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Ski patrolers check the surface of the Romeo run as a snowboarder rides the Comer lift at Mt. Ashland Sunday morning. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Mt. Ashland closed for now

A lack of snow forced Mt. Ashland Ski Area to suspend operations Monday after only eight days of skiing and boarding this season. But staff will reopen the area when sufficient snow returns.

“We have rung every bit of fun out of the snow we had,” said General Manager Hiram Towle. Crews had stockpiled snow in parking lots, but those supplies were used up to build access ramps for lifts and to cover spots that were getting bare. Snowfall during the third week of January allowed for the opening.

The ski area saw 4,728 skiers and riders when it was open. More than 1,000 people were on the slopes both Saturday and Sunday, Jan 28-29. Feb. 1 was the low day with 175 visitors, typical of midweek levels, said Towle.

Lifts operated Jan. 26-29 and Feb. 1-4. There was not enough snow left to be moved around to prepare a solid skiing and riding surface, the area’s website said Monday. The closure was first announced on the website Sunday morning.

Following anemic snowfall in December and early January, a blast of winter allowed the area to open with 26 inches of snow at the base and 35 inches mid-mountain. Monday the area had 20 inches at the base and 28 inches mid-mountain. Above average temperatures last week reduced the snowpack.

An estimated 850 skiers and boarders showed up for opening day when only the beginner Sonnet Lift and the Comer lift were open. The next day, the Windsor lift, which allows access to more terrain higher up the mountain, opened. The Ariel lift, which goes to the mountain’s summit, never did open because of a lack of coverage.

“I am glad they opened. I hope they get more snow so they can open again,” said Ashland skier Vanston Shaw. “I had a good time and enjoyed the days I was up.”

Shaw skied five of the eight days. A pass holder, Shaw skied over 60 days last year and usually gets in at least 50 days in a winter.

“It was spring conditions. The skiing on Romeo and Juliet seemed to be the best with the fewest obstacles,” said Shaw. “The snow was good, there just wasn’t enough of it.”

Extended forecasts show a dry period, but Towle hopes storms will resume later in February to allow more slope time. Average mid-March snowpack for 2008 through 2017 has been 100.4 inches on the upper mountain and 64.0 inches at the base. Those averages include zeros for 2014 and 2015, when the area was closed due to low snowfall and no readings were taken.

The mountain already has received 88 inches of snow, one more than Towle’s first season here in 2014-15 when it received 87 inches but was open 38 days. That season included a shutdown before snow levels rebuilt. Last season the area was open 90 days and snowfall totaled 368 inches.

“This year with the pent-up demand we’ll ski into April as long as we possibly can based on skier visits and snowpack,” said Towle.

Crews will work this week to put away gear and to prepare for reopening as soon as possible. Hourly employees will be laid off and a small, salaried staff will handle duties.

Several mountain events are still planned. Bavarian Night, a benefit for the Mt. Ashland Ski Patrol, will be Feb. 17 and include a fireworks show. There also will be a Mid-Winter Jam on March 2 and the Big Mountain Bash March 17. Mountain jams earlier in the season were well attended and crews were able to put together small terrain parks outside the lodge.

— Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

 

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