Inversion on the Mountain

A little while back Portland went through a weird weather system that the locals called an "inversion." Being from North Carolina, where it is 85 degrees and humid no matter where you are, I had never heard of an inversion. All I knew is that Portland got bitterly, bitterly cold for a while. Cold enough that I tucked my face into my winter jacket in the mornings and told myself it was much too cold to even go skiing on the mountain on my days off.

But there were promises of "warmer weather" on the mountain (which was almost laughable), so my friends Jason, Elizabeth and I packed up early one day to go skiing. We left around 7:00am; it was so cold in my house that as soon as I got out of bed I was dressed in every layer of ski clothing I owned: heavy long underwear, insulated pants, wool turtleneck, insulated jacket, and waterproof jacket on top. I wore gloves and boots in the house and stomped around to try and keep warm. There was frost on the cars outside and I could nearly see my breath in the air.

We threw everything quickly into the back of the jeep and turned on the heater as we drove up to the mountain. The temperature gauge in the car read 25 degrees at nearly sea level. As we climbed to Mt Hood, we watched in astonishment as the temperature climbed, too. The dark, overcast skies of Portland began to break away for a sunrise, and blue skies peered out behind. By the time we neared Mt Hood an hour later, the temperature was 32 degrees and still rising. At 5,000 feet at the base of Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort, the jeep told us it was 40 degrees outside, but we didn't believe it. After all, we were still bundled up inside with memories of a 25 degree morning.

But the view didn't lie: it was bright, sunny, and absolutely clear outside. The hard edges of the mountain were as crisp as I had ever seen them and as soon as we opened the jeep doors, a wave of warm air flowed over us.


Immediately we stripped off half our layers, but I was still dubious about leaving everything in the car. After all, it was always colder on the snow, and the cold, biting wind on the chair lifts was enough to want an extra turtleneck sometimes.

But lo and behold... we got our first taste of inversion on the slopes. The snow was hard pack, but warming up slowly beneath the sun. The air on the chair lifts was still warm, feeling much more like a summer day than a January one. We didn't feel the chill in our toes or fingers.

When we stopped for lunch, we broke out a set of chairs and sat behind the jeep cooking grilled cheeses and tomato soup on a two-burner stove. We had a summer picnic. There wasn't any snow left in the parking lot, and we had long since abandoned our extra layers. I got a sunburned face sitting so long beneath the rays.

As the day crept on, the temperature rose closer to 45 degrees and we shed everything but t-shirts and pants. We wished for shorts. I left my gloves in my pack and wished my helmet wasn't so warm.

It was spring skiing at its best. In winter.

We stayed until late in the afternoon, and then reluctantly left the sunshine behind us. As we drove back to Portland we watched again as the temperature slowly dropped back down to 30 degrees, and the dark, overcast skies clouded in again. By the time I returned home it was dark and cold in my house, even though my face still felt pink from a day of sunshine.

(P.S. -This is my last post for a little bit! The shop will be open until Feb 5. I'll see you all in a few weeks with some fun new stories!)