Hoping Mt. Ashland continues to be a part of our community

I grew up skiing little ski areas in the Northeast, and Mount Ashland is the best little mountain I have ever skied. I mean, it has a real bowl with real chutes! And it has that small-town ski hill vibe with the funky old lodge (very nice for a local area), a double chair, a ski patrol that you might beat to the parking lot in the morning, and in most years a lot of snow for a little mountain. "Mount A" is a unique small mountain!

Mount A is also unique among ski areas of any size. It is not owned by a giant corporation as most ski areas are and it does not have a huge base area with condos and rentals. It also is a small mountain with a big-mountain feel. Because it is the highest point around it gets the kind of weather that only a few ski areas of any size get. I have been in stormy conditions at the top of Mount A and it has felt no different than being at the top of places such as Jackson Hole — it's awesome! Because of this the Ariel chair, no matter what kind of lift it is, will always close frequently (just like the upper lifts at places such as Jackson and Bachelor), and the parking lot can feel like the North Pole. But it also means great snow conditions most years and a little big-mountain feel in our backyard.

This is the worst snow season in over 50 years. It is not normal, and even with climate change we will have many more great snow years. Unfortunately, the Mt. Ashland Ski Area is not going to open — which is sad. But what is really sad is to see some in the community reacting happily because we could lose Mt. Ashland. Like it's some kind if victory. It would not be a victory.

I have strong ties and am active in the environmental community. The community here is amazing — great people doing great things to protect our wild areas — we are very lucky. And there are strong emotions and deep wounds surrounding the expansion fight.

I have been against other ski area expansions and was skeptical of this expansion. However, I am lucky enough to know a number of the people who studied the expansion. These are great people who love the community and the Siskiyous. And in this case, the science did not back up my skepticism.

As a small-business owner and someone who has worked at ski areas, I also have come to believe that, from a business perspective, the expansion makes sense. I'm not saying it needs to happen, but it makes sense. I know many people who go to Shasta or Bachelor because there is very little moderate terrain at Mt. Ashland — it is a challenging place to learn to ski. The expansion would provide moderate north-facing terrain (which would hold snow longer) and another lift situated out of the wind.

I don't know anyone personally in charge at Mt. Ashland. But I can imagine they bear their share of responsibility for the animosity and strong emotions that are out there. I am sure they have made some poor business decisions; all organizations have. And I am sure the ski area could to do a better job of explaining why the proposed expansion is important and trying to mend fences.

I believe in environmental stewardship through advocacy by experience, that getting people out into wild places creates advocates who love and will want to protect them. For example, most backcountry skiers do not learn to ski in the backcountry. Skiing is not easy to learn, and most learn at a ski area. Ski areas are an important part of encouraging people to explore our wild places in winter.

I also believe most skiers do not love a local ski area because it has a fancy lodge or amazing food or shiny new lifts. This is not Vail, or even Mt Bachelor. It is our nonprofit local hill, and it already has what no other ski area has — it's in our backyard. In the end, expansion or no expansion, I believe most people, if they stopped to think, would miss Mt Ashland.

Losing Mt. Ashland would be a loss for the community and ultimately bad for the surrounding wild areas that many in the community work so hard to protect. It is a unique small-town mountain; our mountain, a mountain that teaches people how to explore and love the Siskiyous. I hope the ski area and the community can continue to work together and make sure that Mount A opens for years to come.

Pete Wallstrom of Ashland is the owner of Momentum River Expeditions.

Share This Story