Ski area officials modify expansion

New $250,000 phase one would include widening existing runs, 90 parking spots, regrading bunny hill

ASHLAND — The Mt. Ashland Association has proposed a limited phase one expansion for the Mt. Ashland Ski Area that would cost only about $250,000 and wouldn't involve cutting new ski runs.

The association outlined its proposal for a limited phase one expansion during an Ashland City Council meeting on Tuesday night.

The work could be carried out this coming spring.

It would include adding 90 parking spaces, widening runs within the existing ski area and re-contouring the Sonnet beginner hill so that it's less steep.

"This is something we felt we could raise the money to do," said Mt. Ashland Ski Area General Manager Kim Clark in an interview on Tuesday afternoon. "We want to show our guests that we're sincere about this."

He added: "We don't want to bite off a million-dollar project. We probably couldn't do a $1 million to $2 million project by spring. These are all actions that we feel are attainable."

Clark said the Mt. Ashland Association will rely on fundraising and money from operations to fund the expansion, and will not go into debt to finance the work.

He said the association has no estimate on when it would carry out the bulk of the expansion, which would include new ski runs and chairlifts.

In 2004, the U.S. Forest Service approved the ski expansion, including a phase one plan that included new ski runs, chair lifts and the bulk of the expansion proposal.

That ambitious phase one would have cost about $3.5 million.

The expansion was held up by court battles until a judge lifted an injunction blocking expansion work in August.

Last week, attorneys for the Sierra Club, Oregon Wild and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a new lawsuit claiming the Forest Service's analysis of the expansion is outdated and doesn't consider issues such as climate change and cumulative impacts to the Ashland Watershed from the expansion and ongoing wildfire fuels thinning work.

In the lawsuit, the environmental groups said they are not opposed to widening runs in the existing ski area, building a new tubing facility with tubing facility parking, carrying out planned watershed restoration activities and several other limited improvements.

They are seeking a new injunction to block the bulk of the expansion, including the construction of new ski runs and chairlifts.

In their lawsuit, the groups did not name the expansion of the regular parking lot or the re-contouring of the beginner hill as improvements they support.

The parking lot expansion is located in the Cottonwood Creek watershed, not the Ashland Watershed, which stretches from the mountain's top down to Ashland and is the source of the town's water.

Dirt removed for the parking lot expansion would be used to re-contour the beginner's hill, Clark said.

Clark said the ski area's parking lot is too small to accommodate visitors on busy days, leading to many complaints.

Law enforcement and Oregon Department of Transportation personnel also are concerned about parking issues, he said.

Widening existing runs will improve safety by reducing congestion and will give skiers and snowboarders more room to maneuver, Clark said.

Trees will be removed to widen existing runs, he said.

In its newly presented phase one plan, the association is not proposing to do any logging for ski runs and chairlifts outside the existing ski area.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.


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