Salmon River Canyon
After learning how to use their gear by practicing at Timberline/Palmer Snowfield, the aspiring backcountry skier should then progress to the more entertaining terrain of Salmon River Canyon. This area, which is directly East of the Timberline boundary line and overflow parking area, offers fun tubular skiing with an easy approach. Avalanche hazard is generally limited by frequent wind-pounding, though the entire ski run is a terrain trap of sorts.
Besides the beginning skier, the devote Mt Hood skier insistent on skiing in the early and late season will appreciate the easy approach to this “canyon”, and will find that the wind that often ruins its snow also tends to keep it filled in while nearby areas melt out. For convenient skiing, this area is hard to beat. For variety, it is somewhat lacking.
The are that I refer to as Salmon river canyon has an upper boundary near the bottom of the Palmer snowfield, where its braided tubes become smaller and smaller and fade into the slope above. The zone extends to the East until it drops abruptly into White River Canyon, a beast of its own. The area doesn’t have a lower boundary per-se, but most skiers will choose to exit at an altitude that allows them to ski back to the overflow lot at Timberline rather than getting stuck in the steep gully below.
Park at the overflow lot for Timberline (the first encountered on entering the parking area). Beginning at the North end of the lot, skin uphill, gaining a small ridge often used by sledders. Continue in the direction of the summit past a water tower. Here, choose either to veer slightly left and stay out of the gullies of Salmon River Canyon, or commit to skinning directly uphill through the gully itself. The former route is often easier, is definitely safer, and mostly follows the approach route for the Palmer snowfield. The latter option is more hazardous in relation to cornice fall and avalanche hazard, but can be more entertaining and also facilitates good navigation on the way down. Ascend to the upper limits of the gullies near the East corner of the Palmer snowfield and either begin by skiing the Palmer or rip skins here to ski the gullies.
Several variations exist. If in doubt at a fork in the road, choose to ski to the right, as veering left will make navigating back to the car more challenging. At each point where large gullies come together, evaluate whether you are finally at the altitude where a rightward traverse will permit skiing back to the car or risk having to re-don your skins to reverse your route.
At the lower end of Salmon River Canyon, there is a more moderate meadowed area to the East of the canyon, bounded by White River Canyon to the East. This small zone can provide some entertaining but short runs for the lazy skier who hardly wants to climb at all from the parking lot. It’s minigolf at its easiest, though it is also often hammered by wind.
Reverse the route of approach. I often exit the canyon at a point just after the merger of the two largest forks of the canyon. From here, the parking lot is plainly seen and a traverse to the right allows skiing right to the bumper of the car. Watch out for sledders.