After a few weeks of waiting and wondering, ski season officially started this month in Eastern Oregon.
"That last week there were lots of calls," said Betty Standfill, an administrative assistant at Bluewood ski area near Dayton, Wash. "People were very anxious."
Bluewood started its season Dec. 17, more than a week later than last year's Dec. 9, opening. Each of the past two years started later than the resort's usual planned opening, Standfill said.
"We're always scheduled for the weekend before Thanksgiving," she said. "It does happen, but it doesn't always happen."
For each of the three ski resorts closest to Pendleton and Hermiston - Bluewood, Ski Anthony Lakes and Spout Springs Ski Area - the later-than-usual opening still began the season with a bang. Bluewood received 13 inches of new snow Thursday night alone, bringing its base depth to 35 inches, Standfill said. Anthony Lakes, located east of Pendleton near North Powder, opened on Dec. 13, and enjoyed a 60-inch snow base by Friday, said marketing director Chelsea McLagan.
McLagan said turnout at Anthony Lakes has been about average so far this year. Though resorts are largely at the mercy of weather conditions, she said the resort's prices would keep it competitive regardless.
All-day tickets at Ski Anthony Lakes range from $22 to $35, depending on age. Skiers can spend a day at Bluewood for $33 to $42, and prices at Spout Springs land between $20 and $30.
The nation's struggling economy throws another layer of uncertainty into this season. Though it's still early to tell how area resorts will be affected by the recession, each reported average to good crowds in the opening weeks. A bigger factor may have been this month's wintery weather down to the Columbia Basin floor, said John Murray, owner of Spout Springs.
Murray said the tough in-city driving conditions likely kept people home and prevented them from reaching the highways easily. Had the snow stayed in the mountains, the season might be going better, Murray said.
Spout Springs and others will likely get a better perspective in January, when things typically pick up, Murray said. Either way, he remained optimistic about the economic climate.
"My thought on that is we held our prices," Murray said. "We didn't increase our prices, and fuel has dropped in half. It's got to be a good year."
Each of the three local resorts is currently operating on a holiday schedule, open daily until Jan. 4. After that, Bluewood moves to a Wednesday-Sunday weekly schedule. Anthony Lakes will open Thursday-Sunday each week. Spout Springs will open lifts every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each ski area also operates during holidays through the spring.
Despite the delayed start, Mother Nature seems to have rewarded ski resorts for their patience. And forecasts call for rain through most of next week, which should translate to mountain snow.
"I think we were all kind of anxious for that snow to hit. But we weren't the only ones, so that was comforting," McLagan said. "It finally hit, and it hit hard."