ashland.news
December 2, 2023

$2.5M gift gives big lift to Mt. Ashland effort to build new ski lift

The Sonnet Lift at the beginners slope at Mt. Ashland Ski Area in February 2023. A planned new chair lift — the first in decades — will have three-seat chairs and be located on the left side of the Poma run, ending in trees beyond the Sonnet beginner lift. Bob Palermini photo
October 2, 2023

Sid & Karen DeBoer and their foundation give about 75% of cost of new ‘Lithia Chair’; fundraising planned to cover the balance

By Tony Boom for the Rogue Valley Times

Mt. Ashland will install its first new chairlift since the 1980s with support from the largest gift the nonprofit has ever received.

Karen and Sid DeBoer donated $500,0000 toward the new feature, and the Sid and Karen DeBoer Foundation is giving $2 million. To be called the Lithia Chair, it will be placed where a Poma surface lift was removed in the 1980s. When installed, hopefully for the 2025 season, the chair service five trails, including four for beginners and one for intermediates.

Mt. Ashland also announced other improvements coming in the next few years as it launches the celebration of its 60th anniversary with the theme “Elevate Mt. Ashland.” The area opened Jan. 11, 1964.

The theme also a reference to upcoming major upgrades that will help make the ski area more accessible, especially for beginning and intermediate downhill skiers and snowboarders.

“Our focus is really on catering to families and those who’ve never skied before so this is huge,” says Andrew Gast, Mt. Ashland’s general manager, referring to ambitious plans, including the installation of a new chairlift that will reopen beginner and intermediate terrain that has been inaccessible since the original lift was removed in the 1980s.

“We just came off our biggest winter ever and opening in summer for the first time,” said Gast. “Our 60th anniversary is a time for us to celebrate the rich history of our mountain and to look forward to ensure the next generation of mountain enthusiasts can have the same experiences as those who have been vising Mt. Ashland for many, many years.”

“This is a historic time for us, as we truly look to ‘Elevate Mt. Ashland’ in everything we do,” Gast says. “We will continue to make it easier and more accessible for everyone to learn mountain sports, while also making some improvements for our experienced visitors who come up to play year-round.”

Planning is underway for the lift installation and creation of a new trail in the area. The U.S. Forest Service, which leases the site to the Mt. Ashland Association, had already approved the project in a master plan, but environmental and archeological studies will be required before work can begin.

“There is hope we can see construction next summer, but at the long end we are looking at 2025,” said Gast. The lift will have three-seat chairs and be located on the left side of the Poma run, ending in trees beyond the Sonnet beginner lift.

The snow-dusted sign at the entrance to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area in February 2023. Bob Palermini photo

The lift will load from a road at the bottom of the Poma run. The new trail, designed for beginners, will run from the top east toward the Mt. Ashland access road, then circle around bringing skiers and riders back to the base. Lighting will be installed, which will expand the night skiing footprint on the mountain.

“It will definitely provide a bridge. It you have been up two or three times and are ready to do more, it provides terrain that we don’t have,” said Gast. It can also be used for youth programs, such as racing, he added.

The DeBoers’ donations will pay for approximately 75% of the installation costs. Fundraising will be done to cover the rest of the expense and pay for other planned improvements. The Sonnet beginner’s lift was the last one installed in 1988.

“We were so insistent that the money go toward expanding the intermediate terrain,” said Sid DeBoer. “It’s one of the hardest things for beginners to start skiing up there. There’s nowhere to go.”

DeBoer has purchased a season’s pass for the first time in a number of years because he wants to be ready to ski the new run once the lift is in place.

“One of the things Karen and I have focused on is doing things that, if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t happen,” said DeBoer. The lift project and the YMCA Camp DeBoer at Lake of the Woods fall into that category.

“It’s a 60-year-old mountain, and it’s starting to show its age,” said Curt Burrill, president of the association’s board of directors. “We have the future on our minds. We are excited to see what we can do to enhance that and make sure it’s around for another 60 years.”

Mount Ashland rises above the Mt. Ashland Ski Area in February 2023. Bob Palermini photo

The board is doing behind-the-scenes examinations to determine which parts of the infrastructure will need attention, said Burrill. One of those is the 60-year-old Ariel chairlift that runs to the top of the mountain. All capital expenses will need to come from fundraising, he said.

Mt. Ashland has purchased two demo-used snowcats to provide expanded slope grooming for this season. The units replace two 2007 snowcats and are more fuel efficient with a smaller carbon footprint. The pair cost $780,000.

Other improvements planned for future seasons include:

  • Renovation of the current locker lodge, which will include the addition of a second food service area on the mountain.
  • Installation of night lighting on the Bottom run. All lights on the mountain will be changed to LEDs.
  • Installation of the Poet rope tow at the lower Tempest run terrain park. An enclosed moving carpet replaced the rope tow in the beginner’s area last season.

Engineering design work is ongoing for a planned widening of Aisle 2, a run that allows beginning and intermediate skiers to access more advanced lifts on the mountain. The current path is narrow and mixes beginner and intermediate skiers and riders with more advanced ones. Two retaining walls will be built to double the trail width. Cost of the widening is estimated at $350,000. No construction date has been set.

The new lift will be part of expanding night operations. Saturday night skiing will return to the mountain after a number of years absence except for the annual Bavarian Night ski patrol benefit.

The mountain will be open all Saturday evenings in January and the first three in February. Thursday and Friday night skiing begins Jan. 4 and runs through March 8.

A special night skiing pass will be offered, which includes a 25% discount when the holder purchases a day ticket. The pass will be $149 for adult, $139 for teens and $119 for kids. An adult night ticket will cost $29.

“We heard from a lot of people, especially from families,” said Gast. “It’s hard to get off work and get the kids ready on Thursdays and Fridays. Having Saturdays makes it a lot better for families.”

Saturday nights will also open up the opportunity for high school students to have organized skiing sessions. Currently, elementary and middle school students have opportunities to learn the sport and enjoy the mountain after school on Thursday and Fridays.

Mt. Ashland also serves as a major employer with up to 170 seasonal full- and part-time employees. In addition, Gast notes this past summer’s operations — the first summer programs ever offered — “worked exceptionally well.” About 4,000 visits were recorded and, most satisfyingly to Gast, “A lot of them had never been to the mountain.”

For now, the focus is on celebrating – and building on – Mt. Ashland’s 60th anniversary. As Gast explains, “Our goal is to elevate every aspect of our operation so that we’re ready for the next 60 years.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com. This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times. Reporting by Lee Juillerat has also been incorporated into this article. Email Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net.

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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