I was expecting a typical recently-lost ski area scene as I drove toward Northeastern Oregon this morning. Located in the Blue Mountains where Idaho, Oregon and Washington converge, Spout Spring Ski Area once featured three Hall lifts: two doubles and a T-Bar. When I arrived at the first lift, called Echo, I was pleasantly surprised at the shape it was in, looking as if it had operated this season with ANSI signs neatly stacked and chairs flipped. After all, it has only been 15 months since these lifts hauled skiers.
Next I rounded the corner to the base-to-summit Happy double, which looked anything but happy. Surveying the scene above, I instantly assumed vandals had somehow knocked over the building that houses the 1965 double chair’s bottom drive bullwheel. But another clue was all around me. The massive snow load from this winter in the Blue Mountains was probably too much for the almost 55-year old building to handle. Not only did it fall on top of the terminal, wood got hung up in a chair which bent like a pretzel and caused the light side to de-rope in two places.
Spout Springs was already hurting before this blow. The only other lift besides Happy that accesses the summit – a 1972 T-Bar – was removed without replacement years ago. In 2015, the mountain was listed for sale by its 66 year-old owner John Murray for $1.25 million. The ski area announced last December it would not operate, supposedly due to a parking spat with the Forest Service. As of January, Spout Springs was still for sale with Forest Service Recreation Manager Larry Randall trying to negotiate a solution. “We want to see Mr. Murray successfully operate that ski area,” Randall told the East Oregonian. “That’s where our energies are being diverted.”
That was before the chair fell, or at least before anyone knew. Now the Forest Service is left with a dangerous scene along a major roadway with no cleanup in sight. While I hope a new owner can come in and save the day, it’s going to take some cash.