These glorious, arctic-long days of summer are upon us, and the list of usual suspects has lined up. Sunny riverbanks? Check. Backyard grilling? Check. Waxing your snowboard...wait, what? That's right. Unbeknownst to the bikini-clad throngs lining the banks of the Sandy River, a tribe of world-class snowboarders and skiers is cruising the only summer snowfield in the lower 48 states, just a few thousand feet above them.
The group on the snowfield below Mount Hood's Palmer Glacier—which usually remains rideable through Labor Day—has included the likes of the U.S. men's and women's ski teams in past, who came to Timberline Lodge in May 2008 before heading to summer training grounds in Chile (it's also the official training site for the U.S. men's and women's disabled ski teams). Numerous ski and snowboard camps also dot the slopes, staffed by former stars coaching the next generation of pro athletes.
But Mount Hood is also the premier summer destination for another species of snow junkie: dedicated bums. Every year, hundreds of penniless dreamers crowd the National Forest, camping off-site for free and hoping to catch the eye of the snow industry elite.
They'll have their shot three times this summer, at Pipe to Pipe at Timberline Lodge. Co-founded by Portland-based Bonfire Snowboarding and Windells ski and snowboard camps, Pipe to Pipe will take place June 11, July 11 and July 19.
At each Pipe to Pipe, amateurs and professionals will compete side by side, first on the snowfield and then in Windells' indoor skateboard facility. Amateurs perform for prizes and recognition, and pros—like expected attendees Zac Marben, who rides for Volcom, and Jarad Hadi, who lists Bonfire as one of his sponsors—perform for cash.
Afterward, everyone hangs out to listen to music, eat free food and regale each other with tales of feats of daring. "Pipe to Pipe is about free barbie, good skateboarding and hopefully some summertime honeys," explains Hadi.
As one of the country's longest-running skate and snow competitions, Pipe to Pipe has a reputation for showcasing emerging stars like local snowboarder Nick Dirks, who had a breakout video on Transworld magazine's website this year.
The snowfield on Palmer Glacier is also appealing to young Horatio Algers because of its proximity to PDX and the Mount Hood National Forest. Spending summer days camping in the forest for free, just a short ride away from the Rose City's rock clubs and coffee shops, is a far more attractive prospect than spending the winter in a tent in the Rockies, making July one of Timberline's busiest months.
However, this party might not last all that much longer. The forest and the snowfield are already under assault from global warming. While Timberline spokesman Jon Tullis says the resort's lifts are not at risk, Oregon State University geosciences professor Anne Nolin disagrees: "To imagine the glaciers are not receding, in a world that's getting hotter so much faster, is just marketing," she says.
Nolin asserts that mountain areas are particularly vulnerable to global warming. Light surfaces reflect the sun's energy—as the snow melts and exposes darker soil, the mountain absorbs energy that it previously reflected, creating a feedback loop that accelerates the pace of melt.
According to a 2006 paper by Karl Lillquist and Karen Walker of Central Washington University, the Mount Hood glaciers have been retreating over the past century because of rising temperatures and decreasing precipitation. Since 1901, the glacier just above the Palmer snowfield has disappeared by almost 30 percent—a pace Nolin says is likely to increase by the middle of this century.
Dispersed camping—that is, camping away from established campgrounds—also poses a problem for forest conservation. Off-site camping is a valid use of the National Forest, but visitors are asked to leave no trace and to ensure their visit lasts no longer than 14 days.
The busy summer season, therefore, means litter and—more revoltingly—piles of accumulated human waste. "Most people don't even build fires," says Rick Acosta, public affairs officer for the Mount Hood National Forest. "But others just like to go in there and trash everything. It's becoming more and more of a problem."
Acosta says if the problems persist, the Forest Service could be forced to limit or even stop off-site camping altogether, which no one wants to see happen. "The National Forest is everyone's land, and we want to allow recreation opportunities," Acosta says. "But we need to maintain good stewardship in the meantime."
For Pipe to Pipe to keep going, all parties need to work together to preserve the mountain. "It's not the X Games," says Bonfire's Rian Rhoe. "There's no fire or flashing lights. Just a contest where you can high-five whoever did a cool trick, and experience what it's like to be riding with the pros, and have a fantastic Oregon summer day." And at the end of the day, to go back to your tent, poop in a bag and dream.
Pipe to Pipe takes place at Timberline Wy'East Lodge
and continues at the Windells facility
622-3736. 9 am-9 pm Thursday, June 11; Saturday, July 11; and Sunday, July 19. Free.