: Mt. Ashland Ski Area

Oregon Winter Safety 101

November 23, 2020
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Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s two-week statewide freeze means for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Also, remember to bring your face covering, required for all of Oregon’s public indoor spaces and outdoors when keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t possible. Before you set out, check road and weather conditions and travel alerts.

Top Things to Know:

  • Practice smart winter driving skills
  • Wear your face covering in the snow, too
  • Carry your face covering, hand sanitizer, warm-weather gear and emergency supplies 
  • Have a backup plan in mind if your area is too crowded

There’s no other joy quite like romping in the snow — hearing the swish-swish of your skis on the slopes at Mt. Bachelor, tubing or tossing snowballs at a sno-park near Mt. Hood, or taking a guided snow tour through a silent forest, flurries falling all around like a giant snow globe. 

Oregon’s beloved wintry weather lives on this season, with plenty of outdoor-recreation opportunities in wide-open spaces and fresh air. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic still happening, outdoor recreation will look a bit different.

“Ski-area staff and visitors alike will need to follow guidelines to maintain the health and safety of our mountain communities,” says Jordan Elliott, president of Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association. “This winter will be different than any other winter we have experienced. All skiers and riders will need to plan ahead before heading up to the ski areas, and don’t forget your mask.” Here’s how to stay safe in the snow in Oregon this year. 

Snow surrounds the road to Mt. Bachelor.
Prepare for winter driving conditions before heading for a snow day at Mt. Bachelor.

How Are Your Winter Driving Skills?

Before you head out to your snow area, it’s vital to check road and weather conditions, and if it’s not shaping up for you, turn back and plan to return another day — the slopes can wait. Some of us grew up in places where it was natural to drive in the snow; others, not so much. Either way, here are some winter driving tips to keep you and your loved ones safe:

  • Make sure your vehicle has clean headlights, good brakes, working windshield wipers and good tires. Get your brakes and tires checked beforehand — tires should be properly inflated and have plenty of tread.
  • Carry chains and know how to use them. If you don’t have traction tires, practice installing chains on your car.
  • Check weather and road conditions on your route before you go at TripCheck​ (which also has live cameras) or by dialing 511. Allow extra travel time when it’s snowing and head out with at least a half a tank of fuel, just in case of emergency.
  • Turn on your headlights to increase your visibility.
  • Always keep your eyes peeled for dangerous patches of black ice on shaded spots on the edge of a roadway — most common in the early morning when temperatures are lowest.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly and gently to avoid skids, especially on ice (never use cruise control). Slow down when approaching off-ramps, bridges and shady spots where snow lingers longer. If the wheels lock up, ease off the brakes.
  • Keep about three times the distance as usual between yourself and the vehicle in front of you in case there’s a spinout or incident up ahead. There is less traction on slick, snowy roads.
  • While you’re driving, turn down the music and focus fully on the road, especially in dark or powdery conditions.
  • If in doubt, look to book a guided snow tour with shuttle transportation to your destination.

Highway 22

If you’ll be traveling in the Salem area near Santiam Canyon, know that Highway 22 is now reopened after the wildfires, but mudslides are a concern with winter rainfall. Here and in other wildfire-impacted corridors, watch for work crews, follow reduced speed limits and use extreme caution driving through the area. Many businesses were damaged or destroyed by the fires, so services are limited. Fill your gas tank and pack plenty of food, water and supplies for your trip.

Interstate 84

Many of Eastern Oregon’s best winter destinations are located just off I-84, from snowshoeing at Meacham Divide / Mt. Emily Sno-Park near La Grande, to backcountry skiing in the Eagle Cap Wilderness near Joseph, to downhill skiing at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort in North Powder. Yet the four-lane highway, which stretches from Portland to Idaho and Utah, is known to have inclement weather that causes difficult driving conditions and closures. Particularly between Pendleton and Ontario, pay attention to significant grade increases and wind tunnels that can cause whiteouts and affect visibility. Be prepared to drive under the speed limit and look for ODOT warning signs.

A snowboarder wears a mask while riding a lift.
Oregon ski areas have new safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Timberline Lodge Ski Area)

Social Distance in the Snow, Too

Oregon’s lush green summer trails turn into a fluffy white wonderland at all of Oregon 100 sno-parks and 12 ski areas — are you ready to get out there? Before you go, know that visitors are required to wear their face coverings indoors, in parking lots, in lift lines, on chairlifts and any time you can’t maintain 6 feet of physical distance from someone outside your party. The rules follow guidelines from the Oregon Health Authority as well as the National Ski Areas Association’s Ski Well, Be Well campaign. “Essentially, there is a social contract for skiing and riding this season,” says Elliott. 

Employees will be taking daily wellness checks, and visitors are asked to stay home if they feel sick. All restaurants and indoor facilities will be following the same protocols in place according to the region’s phased reopening. As far as groups go, the message is: “Arrive together, ride together.” If you didn’t come to the ski area with that person, it’s best not to ride with them — that includes chair lifts. (Read more about what to expect at Oregon ski areas during COVID-19). Enjoy the hundreds of acres of wide-open spaces, and leave room between each other on the slopes. 

Pro tip: Bring more than one face covering for each member of your household, since they tend to get wet in the snow. A balaclava or similar wind-protection mask typically worn for snow sports should not take the place of a COVID-type face covering. 

A person frolics through the snow with two dogs.
Getting outside helps keep away the winter blues and cope with pandemic-related stress. (Photo by Elena Pressprich)

Have a Backup Plan

The same Ski Well, Be Well rules apply for sno-parks, which tend to get crowded during peak snowfall. Wear your face coverings, keep 6 feet of physical distance, and go midweek and come early for less crowds, since officials may be reducing parking-lot capacity so it’s easier to social distance. Jarrett says it’s possible that some parking lots will see traffic cones or sandwich boards marking every other space as closed, as they did during the summer at peak hiking trails. Please respect the parking markers and have a backup location in mind if you have to turn away. 

Keep in mind that it’s up to individuals to recreate responsibly. “We’re not going to put our staff in the position of having to enforce those protocols. We don’t have the staff to do that,” Jarrett says. 

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About The
Author

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters, annual Visitor Guide and other editorial content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

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