Friday, October 28, 2022

1140, or Why You Can't Trust Numbers, So Here's a List of Numbers

By Eino Holm

The Pacific Northwest is a consistently misunderstood place.  It is home to cities with some of the lowest precipitation totals in the country: Yakima receives 8 inches in a year, Bend gets 11, Boise 12. It has vast arid regions, places bigger than some eastern states, where precip comes exactly as it does in the more famous deserts to the south.  Infrequent and mild winter snow, and periodic summer thunderstorms.  Monsoonal pushes don't happen this far north very often, and in summer, neither do Pacific systems.  Seattle, that northwestiest of Northwest places, is dry basically from the middle June to early October.  If you've ever lived there, or spent time there, you know it may not look like the dry of the desert, but little to no measurable precip falls in that time.  This year, it's the middle of October and I don't think it's rained more than a drip or two up there since June.

Oregon, Washington, and North Idaho. - Brandt and Ryan (The Owner), the only exactly repeated answer.

Is it still the Northwest if you can actually see the volcano?

The general consensus, though, is one of consistently gray, mopey skies, and torrents of water.  If a movie or tv show is set in Seattle, say, or Portland, the rain is always heavy, aggressive, and very visible.  That is not the case.  Nor are the rains aggressive.  They often are unrelenting and destructive in the Wettest Season, 15 Oct to 15 Feb; it will be raining, maybe 5 inches in a cycle, and without the perspective or a puddle or the feel of the water on one's face, it is perfectly possible to think it had already stopped raining.

Oregon and Washington. - Dr J, "Reverend Doctor Super Genius"

Even the boundaries of the PNW are passive-aggressively controversial.  In informal personal polling of random folks (okay, friends, family, and coworkers) and in somewhat partially official research (wikipedia and the internet), the most consistent idea is "Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, except, y'know, not all of it."  I am fiercely (well, not fierce, I'm Norwegian fer heck's sake) of the PNW, and I have lived in its heart and on its periphery.  From the lower Salish Sea Basin and the upper drainages of two small but high-flow Salish rivers to the desert of southern Idaho, the Mediterranean oak savannah of southern Oregon, and Ogden, Utah, not really the northwest at all but good for perspective, and I think all of the ideas are defensible.

From Donny BoBo* to that one place in Alaska. - Dino Voulaj

The most codified of the boundaries seem to be the Pacific, and the 42nd parallel.  Even those aren't wholly rigid.  The 42nd is utterly arbitrary and unnecessarily unyielding.  The ocean is, well, have you been to Brookings during a vintage January Chetco Effect? 80 degrees, fire weather, a bit like Calabasas.  Not northwesty at all.

Washington, Oregon except the Great Basin, Idaho north of the Snake, west of US 93. - Brother John

Definitely PNW

It seems everyone is trying to put their interpretation of the phrase into a solid quasi-national entity. We are so used to and governed by boundaries that any notion of fluidity makes people uncomfortable. I have heard from folks who grew up back east that the PNW is just the strip of land from the Cascade Crest to the coast, either because they heard the PNW is wet and that's where the wet is, or because it's a solid, knowable boundary. As with all things, knowable is one thing, and solid is another entirely. Medford is west of the Oregon Cascade Crest, but averages just 18" of water a year. Kellogg, Idaho, is 300 or so miles east along a sometimes boring I-90 from the crest, and at above 30", averages only a Yakima's year shy of Seattle.

West of the Rockies, from Tahoe to the Bering Strait. - Crimski

In The Good Rain, Tim Egan describes the Northwest as the "reach of the Columbia." This, finally, sounds somewhat sensible.  The Columbia, after all, is a World River.  Not as well known as the Ganges or the Mekong, nor as big, but it drains significant portions of one Canadian province and four American states, and minor portions of three other states.  The bar at its mouth is dangerous and deadly and utterly humbling and beautiful.  The highest point along its crest is, understandably, Columbia Crest, the highest point on Tahoma.  The river drains the western slopes of the Canadian Rockies, vast and semi-obscure plains, giant spires of granite and anger from Valemount, BC (which is, like, WAAAAAY up there) to Nevada, northwesternmost Utah, and the Tetons. So, again, another solid boundary that is not so solid.  In fact, one of the furthest points in the entire basin from the Pacific is, naturally, the headwaters of Pacific Creek in the Teton Wilderness, well east of the Teton range itself, at a unique spot where one creek separates into two creeks that drain into different oceans.  This is Wyoming, obviously, which has for its eastern geography plains that are part of the Great Plains.  The Plains owe their arid existence to the Rockies, which are obvs east of the west which is OW MY HEAD.

