Best Little Ski Hill in Northeast Oregon
Near the top of my list of favorite things about Wallowa County is whiskers on kittens and brown paper packages tied – no, wrong list. Here it is: Ferguson Ridge Ski Area. The local ski hill populated by a bunch of ranchers and hippies and all sorts of different collars with kids and older folks acting like kids on telemark skis, downhill gear, snowboards . . . I’ve even witnessed one fella riding what appears to be a homemade mono ski hewn from a two-by-six, sort of a thick wooden water ski for snow. You just don’t see that at the fancy ski resorts.
I was on Mount Hood with friends over the holidays and my buddies got on the subject of why I would ever choose to live in the boondocks of Wallowa Valley. We had just driven two hours, had to chain up, paid fifty-some bucks for a lift ticket and had to elbow through the hordes at the lift line.
I described the twenty-minute drive to our little community ski hill, where lift tickets are fifteen bucks. And you can volunteer to help out to offset the cost. How it’s like an episode of Cheers. You know everybody there, or probably will by the end of the day. How there is no chairlift, but an old-school T-bar.
These pals of mine found this amusing and laughed and laughed. They asked when I was going to move to Portland. And I laughed and I laughed.
Penny Arentsen, one of my bosses at Winding Waters River Expeditions, is on the ski patrol at Fergi and has also been helping with their new website, skifergi.com. Give it a look. I have to admit, it’s terribly convenient to check conditions online instead of the old routine of waiting for a friend to call with a firsthand report.
The Eagle Cap Extreme sled dog races were in town this past weekend, with the start and finish line at Fergi, so there were lots of folks and a lot going on. Morgan and Todd, also of Team Winding Waters, played music in the lodge Friday night after the band from Imnaha.
I didn’t plan on going back up to the hill Saturday, but freezing fog sat down over the valley and it’s hard to be upbeat when you’re inside the belly of a gigantic frozen pile of vapor.
Word got out that the ski hill was above it all, in sunshine and blue skies, so I made a break for it just to confirm the sun was still with us. Breaking through that wall of fog was just like the shift from black-and-white to color when Dorothy gets set down by the tornado. Except for Munchkins.
Penny was on patrol duty, but had some down time and showed me the new video camera she’d been breaking in with shots of sled teams and skiers.
She discovered she’d pushed the wrong button and not recorded something she thought she had, which I found very, very interesting, having had a similar problem recently. I’m sorry to say that made my day.
The freezing fog is still here, and the only positive thing I’ve found about this weather pattern is that when you’re sitting in a hot tub, your hair freezes into wicked spikes. It’s entertaining.
As much as I enjoy snowboarding at Fergi and frozen hair, I put a pair of shorts on last night just to remember what it’s like not to be in long-johns. I glanced at my Chaco sandals in the corner collecting cobwebs and marked off one more day on the calendar until rafting season. I’m ready.
Jon Rombach is a writer and river guide living in Oregon’s Wallowa County. His newspaper column, ‘And Furthermore’ is online at wallowa.com and ‘The Gearboat Chronicles’ rafting blog can be seen at windingwatersrafting.com.
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