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Snowboarders and skiers make their way down the slope toward the Comer chairlift at Mt. Ashland Friday. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Hitting the slopes

At long last zipping over snow-covered slopes and reveling in a newly remodeled lodge, up to 850 smiling skiers and snowboarders flocked Friday to the season’s start at Mount Ashland.

“It’s so great to be back in the snow,” says Debbie Gaumer, as she shepherded her children to a lunch break in the now more spacious, 53-year old lodge.

“The weather has finally opened up for us,” she said.

The ski area, which reported a 26- to 35-inch base, opened only the two smaller of its four chairlifts, but skiers were happy with what was there. The longer Windsor lift may open Saturday.

“It feels amazing," said skier Christian Istel. "I’ve been obsessed and checking the website and cams every day. The lodge is a lot more spacious and the bar is nicer.”

Mt. Ashland General Manager Hiram Towle said the new snow, combined with the crowd, was spirit-lifting.

“There’s sure a lot of pent-up demand," Towle said. "We had smaller events earlier (with very small snowpack). There’s lots of people here today and that kind of suggests we’re in for a pretty good season now.”

Towle said the almost eight-week delay due to mild, snowless weather, has been “stressful, never fun."

"But we’re super pleased at the number of people, 750 to 850, based on a car count, for Day One, even with only two lifts operating.”

More snow was expected Friday night and Saturday, Towle said.

“We’re going to be open regular days of Thursday through Monday, you can count on that, if Mother Nature is good to us.”

Mt. Ashland employee Nick Alford said the ski area was set to open Dec. 9, but plans came to a quick halt with the arrival of unseasonably warm weather.

“I’m so happy it’s finally open," Alford said. "The weather finally arrived. It’s been hard with that summer full of smoke and then, at the projected open date, it’s suddenly 50 degrees and sunny for weeks. I hope this weather stays.”

A skier who goes by the single name of Hook said he drove from central California and was enjoying the experience.

“This is a wonderful place with a small town and no lines," he said, "no million people at it, like they have in Southern California.”

Snowboarder and season pass holder Luke Swancutt noted he was glad not to have to drive several hours to Mt. Bachelor to find snow.

“The lodge looks so nice," Swancutt said. "The lines (with only two lifts operating) are a bit rough, but so glad it’s finally happening.”

The remodeled lodge drew almost as much enthusiasm as the snow.

“The lodge renovation is wonderful," Zack Watson observed. "It was a seamless transition to the new look, very refreshing.”

The $1.7 million remodeling project expanded the lodge by 1,000 square feet, while ripping out false ceilings and opening natural wood and beams with high, sweeping lines overhead. Rental services are now in the lodge's lower level, instead of in a separate building some 100 yards away.

“I’ve heard nothing but wonderful comments," Towle said, "saying it brings the lodge back to its original feel and flow, while increasing much-needed space."

Because the lodge lacked space, skiers used to lounge on the wide staircase, making passage up and down stairs a challenge. That staircase has been moved from the center of the main floor, creating more seating.

The Comer and Sonnet lifts were running Friday. Towle said they are working hard to bring Windsor online for Saturday and will have to add snow at the lift's onramp for easier entry.

Mount Ashland usually shuts down for the season in the second week of April, but Towle says, in part because of the need to provide a longer season to season pass holders, they will do their best to stretch it out for as long as they can in April.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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