By Jayson Jacoby
Weldon Reedy is so confident in the snowmobiling conditions around Sumpter that he put a video camera right outside his motel to show how much snow is falling.
Or, as has been the case most of this winter, how much snow isn't falling.
Reedy, who with his wife, Kathy, owns the 14-room Depot Inn in downtown Sumpter, doesn't deny that snow has been relatively scarce this winter.
But it's equally true that a snowmobile doesn't much care whether there's a foot of snow beneath its skis, or 10 feet.
And though there's no surplus of snow, particularly at lower elevations such as Sumpter itself, there's enough in the surrounding mountains, Weldon said.
The Depot Inn's new web cam - http://sumpterdepotinn.wordpress.com/trail-cam/ - shows that the groomed trail that passes the nearby Sumpter Dredge state park is snow-covered as well.
"I rode 50 miles of groomed trails on Sunday, and another 30 miles in ungroomed areas, and the snow was excellent," Weldon said on Tuesday morning.
Besides which, the mountains are above the temperature inversion that has kept many local valleys immersed in freezing fog for the past couple weeks.
"We've had incredible conditions for taking pictures or videos," Weldon said.
The Reedys said they understood, when they bought the Depot Inn in April 2013, that snowmobiling is what lures visitors - and customers - to Sumpter during the winter.
And though the couple would have preferred a snowy winter to one marked by drought, they said the snow has been sufficient to attract snowmobilers from, among other places, Boise, Battle Ground, Wash., and Bend.
"All of our business, really, at this time is snowmobilers," Kathy Reedy said. "We're trying to promote that with the web cam - so you can see we do have snow."
There's also a tour group from Sweden visiting Baker County this week.
Members of the Sumpter Snowmobile Club guided some of the foreign visitors on a snowmobile ride to the Crescent Mine, where the since-canceled Syfy series "Ghost Mine" was made the past two summers, Weldon said.
Barbara Malone, secretary/treasurer of the Sumpter Snowmobile Club, said club members groomed 50 miles of trails late last week, including the 1055 trail from Sawmill Gulch up to Blue Springs Summit (between Sumpter and Granite), as well as the 100, 19, 7382 and 7380 trails.
Other snowmobilers have reported good conditions above Granite, both west toward Olive Lake, and north and east to Anthony Lakes, said Jim Sheller, grooming chairman for the snowmobile club.
Riders are hauling their trailers to the Fremont Power House, about five miles west of Granite, and riding from there, Sheller said.
The Reedys said their motel is already booked full for Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. A corporation from the East Coast is bringing a group of employees to stay in Sumpter and in Baker City, Weldon said.
The group will be renting the Sumpter Valley Railroad as well, he said.
Weldon said that although the Depot Inn doesn't rent snowmobiles, he has sleds available to take guests on rides if they're interested.
He does the same thing with four-wheelers during the summer.
"We're about bringing people up here and making this a destination," he said.
The Reedys aren't the only Sumpter business owners in the midst of their first winter.
Joan Fergus bought the Gold Post store in May 2013.
She said business, renamed Fergus Gold Post, "has been better than we expected it to be" this winter despite the paltry snowpack.
"It's been consistent, even in the middle of the week," Fergus said.
She estimates that "half, if not more," of her customers this winter have been snowmobilers.
Malone, of the Sumpter Snowmobile Club, said the annual Poker Run will happen on Saturday, Feb. 15 "no matter what."
The event, with a guaranteed purse of $3,000, is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and includes several stops in Sumpter as well as two stations, at Blue Springs Meadows and the Dunbar Ranch, outside town.
The Poker Run also will include, for the second year, the Outhouse Races which are pretty much what they sound like.
Although Malone said that if the drought continues competitors might want to equip their outhouses with wheels.
More information about the Poker Run and other activities is available online at: http://sumpteroregon.wordpress.com/snowmobile/
The Sumpter Snowmobile Club also has a Facebook page.
Snowmobiling conditions mixed in Baker County
No place in Baker County is a more reliable snow producer than the Wallowa Mountains above Halfway.
That Whitey Bloom can describe five feet of snow as a "little" illustrates what constitutes a typical snowpack on the southern slopes of the Wallowas in eastern Baker County.
Bloom is a longtime member of the Panhandle Snowmobile Club. Although snow has been scarce in the valleys, there's plenty at the higher elevations around Fish Lake and Sugarloaf Mountain, he said.
The main route to that high-elevation area, which starts at Clear Creek Sno-Park and follows a Forest Service road, has been groomed, Bloom said.
"We've had some snowmobilers coming to town," he said.
Some of those riders are traveling from Western Oregon and parts of Washington where the snowpack is even shallower than in Northeastern Oregon, he said.
"I got an email just today from a guy in Central Washington, asking if there's any snow here," Bloom said on Tuesday afternoon.
Bloom was able to answer "yes."
Dan Chapin is not so fortunate.
Chapin, of Unity, is president of the Burnt River Snowmobile Club in southern Baker County.
He said snowmobiling conditions are the worst he's seen in his 11 years in the area.
For just the second time in that span, the Burnt River club had to cancel its annual poker run, scheduled for the first weekend in February.
"We're not snowmobiling much down here," Chapin said.
The Sumpter Valley Snowmobile Club's poker run will happen on Feb. 15.
- Jayson Jacoby