Ski area will trim 2007-08 calendar

"Tightwad Tuesdays" will be a thing of the past at the Mount Ashland ski area, just like the T-bar, leather bindings and rear-entry boots.

Ski area managers announced Thursday that Mount Ashland will not operate on Mondays and Tuesdays during the 2007-08 season. Night skiing on Saturdays also will be eliminated, said Rick Saul, marketing director.

Saul said the ski area reluctantly decided to eliminate those shifts rather than raise ticket prices. He said Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturday nights have historically been money-losing shifts, and promotional efforts such as reduced-price lift tickets on Mondays and Tuesdays failed to attract enough skiers to cover the costs of staffing.

The decision comes in the midst of continuing legal battles over plans to expand the ski area and political turmoil over the expansion in Ashland, where the City Council is evenly split on adding new ski trails and chairlifts on the 7,500-foot mountain. The city holds the special use permit to operate the ski area, and leases it to the Mt. Ashland Association, a nonprofit corporation.

Bill Little, chairman of the association's board of directors, said the decision should be seen as an effort to maintain and enhance the ski area's financial stability.

"We're hopeful that those who have been critical of us will respect the fact that we're making financially responsible decisions," Little said.

He said the board of directors approved the decision to eliminate two days of operations only after considerable discussion.

Saul said eliminating Monday and Tuesday skiing was "a very tough business decision," driven by the rising costs of fuel, insurance, labor and maintenance.

"We have to operate in a fiscally responsible manner to be good stewards of this community-owned ski area over the long term," he said. "If you don't offer shifts that operate consistently at a loss, you improve the bottom line."

Saul said the ski area needs to earn a profit to pay for new rental gear, grooming equipment and other amenities that skiers and snowboarders have come to expect. Two grooming machines that were purchased in 2006 cost $300,000, and they were the first additions to the groomer fleet since 1998, said Kim Clark, the ski area's general manager. He noted the furnace in the lodge is 42 years old "and should have been replaced 20 years ago."

Clark said the ski area's financial data for the fiscal year that ended June 30 isn't yet available. At the end of the season last April, ski area managers said they expected to earn a profit for the season, which drew about 90,000 visitors.

Saul said season pass holders were informed of the change by mail and were offered a full refund. As of mid-day Thursday, no one had requested a refund. Skiers and snowboarders who purchased their 2007-08 season pass during the spring sale for $325 will have to ski nine times during the season to make the pass cheaper than buying $39 daily lift tickets.

Saul said other small ski areas in the Northwest chose years ago to close on some midweek days. Hoodoo Ski Area, at Santiam Pass, closes on Wednesdays, and Anthony Lakes Ski Area, in Eastern Oregon, closes Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Saul said Mount Ashland was the last small ski area in Washington and Oregon that was still operating seven days a week.

Small ski areas have struggled for years to attract visitors during the week, said Stan Goodell, owner of Bluewood, a small ski area near Walla Walla, Wash.

"We tried everything (to bring in midweek skiers)," Goodell said, before finally deciding to close on Mondays and Tuesdays.

"A small ski area can't act like a public utility," he said. "We can't have water in the pipe 24/7."

Saul estimated the change might reduce employment expenses at Mount Ashland by about 25 percent, because the new schedule reduces total operating hours by about 25 percent.

Goodell said Mount Ashland's decision makes good business sense. "I think they're being very prudent. My only question is why they waited so long."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or

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