Skiing in the Mountains

Mountains have long served as one of the few remaining refuges within our anthropomorphic world for those seeking wild surroundings. Infertile soil has kept mountains safe from agricultural development. Large development along and in close proximity to mountain ranges is costly and in many ways impractical. In some ways, mountains, much like deep ocean waters and deserts, serve as the natural world’s defense against human development.

Unfortunately, the vast natural resources that lie beneath mountain ranges, as well as the forest at the land’s surface have led to the devastation of much of this area.

IMG_0068-2 72dpiJurgen Hess

Some relatively wild areas in the United States remain. And much of these areas consist largely of mountain ranges such as Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park where the Rocky Mountains run. These are areas where grizzlies, wolves, moose and countless other creatures continue to live despite being extirpated from much of the mainland United States. These regions also attract large herds of humans looking to reconnect with the natural world. Hoping to feel alive again.

Mount Hood National Forest in North Central Oregon spans close to 1,700 square miles and encompasses a large share of the Cascade Mountain range. This relatively wild land area serves as a home to hundreds of various amphibians, mammals and birds. Mount Hood itself, the highest peak in Oregon, dominates the beautiful scenery as it overlooks much of this area.

Along with black bears, elk, coyotes and mountain Lions, humans heavily populate Mount Hood. Equipped with skis and snowboards, every year thousands and thousands of people make the commute to Mount Hood to get some fresh mountain air and carve the trails of one of the mountain’s five ski resorts. Plenty more people hike and snowmobile to remote areas of the mountain to explore Mount Hood’s backcountry.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding are two extremely popular ways people choose to explore the great outdoors during the colder months of the year. It’s a thrilling interaction with the natural world.

Following a near-record low snow season last winter, Mount Hood is back on track this season with current Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) levels very close to normal. The snow brings with it a major wave of relief for some stressed out ski resorts. Low snowfall last year forced resort owners to seek out other methods of keeping their resorts above water. Installing snow makers, redistributing snow from parking lots and greater emphasis around summer sports like mountain biking and water parks, are all among the ways resort owners and management are adapting to changing climate conditions.

If snow accumulations decrease across the Cascade mountain range as predicted, several interesting developments seem likely to occur. Among those, will be greater attention to how ski resorts have altered the mountains they sit upon.

Many ski resorts (including Mount Hood Meadows), with business and ethical interests entwined, are making efforts to become more sustainable and earth-friendly. That being said, every resort on Mount Hood is responsible to some degree for altering the ecology of Mount Hood. The clearing of vegetation and grading of soil that takes place in constructing ski runs is responsible for altering the vegetation of a mountain, as well as greatly reducing the quality of the soil, thus making the consequences long-term. Lower soil quality (fewer nutrients and less capable of absorbing water) further reduces the regrowth ability of the native vegetation.

In Mount Hood’s case, research is continually being done to monitor how the mountain’s ecological complexion has been altered by the development and maintenance of ski resorts. Large gaps in the research remain, while projects to bring more and more people to Mount Hood are introduced.

Mount Hood remains an Oregon icon. This year is a great time to get out and take advantage of the amazing winter sports and outlet for escape Mount Hood offers. In doing so, consider the impacts our recreational choices have on the environment as a whole. The changing climate will require greater attention to this in specific. When resorts were first developed over the past century the science and foresight was not as readily available as it is now.

In our endless search for worlds of recreation we continue to recreate the world itself. This has consequences both good and bad, the important thing is to do our best to remain aware of these consequences. Ignorance may be blissful, but it is also irresponsible.

By | 2016-12-13T01:59:24+00:00 February 9th, 2016|Categories: Environment Essays|Tags: , , , |2 Comments

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  1. Bill Ross 03/06/2016 at 12:27 am - Reply

    It is difficult to blame 5 resorts for too much degradation of an area of 1700 square miles.
    As long as the trash produced is carted away (to where?), the MH environment should survive.
    Instead, they should keep the cell phone towers, firebreaks and other assorted man-made constructs to a minimum.

    The article reminds me in some ways of John Muir’s “My first summer in the Sierra’s”. Awed with beauty, treading lightly.

    • Susan Hess 03/06/2016 at 7:52 pm - Reply

      Thanks for writing. I agree there are so many pressures one lone mountain. The Hood River Residents Committee commissioned a GIS 360 view of Mt. Hood that showed the growth of just one: Mt. Hood Meadow–adding ski runs, parking lots, etc. All development reduces wild habitat.

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