Hanging the tips of your skis over the top of Mt. Ashland Ski Area's bowl can be a daunting task, even for those not particularly afraid of heights.

Hanging the tips of your skis over the top of Mt. Ashland Ski Area's bowl can be a daunting task, even for those not particularly afraid of heights.

At an elevation of 7,500 feet, the top of the bowl offers an expansive view of the Rogue Valley, and the choice of four chutes to ski or snowboard down, each steeper than the last.

An exhilarating ride down is short-lived, and after just seconds, the slope flattens out, and skiers and boarders coast along a wide trail into the trees atop Mount Ashland.

"It's short and sweet," says Doug Volk, a 26-year veteran of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area ski patrol, who calls the shots for an 11-person staff of patrollers and at least 40 more volunteers who take to the mountain each season.

Volk says the task of skiing down the bowl can be tricky on foggy, icy days, but in prime conditions can be a pleasurable ride.

"I have to ski it on bad days, but you as a guest don't have to," says Volk, adding there are extensive safety procedures to prepare the bowl for skiers.

"The hazard of the bowl is judged by the amount of snow in it," says Volk, as he sits in the patrol room at the base of the ski area — a makeshift locker room lined with cubbies of red and black patrol gear, framed lift tickets from memorable days and a pair of cots covered in thick wool blankets.

Volk says that as strong storms beat down on Mount Ashland each winter, southwest winds pour snow into the bowl, leaving large slabs of snowfall not adhered to the surface.

Patrollers blast out questionable areas of snow with dynamite after plentiful storms, preventing the risk of avalanche.

Volk believes the early season can create the most hazard, as less snowfall means a steeper ride down.

"As snowpack fills the bowl during the season, the angle will become more gentle," he says.

He says the biggest danger isn't the bowl itself, but rather skiers who are naïve about their own ability level.

"You need to be aware of what your limits are," he says. "It would be very dangerous if you don't know your own skill level."

Volk says a trip down the bowl is doable for average skiers, provided they are aware of their ability and choose a day with prime conditions.

"Pick a good day with good visibility," says Volk, whose daughters were skiing at 16 months and riding down the bowl before the age of 6.

"I took them in there on beautiful days," says Volk of his daughters, Jess, now 19, April, 18, and Amelia, 11.

The bowl is a glacial cirque, formed when the head of a glacier causes erosion and results in a bowl shape, a landform found on mountain ranges worldwide.

To Volk's knowledge, the bowl was skied as soon as the Ariel chairlift was built in the 1960s, and safety procedures haven't wavered since.

Proud of the lack of injuries reported on the bowl each year, Volk directs his attention to a map of the ski area's 21 runs posted on the patrol room wall, with red dots indicating the location of each injury that patrollers have responded to this season.

Over the Sonnet lift — which boasts the area's only beginner terrain — the dots form a bad case of the chicken pox, with dozens of red marks lining the small lift. But as Volk's eyes shift right and move across the mountain to intermediate and advanced terrain, the dots grow sparse, showing that as skiers' ability increases, their chance of needing patrol to assist them for an injury decreases.

And in the top right corner of the map sits the bowl, which two solid months into the season was untouched by even a single red mark.

Now, this isn't to say injuries haven't occurred on the bowl, because Volk says they have.

"When someone does get hurt in there, it can get bad," he says.

But how often does it happen?

"Not very often at all," says Volk, knocking his knuckles on the wooden table in the middle of the room.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.