A bluebird day near the Ariel Lift on Upper Dream. [Photo by Andy Atkinson]

Friendly times at Mt. Ashland

"What a day!" whooped a broadly grinning guy who was hauling a snowboard over his shoulder as he strolled past me toward his car in the emptying parking lot, his words filling the air.

"What a great day! Wasn't that fantastic?!"

It was closing time at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area after an exceptional day of skiing and snowboarding. People were so excited they were exuberantly hollering and chattering with strangers, with anyone who'd been fortunate enough to enjoy a great day on the mountain.

Winds that had plagued Mt. Ashland the previous several days had mercifully died. Thanks to efforts by ski hill managers, the Ariel chair, which transports skiers and riders to other inaccessible areas of the mountain, had opened earlier in the afternoon. The lines at the Windsor chair, which had been backed up most of the morning, vaporized as the mobs, including me, switched to Ariel and the promise of first tracks on runs that hadn't been touched in days.

"Call up everyone you know, send out texts, post it on Facebook," another stranger laughingly bellowed while riding next to me on the Ariel chair. "Tell them to stay home! Tell 'em the conditions are lousy!" And, more seriously, "Isn't this great!," pronouncing it as a statement, not a question.

"I love days like today," Hiram Towle, Mt. Ashland's general manager, told me later. "People were out screaming, hooting and hollering. I enjoy it when people come up to me in the lodge and they're just smiling, smiling."

Smiles were abundant. Over the years I've skied dozens of ski areas, but I'd never experienced the wide-open, sometimes raucous, friendly enthusiasm shown at Mt. Ashland earlier this week. Another person sitting alongside me spotted a familiar face and spewed off a series of "guyisms," nonmalicious, laughingly hurled insults — "Wow, you're looking awful today," and "Won't your wife let you buy a new jacket" — as we passed over a skier he recognized.

"I don't know that guy from Adam," my seatmate confessed as we continued the ascent. "I see him here on the mountain all the time, but I don't know his name, don't know anything about him, but we always shout and give each other a hard time."

"People may not know each other, but when they're here on the mountain, they're best friends," Towle said when I told him that story. "It's like our own little tribe."

My own little tribe included a new Buddy. Most of the year, Buddy Lauer and his family live on Maui. During winter they make extended stays in White City. When the snow is good, and even when it isn't, he either catches a shuttle or makes the drive to Mt. Ashland. We skied several runs together off the Windsor chair before Ariel opened. At his suggestion, with Buddy leading the way, we stayed high, skiing through the trees under and past Ariel, crossing Pistol and Dream to Caliban, one of the runs accessed by the Ariel chair. Caliban was wide open, untouched, with a just-right coating of fresh snow over the days-ago groomed terrain.

"Wasn't that great!" Buddy understated, obviously delighted.

An hour later, when the Ariel chair opened, I joined the lemming-like uphill migration for whippy-fast runs down Caliban's full length, with some brief detours through the trees, and a sampling of other runs. With 220 skiable acres, a vertical drop of 1,150 feet and a snow-catching summit elevation of 7,533 feet, Mt. Ashland offer great possibilities.

And opportunities meet new Buddies.

— Reach Lee Juillerat at juilleratlee1@gmail.com or 541-880-4139.


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