West of where all the scrubby landscape begins. - Taylor

Are we looking out of the PNW into the Inland NW? (Screenshot of Mission Ridge's well-placed summit cam.)

This is my central problem with the idea of boundaries.  Vague and hard to defend.  Unnecessary, as we all came from the same ancestor, which to me suggests commonality of purpose and need, our perpetual and deadly desire to prove that wrong aside.

Cascadia.  - Dustin

The point? Other than truly enjoying good debate silly argument, it's skiing.  The American portion of the PNW has around 45 ski areas.  Some big, some little, some famous, some, well, most folks don't know Rotarun from Rotorua.  (I see you raising your hand in the back, New York.  You win. 52 ski areas, according to the NSAA.)  As we shift borders around for one reason or another, the number rises and falls.  Someone in passing mentioned Sun Valley isn't PNW, but Bogus is.  Trouble with that is that I can see the same peaks from the ridgelines of each mountain.  But then again, saying Bogus is a Rocky Mountain ski area kinda rattles my teeth a little, cos BoyCee just feels absolutely nothing like Albuquerque, and yet they'd be categorised together if we took everything literally.  Peakbagger says Brundage is in the Rockies, and Tamarack is in the Columbia Plateau, but you can see each ski area from the other on a clear day.  So, since categories are kinda silly, I'll just stick with the simplest answer: Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, and, like, one small part of California cos I want to and also volcanoes.  Major continental ranges and rivers are part of multiple regions.  Rather than solely defining the region, I'd say they simply play a part.  Definitely a big part, but they never tell the whole story.

As much as I'd like Southern Idaho to also be a part, I don't think it is. - Jake

Which finally brings me to a conclusion of sorts.  I was riding Chair 2 at Bogus the other day, Summer Only Riding Park Closing Day, with a remote-worker guy from some to-me-unknown place.  He was asking all sorta questions, and being me, I could not help but answer them honestly.  This is to say I hemmed and hawed and told him to define his terms more acutely.  "Does Bogus get many powder days?" begs for clarification; how much is a pow day? "Eight inches or more," he said, surprisingly confidently.  I mean, I've skied "powder" that was three inches overnight, and it outskied some ten inch days, but whatever, yeah, let's just pick a random number.  At Bogus, not many.  

All of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and Montana and Wyoming might be. - GMRII

Not just potatoes.

At any rate, he also asked if I could compare Bogus to Tamarack.  (Bigger, and smaller at the same time.  Like so many things.  Srsly, can you actually not figure these things out from just skiing? That's how I know these things, and I don't have the privilege of moving around at will while holding down a job.)  I took him at his word and said, simply, that they are different.  They require different skill sets, and if you've the money for new or the patience to buy used, different gear.  He tried to drill down on the exact size again, and when I said Bogus has over 1000 more skiable acres than Tamarack, he seemed surprised.  (He also had never heard of Baker, so maybe I'd set my bar too high.)  Bogus is bigger than Sun Valley, too, also, even with the new expansion.  I find this sorta underdog-punching-up scenario cool, and I relish the opportunity to share such things with folks who don't already know such things.  I don't know why, but it gives me some significant satisfaction to see a little brain-gear smoke out the ears when I say "Mt A has a higher base elevation than Bachelor." 

