly withdrawn from putting on shows. McFarland has scrambled and found a replacement willing to do the job at a 50-percent premium.

“Money isn’t the issue,” McFarland said. “We will pay whatever it takes to fulfill our customer promises. It’s all the paperwork, permits, and insurance that all has to be reworked for a new vendor.”

Shepard and McFarland are optimistic that the importance of the legacy event, with hundreds of families banking on it, will move the regulators and administrators who share, they hope, a vision of tradition well known in Sisters Country and the Valley — from where half or more of their customers hale.

The waiting is over

The Nugget talked with a number of families delighting in the opening weekend ritual. The Brewsters — dad Will, mom Julie, and their three kiddos, Kaylee, 11, Joey, 9, and Melinda, 6 — could not conceal their joy at being on the slopes.

“It’s hard to say what we like best, the skiing or the tailgating,” Will said as he extended an invitation to join them under a 10-by-10-foot pop-up canopy where the kids were making s’mores in a portable firepit.

Up and down the parking rows, propane grills were serving up a cornucopia of brats, burgers, and for the Levitt brothers and their extended family, venison from this year’s hunt.

It was Hoodoo at its finest.


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