Busy times at Mt. Ashland
By Lee Juillerat
Trying to catch up with Hiram Towle is like chasing a rabbit.
Why? “It’s been absolutely crazy,” says Towle, the chief executive of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, during a quick break from his many mountain duties.
How crazy? Even though the area didn’t open for downhill skiers and snowboarders until Dec. 18, a week after the hoped-for opening date, he says visitor use records were quickly eclipsed. As of earlier this month, Towle reports that visitation is up 77 percent over early 2020-21, with a jump during last season’s 14-day opening period from 13,105 to 23,305 to kick off the 2021-22 season.
The parking lot, which holds about 700 vehicles and is normally packed about 10 days a season, was filled seven of those days.
“People want to ski and snowboard,” says Towle, who believes the surge stems from several factors – good snow, decent weather, a chance to be outdoors and, because of COVID-19, “People are looking for that local, relatively healthy, experience.”
Even with increased numbers, Towle says skiers and riders don’t generally find the long lift lines seen at larger resorts but, instead, usually have short waits and uncrowded runs over Mt. Ashland’s 240 skiable acres. The area has four lifts that access 44 runs, with the offerings include easy beginner terrain to challenging double-black diamond thrillers. Ashland is known to test skiers and riders skills, with half of its terrain rated as advanced.
“We depend on Mother Nature,” Towle says, noting Mt. Ashland receives an average 265 inches between December and April, its normal operating months.
Along with a pair of triple chairlifts – Comer and Sonnet – Ashland has two double chairs – Windsor and Ariel – plus a rope tow in the beginning area.
New conveyor belt planned for next year
Planned for the 2022-23 season is a new “magic carpet,” a conveyor belt that allows people to slide onto the belt and stand on the moving “carpet.” Amazingly, Towle said a $250,000 fundraising drive was accomplished in only three weeks. He predicts the carpet will attract more beginners who might otherwise be intimidated by a rope tow.
Making it easier to reach Mt. Ashland are free shuttle buses that run to the mountain from the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites at exit 14 off Interstate 5. The buses, dubbed Romeo and Juliet, were out of service earlier this year but now operate weekends and holidays ever hour beginning from Ashland Hills at 7 a.m. The last bus down from the mountain leaves at 5 p.m.
Impacts from the Covid pandemic are still being felt, but at lesser levels. The ski lodge, which offers the Granite Grill and the T-Bar Lounge, is again open to the public. Lift tickets, ski school lessons, gear rentals and Sno-Park permits are also available at the lodge. Towle says people spending time indoors are required to bring and wear face coverings, which created enforcement problems.
As the area’s website notes, “When indoors you are required to wear a mask unless seated and actively eating or drinking. You are required to bring your own mask. Do not rely on Mt. Ashland to provide you with a free one. This policy will be strictly enforced and those who do not comply will be asked to leave the lodge immediately … It has been so nice to open our lodge again this season and we do not want to close it to the public again.”
Masks, however, are not required outdoors. If people riding a lift are not comfortable being seated to another skier or rider, they can request to ride individually.
Operating hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with twilight skiing to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. All-day lift tickets are $57 for skiers and riders weekdays and $64 weekends and holidays while youth 13 to 69 and free for children age 6 and younger and seniors 70 and older. Half-day and twilight tickets are also available.
For more information, including snow reports, special programs and trail conditions, visit the Mt. Ashland website at mt.ashland.com, email email@example.com or call 541-482-2897, or the snow phone at 541-482-3754.
By the numbers
Year founded: 1963 as the Mt. Ashland Corporation – became a nonprofit in 1992)
Type of entity: Nonprofit corporation
Owner: Mt. Ashland Association, a 501©)3) nonprofit corporation
Location: 11 Mt. Ashland Ski Road with business office at 693 Washington St., Ashland, OR 97520
Distance from other cities – 22 miles from Ashland, 36 from Medford, 36 from Weed, 64 from Weed, 81 from Klamath Falls, 127 from Roseburg, 134 from Redding. Reached by taking exit 6 north or south from Interstate 5 and driving 8-1/2 miles on paved roads to the parking area.
Chief executives: Hiram Towle, General Manager, and Curt Burrill, Mt. Ashland Association President
Number of employees: 130-150
Annual budget: Just under $3 million
Revenue sources: Ski tickets and passes, ski school, rentals, retail shop, two restaurant locations, bar plus nonprofit fundraising for programs and capital projects
Acreage: 240 skiable acres
Season: November through April, depending on snow, some special summer events.
Phone number: 541-482-2897