 Didn't you ask that last week? - Chris

When I got home, I looked for a published list of PNW ski areas by size, and did not find one.  Some other blog or mag from way back or other random collection of 1s and 0s might have something, but herewith is what I could find from surprisingly unverifiable Wikipedia articles and ski area website infos, with any ties alphabetised to pretend I'm not biased, and maybe a comment or two:

- Bachelor, 4600 skiable acres, when it's sunny.
- Schweitzer, 2900
- Bogus, 2600, on weekends and if you aren't afraid of a little willow-whipping in your pow-slash routine.  Seriously, just try it.  Almost all of it goes, and the parts I can think of that don't are right under Chair 6, so Patrol can find you and people can yell really helpful things from the chair like "That's a creek you're stuck in!" or "Hey! You're almost there!"
- Crystal, 2600
- Sun Valley, 2400, but that's after a very recent expansion and includes Dollar, which is a small bit of marketing shammery.
- 49 North, 2325
- Hood Meadows, 2150, and like Bachelor, that is only when it's sunny.  These Cascade volcanoes have a way of being stormy for days or weeks or months (1999) at a time.
- Mission Ridge, 2000
- Snoqualmie Pass, 1994, the combined total of 4 actual ski areas, one of which--Hyak--is rarely open, and which can only be fully connected by car or by paragliding off Denny.  Also, "Summit-at-Snoqualmie" is just artificially fancy.  East to west, it's Hyak, Ski Acres, Snoqualmie Pass, and Alpental. Regular-sized marketing spammery.
- Brundage, 1920
- Mt Spokane, 1704
- Timberline, 1685, but that's combined with the former Summit Pass Ski Area, which Timberline recently purchased but which is not yet connected without creative skiing, and which also is maybe never fully skiable because (according to a dude I talked to on Palmer who totally had an Employee Jacket and spoke with what felt like much authority) the Forest Circus doesn't allow them to run Jeff Flood while Palmer is also running.  Also, like, when them Pacific cycles is slamming the side of Wy'east, Palmer is buried, and when the Palmer chair itself is melted out and runnable, the lower mountain is melted out to dirt, mostly.  So, maybe a lot of marketing scammery.  The views from Palmer and the Magic Mile are downright righteous, though.  No marketing needed.
- Silver Mtn (Some still call it Jackass, cos, why not?), 1600
- White Pass, 1402
- Soldier, 1150
- Stevens, 1125
- Pebble Creek, 1100
- Tamarack, 1100.  This tie is an interesting one.  Both ski tall and narrow, with some real challenge in the woods when you know where to go.  Beyond that, they have almost nothing in common save that they are both, indeed, ski areas in Idaho.
- Lookout Pass, 1023, expanded this year and with plans (and, I think, the Okay from whomever or whatever) for more.
- Anthony Lakes, 1000
- Baker, 1000.  I'll pause here to let you decide whether or not you believe that one.  I love Anthony Lakes without any qualification, but in my mind, I can fit the entire place within the confines of the front side of Pan Dome at Baker. Then again, my entire point here is that definitions and numbers don't tell the whole story.

Views, a Riblet triple, Abies lasiocarpa, good snow, lesser-known mountain range? I'm in. (Anthony Lakes, photo by Snowsnapper, public domain.)

