Mt. Ashland closures lead to budget issues

The Mt. Ashland Ski Area faces a financial shortfall after inadequate snow, a power outage and high winds caused closures that hurt revenues.

Ski Area General Manager Kim Clark said he doesn't know what the shortfall could be by season's end.

The ski area opened on Dec. 16, but then closed Jan. 2-18 because of unusually warm weather that melted snow on the mountain.

When the ski area reopened, managers predicted a shortfall of about $250,000 for the year, but have since made up ground, Clark said.

Clark said this week that the shortfall could be about $150,000 for the year. "We've made good strides. We've had cost savings and the February skier count was up compared to last year," he said.

Clark said the ski area is current on all its bills.

The ski area also had a short closure in January because of a power outage.

It also had a short closure this month because of strong winds.

The ski area has business interruption insurance to cover power outages and is working on a settlement with its insurance company, Clark said.

The insurance does not cover closures because of lack of snow or high winds, he said.

Clark said ski area personnel are hoping for a good turnout of skiers and snowboarders during spring break next week. The ski area is normally closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays but will be open every day during spring break, he said.

"We've had 75 inches of snow in the last 12 days. It's tremendous," Clark said.

The ski area had 130 inches of snow at the top of the mountain and 90 inches at the base, according to the latest snow report, which was on Monday. More snow has fallen since then.

Clark said ski area managers and the Mt. Ashland Association board are not sure yet how the ski area will deal with this year's projected financial shortfall.

Options include fundraising, seeking grants and tapping into a line of credit the ski area has with its bank, Clark said.

In 2011, the nonprofit ski area ended the year with net earnings of $89,919, the Mt. Ashland Association reported that year.

The ski area has tapped its line of credit in the past.

It borrowed money to start the 2009-2010 season after losing money the prior season because of insufficient snow. Ski area officials have declined to disclose the amount that was borrowed but said they paid the money back by mid-January 2010.

Opponents of a proposed ski area expansion called for a boycott of the ski area this winter, but it's not clear whether that has had any impact on the ski area's finances. Soon after the boycott was announced, the ski area reported selling double the expected number of season passes for this winter.

Expansion critics have questioned how the Mt. Ashland Association could handle the expansion financially when the existing ski area already has financial problems.

Former Ashland City councilman and expansion critic Eric Navickas said the ski area doesn't have enough money.

"I'd hate to see an organization move forward when funding doesn't exist," he said.

Clark said that ski area officials repeatedly have said they plan to finance the expansion completely through donations and grants.

The first and most significant phase of the expansion, which would include new ski runs, a chairlift and a parking lot expansion, would cost about $3.5 million.

The expansion remains on hold while a U.S. District Court judge in Medford considers whether to lift a 2007 injunction that has blocked the project.

The Mt. Ashland Association plans to start fundraising for the expansion if the injunction is lifted. It has an agreement with the city of Ashland not to log the new ski run areas before it has money and binding pledges in place to cover costs.

The U.S. Forest Service filed paperwork in February asking for the injunction to be lifted.

The Rogue Group Sierra Club, which has fought the expansion in court, filed paperwork last week saying the Forest Service has not adequately addressed a number of issues, including landslide hazards from an expansion.

"The Forest Service clearly has not complied with the 2007 court order," Rogue Group Chairman Tom Dimitre said in a statement released this week. "Where the Court stated that ski runs may have to be modified to avoid landslide hazard areas, the Forest Service has done nothing to comply."

Clark said the Rogue Group's objections represent no new arguments and the Forest Service has done its job in analyzing potential risks.

After the 2007 injunction was put in place, the Forest Service did more studies and approved the expansion in 2011 without substantial changes.

Representatives from different sides on the injunction issue said they have no estimate of when the judge could rule.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-479-8199 or

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