Next two weekends an extended encore to a schedule previously expected to end last weekend
By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news
It was Chaucer who’s credited with observing that all good things must come to an end.
At the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, where record numbers of skiers and snowboarders — 119,500 and counting — have been enjoying an unusually heavy snowpack, the season is coming an end with operations this and next weekends with closing day set for Sunday, April 23.
Although the area still has 10 feet of snow — the fifth snowiest winter on record — the upcoming closing date will be the latest ever, with the area being open more days, 93, than in any previous season.
To celebrate a successful winter, two special events are planned. Saturday will be Passholder Appreciation Day, with special food and drink offerings and a “spin the wheel” event where current passholders can earn prizes. Set for April 23 is “The End of the Season As We Know It,” with people urged to “dress up in your most festive attire and celebrate our incredible season.”
With an eye to 2023-24, Mt. Ashland is offering its annual Spring Season Pass Sale with 30 percent of more discounts. Season passes are $424 for adults 20-69, $374 for teens 13-19, $214 for youth 7-12, and $50 for children up to age 6 and seniors age 70 and older.
Although Mt. Ashland, like other regional ski-snowboard areas, is seeing heavy snow, Marc Spilbe, a meteorologist with the Medford National Weather Service, said the snow totals are not at record levels and noted recent snowfall and forecasts for more are not unprecedented. “Honestly, it’s not unusual for this time of year,” he said. Even with the strong snowpack, Spilbe said Medford is 3.76 inches below average while Roseburg is 3.06 inches below. Likewise, regional mountain lakes remain well below capacity. Emigrant Lake is 47 percent full while Hyatt Lake is 20 percent, Fish Lake is 44 percent and Fourmile Lake is 30 percent full.
There are some exceptions, including Mount Shasta City, where precipitation is 9.08 above average, and Crater Lake National Park, where the April 11 snow total at park headquarters was 153 inches, above the 118-inch average.
At Mt. Ashland, general manager Andrew Gast said managers have been asked why the area hasn’t been open weekdays this month and why the season isn’t being extended into May. In a news release, Gast explained, “Our operations calendar has reflected nearly all weekdays closed in April from the start of the season. Although we are committed to providing the most skiing and riding possible, our number-one priority is to be financially responsible. It has been an amazing season and every single one of our expectations was exceeded, but we must be vigilant to ensure Mt. Ashland’s place in the community for future generations.
’We are committed to the necessary work to protect the assets we have with robust maintenance and wise capital expenditures. Although we had many good days this season, and a historic number of visitors, our pledge to keep experiences accessible and affordable means that our operating margins are tight.
“Our daily operating costs,” Gast continued, “are approximately $23,900, which includes wages, utilities, fuel, insurance, and supplies. Our average weekday revenue over the last thirty days has been only $20,650, so we are losing on average $3,250 for every weekday we are open, despite the better-than-average attendance. And we know from history that, as the season winds down, skier visits will decrease. It is a fact in the ski industry and we are not unique in this trend.
“Over the past week we’ve had some amazing snow and nearly daily fresh, yet we have an operating deficit for the week and posted our lowest weekly number of the season. This is nothing to fret over — it is budgeted every spring for us to operate at a deficit for several weeks in order to provide a full season to the community, and built as part of the whole season’s budget we are able to do so responsibly. However, adding additional days that we know will only decay our fiscal security is not something that seems reasonable. Many of us remember days when Mt. Ashland’s future was in jeopardy and every decision we make must be a sound business decision or else we lose our ability to be sustainable.”
Gast also noted the difficulty in staffing. “At the start of every season we provide the planned calendar to our employees, so that they can plan for the livelihood and future. At the time each season when we might have the opportunity to add more days, many of our staff has already engaged other employment. The wide availability that many team members have in January and February is very limited in April as they had expected the season to be complete and have filled their schedules with new opportunities. As an already small ski area, we do not have great depth in our team — many large resorts close peripheral terrain, lifts and lodges and consolidate teams in order to keep operating.
“I understand the frustration of seeing such wide snow coverage on the mountain while the chairlifts are idle on many days. Our leadership team has had robust discussion about the addition of more operating days, and have added two additional weekends to the schedule- with a closing date of April 23. Yet- as stewards of this amazing mountain we have the responsibility to strike a delicate balance between days of operation and financial stability.”
Speaking for Mt. Ashland staff and board, Gast said, “Our entire team thanks you for your support in this amazing winter. We appreciate our amazing mountain family, and are committed to ensuring this wonderful community ski area remains alive for generations to come. In parting, consider how blessed we are to have had this winter, and celebrate our successes.”
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com.