Snowcapped hills greeted valley residents Thursday morning. Lots more snow is predicted until Wednesday. Jim Craven photo - Jim Craven

More snow on the way

Holiday travelers who want to avoid driving in rain or snow will have to time their travels to be on the road between a series of storms that will roll into Southern Oregon right on through the day after Christmas.

Temperatures likely will remain warm enough to keep snow off the valley floor and most northbound passes, but state highways over the Cascades and Interstate 5 over the Siskiyous will see periodic snowfall through Dec. 26, said Sven Nelaimischkies, a meteorlogist at the National Weather Service office in Medford.

Today should provide a brief break in the storms, but Nelaimischkies said the next system is due to arrive Saturday. It won't be as cold as the big blast that brought 2 feet of snow to Mount Ashland Wednesday night, but it will still be cold enough for snow to fall around 4,000 feet at first and gradually sink to 3,000 feet.

The Siskiyou Summit on Interstate 5 lies at 4,310 feet. Lake of the Woods summit on Highway 140 lies at about 5,000 feet.

"If you're heading north you should see rain," Nelaimischkies said, noting the four low passes heading north on I-5 are slightly below 2,000 feet in elevation.

A storm that was expected to arrive in Southern Oregon on Sunday night could continue into Christmas Eve on Monday, and snow levels could drop as low as 2,500 feet, followed closely by a storm on Christmas night that could last into Wednesday, with snow levels around 3,000 to 3,500 feet.

All the snow and cold weather couldn't have come at a better time for the Mount Ashland ski area, which opened Thursday despite two feet of snow that prevented grooming equipment from working most of the slopes.

The storms should give the mountain all the snow Christmas holiday visitors could ask for, although they struggled Thursday with too much of a good thing. Road crews could only manage to plow a single lane on the 10-mile access road to the ski area, and skiers and snowboarders had just two groomed runs to play on Thursday.

No one seemed to care, said Rick Saul, Mount Ashland's marketing manager.

"They were stoked to have the mountain open," Saul said. He estimated about 525 skiers and snowboarders came out for opening day.

Saul said the storm gave the mountain a base of 48 inches of snow at the lodge, but no one had ventured to the measuring stake near the summit to measure the depth there. A year ago, on Dec. 20, Mount Ashland had just 23 inches of snow at the lodge and 32 inches near the summit.

Saul said more runs should be groomed by today, and the Ariel chairlift is planned to run.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail

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