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La Niña? No problem, for the most part

Businesses adjust to trends
by: Shanda Tice Golfer Tim Pope takes advantage of a mild, sunny Monday morning out on the greens at the Resort at the Mountain golf course in Welches.

Tim Pope casually mentioned the 38 inches of snow that covered his front porch in 2008.

'It's part of living up here,' Pope said, teeing off at Resort at the Mountain.

Monday, Oct. 17, marked the first morning with frost delay on the golf course, but Pope was unfazed. Since moving to the Welches area in 2000, he has played almost year-round, even during harsh winters.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center issued its advisory in mid-September for a second consecutive year of La Niña, a weather pattern punctuated by cold, wet weather that often extends into spring.

Despite hype about heavy flooding and snow in the Mount Hood area, businesses between Boring and Government Camp share Pope's indifference to the La Niña forecast.

'It's not a strong influence either way,' Les Geren, owner of Geren's Farm Supply, said about La Niña's influence on business.

The last time Geren remembers a La Niña winter having an impact on him was more than 30 years ago. Recent snows he calls 'just another inconvenience.'

Last January, river flooding and windstorms wreaked havoc on Mount Hood, closing ski resorts after 9 inches of rain came down in 24 hours. In 2008, La Niña produced a massive snow year in the Cascades. Still, residents in Sandy and the mountain villages say weather forecasts are unpredictable and shouldn't induce fear.

Dexter Hill, owner of Hillcrest Ski and Sports, 2506 S.E. Burnside Road, says sales increased last winter between 10 and 15 percent from what he normally sees that time of year because of La Niña. He hopes to see a similar increase in sales this winter as La Niña returns.

In particular, Hill says when it snows more, folks who have flirted with the idea of skiing or snowboarding for the first time say, 'yeah, it's time to go. It's time to get off the couch and get up and give it a whirl.'

He adds that veteran skiers and snowboarders also increase their time on the slopes.

'The ones who skied five times, maybe they'll ski 10 times,' he says.

And that translates into more purchases of clothes and gear, as veteran snow-lovers wear out their old items. La Niña also means he hires more temporary employees for longer periods of time than he would during a winter with no La Niña.

'We did the best we could with the resources we had,' Walker said.

For Timberline Lodge, a La Niña prediction sells more season ski passes. According to Jon Tullis, Timberline spokesperson, more than 50 percent of skiers buy their season passes in October. This year, the first snow for Timberline came on Oct. 6, prompting a slew of purchases.

'The La Niña climate prediction gives people the confidence and excitement they need to purchase a pass,' Tullis said.

While increased precipitation draws more skiers, it doesn't equate to an economic benefit for businesses between Sandy and Rhododendron -- at least during the winter. These businesses say summer is the region's main season, and what they're most concerned about with a La Niña forecast.

'When these weather patterns delay the start of summer, that's when we pay a heavy toll,' said Rick Applegate, owner of Mt. Hood Roasters Coffee Company in Rhododendron. 'We love the snow November through March. After that, we want it to dry out and take full advantage of a really busy season. If there's still a foot of snow at Trillium Lake after Memorial Day, that's not good for us.'

This year, May through July were the coolest months on record in the region, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Applegate said with the state of the economy, it's hard to tell if a late summer hurt business this year.

'If you're only thinking short-term, La Niña will put you out of business,' Applegate said. 'But by diversifying (business) through many avenues, it's not a problem.'

Winter weekends are still important for these businesses, and when weather reports dissuade Portland area day-trippers from driving east, they feel the repercussions.

'As long as it's not snowing in Gresham or Portland, people get excited about snow,' Applegate said. 'A heavy snow in Portland is a bad time here.'

For now, though, the earlier the snow and the earlier the ski industry takes off, the sooner local businesses have busy weekends. In this regard, La Niña is positive.

'Sometimes when there's a lot of news coverage on heavy snowfall and harsh conditions, it scares people away from coming to the mountain,' said Sandy Palmer, owner of Wy'east Book Shoppe and Art Gallery in Welches.

'We have a lower elevation than some of the hills in Portland, and many times it's very manageable to get around here. If people want to know what the circumstances are and what the highway is like, they could call a business they are familiar with up here for advice.'

Palmer said she doesn't look forward to hearing a La Niña projection, but businesses in the area are 'pretty used to' the extra precipitation.

'We haven't had a normal summer the past few years,' Palmer said. 'That's a little tough. But we love living here, and we'll deal with what comes.'

Rob Cullivan contributed to this story