Mt. Ashland loses up to $800,000 in missed season, secures loan

Despite its first-ever non-season, Mt. Ashland Ski Area will plow forward with an estimated loss for the year of up to $800,000 — but with a "lifeline" loan of $750,000 just secured from the Small Business Administration.

The SBA loan is for 30 years at 2.5 percent and required Mt. Ashland to pay pending debts to vendors and a local bank, said board member Alan DeBoer at a meeting of the ski area's board of directors Monday. No payments are due for 11 months.

Treasurer Robert Hague said Mount Ashland has realized only $533,000 in revenue on its fiscal year starting in July 2013, $1.9 million less than anticipated sales for the season.

"It's back-breaking bad," Hague said of the shortfall, which is a minimum of $700,000. "It's not like we have $700,000 in the bank." There will be fundraisers for the mountain in the coming year, he added, "but we will persevere and we're encouraging lots of people to support it with contributions."

There is less than a foot of snow at the resort's base, and Mount Ashland's snowpack has been the lowest this season in records going back to 1963.

After the public meeting, the board went into a private session to discuss next year's prices for season tickets. The resort has already offered season pass holders half off on next season's tickets. The board will announce next season's prices by April 1.

The disastrous season means Mt. Ashland's plans for expansion have gone off the screen for now, though they still are required to attend a court date this May, said Mt. Ashland General Manager Kim Clark.

"We won't be spending money on that," said Clark, adding that their lawyers have said they will donate 50 hours of time. Clark has also voluntarily halved his salary, said DeBoer.

Several audience members said they hope this blow from the climate convinces the board to give up on the expansion, but former board president and engineer Bill Little, speaking from the audience, said the expansion is vital to the mountain's survival, as it will alter the mix of terrain, moving it out of the category of being 80 percent advanced-intermediate.

Calling Mt. Ashland's public relations a disaster, Little said, "I question if the community is going to continue to bail out Mt. Ashland year after year. It will take its toll on the community and staff (but) I encourage the board and staff to stay the course and try to work with the community over the long term." Mt. Ashland needs to spend up to $45,000 to complete its expansion of the parking lot by 100 spaces, but former city councilman Eric Navickas, a longtime expansion foe, has filed suit against that project, said DeBoer, adding it would cost Mt. Ashland $5,000 to go to court on that.

"I don't think you ever win in court. There is always a new filing...They keep attacking us. We have to go to court or we lose," said DeBoer.

Foes of expansion often cite dangers to the city's watershed, but DeBoer said, "Not one of us would do anything to hurt Ashland's watershed." He added that he didn't know if an expansion could happen now without a for-profit owner coming on. Clark and other board members said that was not a consideration.

Clark noted that four ski areas have offered free or discount skiing for Mt. Ashland season pass holders. Hoodoo and Mt. Hood Ski Bowl are gratis, which Bachelor and the Mt. Hood Spring Spectacular are offering discounts.

— John Darling

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