With only this weekend left in the ski season, Mt. Ashland Ski Area officials expect to end the season with about 10,500 more skier visits than last winter.
The ski area expects to close out this season with about 67,000 guest visits, after recording 56,483 visits the previous winter, said Rick Saul, the ski area's development director.
Heavy snow early in the season got the season off to a great start, he said.
"We got off to one of the best starts we've had in the last 20 years. It was a right combination of events," Saul said.
The mountain got 109 inches of snow in December, compared to four inches in December 2011, he said.
The ski area will end the season with 94 operating days — up from 72 days last winter, when the ski area battled numerous closures due to snow, wind and power outages, Saul said.
After a strong December this winter, January and February were average and visitation waned in later months, Saul said.
"Even though we had 100-plus inches of snow and good driving conditions, there were not enough storms to reinvigorate the skiing community," he said, adding that some skiers favor fresh snow.
Mt. Ashland General Manager Kim Clark said the ski area is likely to close out its fiscal year on June 30 with 25 percent more income from operations than it budgeted.
"It's been a good, solid year. We're very happy," Clark said.
For skiers and snowboarders who want to get the most out of the last weekend of the season, Mt. Ashland is offering a special weekend lift ticket.
People ages 13 through 69 can ski both Saturday and Sunday for $75. Two weekend days of skiing for people in that age bracket would normally cost $86.
An inch of snow is expected to fall on the mountain Saturday, and two to four inches are forecast for Sunday, Saul said.
The ski area is in the midst of a spring sale for next winter's season passes. The sale, which ends on April 30, is the cheapest way to get a season pass, according to ski area personnel.
Saul said the sale is going well, with many online orders, plus people are visiting the ski area office at 693 Washington St., in Ashland, to arrange five-month, interest-free financing.
In past years, the ski area has sometimes tacked on a bonus weekend if visitation is high enough on its last scheduled weekend of operations. The ski area won't do that this year because employees are busy working on a new summer project — a remodel of the restaurant and store at Howard Prairie Resort, Clark said.
In a March deal with Jackson County, the Mt. Ashland Association took over operation of the restaurant and store at the resort east of Ashland. The previous concessionaires defaulted on their contract.
The Mt. Ashland Association is also in the midst of a $250,000 fundraiser to pay for a parking-lot expansion, widening of ski runs and re-contouring of the Sonnet slope to make it more friendly for beginners.
The association has gathered $150,000 in donations for that work so far, Saul said, and has enough money to carry out the projects even if it doesn't reach its fundraising goal of $250,000.
Work could begin as early as April 18, he said.
In 2004, the U.S. Forest Service approved a much more ambitious $3.5-million plan to improve and expand the ski area, but the association is not proposing to add new runs and chairlifts at this time.
Ski area officials announced in late 2012 that they would take on more modest projects this spring and summer.
For more information about the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, call 541-482-2897 or see www.mtashland.com.
Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com