The Mount Ashland ski area is seeking grants to support its youth programs as a way to hold down costs, marketing director Rick Saul said during the Mt. Ashland Association's annual public meeting Monday.

The Mount Ashland ski area is seeking grants to support its youth programs as a way to hold down costs, marketing director Rick Saul said during the Mt. Ashland Association's annual public meeting Monday.

Saul said six grant requests have been submitted to foundations, but only one request has been approved, bringing in $1,000. Three others have been rejected, and two are still being evaluated.

Money, or the lack of it, seemed to dominate the conversation at Callahan's Lodge. Retiring board president Bill Little said expanding the ski area would help make the ski area more efficient to operate.

"Our rates will go up faster if we don't expand," Little said, responding to a question from the audience. He said adding new chairlifts and ski trails would nearly double the mountain's capacity and attract more skiers and snowboarders for a relatively modest increase in total operating costs.

"It's called economies of scale," Little told a group of about 40 people. Little said the ski area can't raise lift ticket and season prices enough to cover rapidly rising expenses such as insurance and diesel fuel, and the mountain's relatively steep terrain makes it a difficult to attract beginners and low intermediate skiers who spend money on lessons, equipment rentals and food.

Kim Clark, the ski area's general manager, noted the average revenue for small ski areas in the Northwest is $42 per person per day, but Mount Ashland's revenue is just $28.39.

The ski area's net assets declined by about $100,000 after last season. Total revenue amounted to about $2.68 million, but expenses totaled $2.78 million. Total skier visits increased slightly, to 91,022 for the 2007-08 season, compared to 90,989 for the winter of 2006-07.

In its only official business, the board elected new officers. Sam James is the new president; Tom Mayer, vice president; Deborah Martin, secretary, and Lisa Beam, treasurer.

During a question-and-answer session, Marilyn Briggs of Ashland said board members need to realize how much animosity has built up in Ashland about the ski area, and encouraged the board to do "something simple," such as replacing the Ariel chairlift rather than continue to pursue its expansion project.

"You would win back a lot of friends you've lost," Briggs said.

Clark said the replacing the Ariel chair would cost from $1.2 million for an "economy" double chair to $2 million to $3 million for a triple chair, and replacing the chair in its present location would not cure the weather related problems that keep it closed during stormy weather.

Several other mountain regulars brought their concerns to the board. Elena Martin of Ashland said she's heard many longtime season pass buyers complain that the cost of passes keeps rising, "but the amenities keep going away," She noted the removal of microwave ovens from the lodge, the disappointing quality of the food service, and the groomers' inability to keep up with deep snow.

"Why not fix what we have before we expand?" she asked, and questioned how the ski area would pay for an expansion if it can't maintain what it already operates.

Clark said the microwaves were removed after a group of teenagers burned a bag of popcorn, starting a fire that needed a fire extinguisher to put out. Little noted that a survey indicated that supporters of the mountain would provide the funds for expansion once it's approved.

Clea Arthur of Ashland also questioned ski area managers about the food service. "We're willing to buy (quality) food if it's there," she said, noting that she pays $14 for nachos at Mount Bachelor.

Clark said the ski area has to try to meet a wide range of tastes and incomes.

"We're in a quandary" over food service, he said. "You say you'll pay $14 for nachos. Others tell us $5 for a hamburger is too much."

Several Jackson County sheriff's deputies attended the meeting as a precaution against any demonstration like the one that disrupted the board's annual meeting in 2003. There were no incidents.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com