As year-round skiing in the Pacific Northwest diminishes, what else will be lost?
This story originally appeared in High Country News. The following text is an excerpt. Read the full story here.
On a cold morning in September, the clouds rolled over Oregon’s Cascades. Dark grey and dimpled, they looked like overstuffed pillows snagged on the mountain summits. It’s on days like this that Jon Tullis, spokesman of Timberline Lodge ski resort at Mt. Hood, watches the Palmer Snowfield at 8,500 feet — often with worried thoughts. On that day, only a thin layer of snowflakes fleeced the Palmer, a dusty white patch on a brown mountainside. September doesn’t usually bring much snow, but after a mild winter last year and a hot summer, this month has so far kept up with the kind of disappointment that’s been commonplace all year long. Timberline Lodge sits in the heart of the Central Cascades, which has been going through its most severe drought in decades.
“We’re seeing areas of the mountain that we don’t normally see,” Tullis says. Palmer Snowfield is a layer cake formed by centuries of snowfall, on top of a permafrost layer of geriatric ice in a depression on Mt. Hood’s southern face. Geologists have dated the Palmer’s existence back to 1350, though it has probably been there for much longer. This year, a warm winter followed by an exceptionally hot summer has caused the Palmer to retreat dramatically — even exposing the green permafrost. At its best, it’s a 100-acre expanse of snow. Now, its mass doesn't reach the chairlift.