Forecast calls for heavy snow on the mountain Saturday — but will it be enough?
By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news
The waiting continues at Mt. Ashland Ski Area.
Just when the mountain will have enough snow for the area to finally open for downhill skiers, snowboarders and other winter sports enthusiasts remains uncertain. Although a storm earlier this week dumped up to 10 inches of fresh snow, another 2 feet is needed before skiers and riders can enjoy Mt. Ashland’s slopes.
“We’re doing everything we can,” said Andrew Gast, Mt. Ashland’s general manager. Trying to remain optimistic, he added, “There’s still a lot of season ahead.”
During a typical season the area is open from late November into April. But this season — the ski area’s 60th — has been anything but normal. Even with a top elevation of 7,533 feet, the highest point in the Siskiyou Mountains, Mt. Ashland, like most ski areas in the American West, continues to suffer from the lack of snowfall.
A recent story in the New York Times focused on Mt. Ashland, but also noted areas in California, Washington, Idaho, Utah and elsewhere remain closed or are only partially open because of the unusually dry winter. Neighboring ski areas at Mount Shasta and Willamette Pass likewise have mostly bare slopes on what in a normal winter season are covered with snow and busy with skiers and riders.
For Mt. Ashland, “doing everything we can” has included moving meager amounts of snow from parking lots to the beginner areas near the lodge. But Gast said at least another foot of snow is needed before even those areas, which have first priority, are usable.
Gast is hopeful that current weather forecasts that predict upwards of 2 feet of snow next week are realized.
The lack of snow and the resulting wait to open has forced ski hill managers to severely reduce hours for full-time staff. Although there have been no layoffs, some have had their hours trimmed by as much as 80 percent. In addition, there’s been no need for seasonal staff. Like other areas, Mt. Ashland has suffered financially because the Christmas-New Year’s holidays are usually times when use is the highest.
During the unexpected hiatus, Gast has been focused on planning for upcoming summer projects, including adding a $3.3 million ski lift that will access beginner and intermediate run on the Poma slope, widening the Aisle 2 run, move a rope tow to the terrain park, and add a youth snow-sport yurt.
While the New York Times article drew national attention — a reporter came from Seattle while a photographer came from Los Angeles — Gast said Rogue Valley people are aware of the problems created by the dearth of snow, noting, “Locals definitely know it’s a dour winter” and are patiently hoping for snow.
It’s not the first time Mt. Ashland has suffered from a lack of snow. The area never opened during the 2013-14 season and in some years the opening has been delay until early or mid-January.
For now Gast and the rest of the Mt. Ashland staff can only watch and wait. And hope.
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org.