- Mt Hood Ski Bowl, 960
- Lost Trail, 900.  Hey.  It's got at least 13 turns in Idaho.  And besides, it's within the Reach of the Columbia.
- Hoodoo, 800
- Kelly Canyon, 640, sadly, no longer serviced by the legendary homemade Riblet lookalike they built from copied, possibly stolen, schematics.  Kelly's is now open Sundays, and according to my source, who like, knows the new owner cos bikes or maybe Rexburg is a small town; there might now exist within the creek drainage alcohol, which if one is so inclined, could be supped for the purposes of mild intoxication, known in many circles as "a good buzz".
- Mt Shasta, 635 as of this winter with the new Gray Butte chair.
- Willamette Pass, 555, with the additional claim (for now) of having the only 6 pack in Oregon, and with the dubious and maybe not measurable "steepest groomer in the US", RTS, which supposedly overtops 50 degrees. Might need to head there some day.  Or ask my niece at U of O for a report.  She's from Colorado, and as everybody knows, when you list skiing, Colorado is Number One.
- Loup Loup, 550.  I've ridden their chair, but never been to Loup Loup.  Think about that.
- Pomerelle, 500, with some rad orographic snow showers if the flow is right.
- Bluewood, 400.  I just have to point out here that I love literal names.  Bluewood is in the forests of the Blue Mountains.  Perfect.  I also love scientific binomials that are just double names--tautonyms, apparently--like Pica pica and Alces alces.
- Warner Canyon, 300.  Or 200, but as I pointed out above, it's surprisingly challenging to verify these numbers with my limited researching skills.
- Cottonwood Butte, 260, the largest (claimed) area without a chairlift.
- Hurricane Ridge, 250, but according to the kids I worked with at Baker who grew up in Port Angeles, it's like, totally not about the inbounds, man, it's like, endless and stuff.  One of those kids is, like, a big cheese at Baker now.
- Mt Ashland, 240, or 220, or, like, lots more cos the whole peak is skiable and accessible from either Windsor or Ariel and it only takes a little skate along FR20 or even just a quick walk back through the lot from the bottom of the Void.  This, then, brings up the whole challenge of understanding Skiable Acreage in the first place.  It feels like ski areas just guess and then try to defend either through repetition or a shoulder shrug.  We spent three winters at Mt A, and while I don't think it is a huge or even mid-size place, it felt bigger to me than Anthony Lakes does.  My perception is by no means perfect, I know.  Maybe some joints just count cut runs and others count every last feather of snow within sight?
- Spout Springs, 200, on pause while an operator is sought.  Fingers crossed.
- Ferguson Ridge, 170
- Bald Mountain, up near Pierce in 6C, not the one in 5B or the random pile of rock in NY, nor the totally awesome and totally not creepy at all piece by Mussorgsky, 140
- Magic Mountain, again, the one in 2T, not the one in VT, 120. There is an abandoned platter liftline across the road, which I don't think is included in the total, and rumours of replacing it with a used chair.  Or they might replace the carpet.  Who knows?  At any rate, Magic is cool and funky and up a long, very pretty draw with a nice Lodgepole right next to the top shack.  Not big, but that never matters. Also, this is not the smallest ski area in the PNW that has a chairlift.
- Sitzmark, 80; neither is this.
- Echo Valley, 70
- Cooper Spur, 50, home to the final Riblet installation ever.  That's worth something right there. Cooper is the smallest hill in the PNW with a chairlift, too, for good measure, too, also.
- Little Ski Hill, 50
- Snowhaven, 40
- Rotarun, 15
- Badger Mountain, 10
- Blizzard Mountain, some acres.  Can't find numbers.  It's a platter and one groomer. Guessing between 5 and 20, but like most folks, I do not know by looking what an acre actually is.

Boise, City of Trees. Tree City USA award recipient for 44 years.  That's a lot of trees, cos allegedly Boise! was the cry from Frenchist trappers back in the day, and like, "les bois" means trees, and so does PNW, so there.  Bogus Basin is the highest, furthest, most elevationary point in the photo. (Credit: Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, via flickr.)

* Boise.  That's what Angel means when he says Donny BoBo.  It's, like, funny.

"With a base elevation of 6300', Mt Bachelor offers the highest base elevation in the Cascades. Paired with its location on the eastern side of the Cascade Crest, the result is consistently high quality snow not typically found in the Pacific Northwest. 462" of snow falls during an average year."

- Found on the internet. A good example of confusion seemingly based in the need for things to be cooler than they are. Bachelor has the highest base in the Cascades, yes, and the highest summit, too, and plenty of great skiing and is huge, but while it is east of the Crest in the riverine sense, weather doesn't care. I have skied my share of borderline mank at Bachelor, and through at least two full-on rain events there. Also, not for nothin', both Anthony Lakes and Mt A have higher bases, they're just not in the Cascades. Mt A is even the first peak west of the official reach of the Cascades, which doesn't really mean anything either, but again, it makes you, like, think, y'know?

Bison bison