The snow is piling up and the prices are coming down at the Mt. Ashland Ski & Snowboarding Resort, where a Thanksgiving week storm is raising hopes for an early opening.

The snow is piling up and the prices are coming down at the Mt. Ashland Ski & Snowboarding Resort, where a Thanksgiving week storm is raising hopes for an early opening.

The ski area reported 8 inches of new snow by Tuesday morning for a total of 22 inches at the lodge and expected 2 inches more by today — but still needs another 10 to 14 inches to open, said marketing manager Rick Saul. Ski area officials say they hope to open by Friday, Dec. 3.

That would be 10 days ahead of Mount Ashland's average opening date of Dec. 13, said Saul, adding that "the la Niña weather pattern this winter should bring cooler temperatures, above normal snowpack and an earlier winter, according to what NOAA is telling us."

Another, weaker, storm is expected to pass through the region Saturday and more moisture is expected in the middle of next week.

The Farmer's Almanac, which uses National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data and other sources, predicts a colder, snowier, earlier winter. Saul added that he was encouraged by reports of 125 inches of new snow at Tahoe's Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which received 3 feet of snow Monday and Tuesday alone.

Responding to the region's sluggish economy, Saul said, Mt. Ashland has cut adult weekend and holiday lift tickets from $43 to $39 — and midweek rates from $36 to $33.

"We hope the reduced rates aren't going to hurt us," he said. "We hope to have more participation because of them."

The reduced fees, which Saul described as "really unusual," are viewable at www.mtashland.com. Youth passes for ages 7 to 12 will be $29 for weekends and holidays and $23 on weekdays. Military members with ID can ski for $20, while kids 6 and under and seniors 70 and older get free passes.

Along with the lower prices, Mount Ashland has made a few other changes, including the addition of a new cat and groomer that are more adept at steep slopes.

"We feel we can deliver better grooming on the 70 percent of our slopes that are upper-intermediate to advanced," he said.

The rental shop also has a lot of new equipment, he said, especially for snowboarders.

Saul said Mt. Ashland has "the most aggressive" program for people to learn skiing or snowboarding — $99 for three days of instruction, with youth graduates, 7 to 12, getting to ski free for the rest of the season. Those older than 12 get $8 off lift tickets.

Beginning next week, the ski area will train new employees, move emergency equipment to the hill, fasten tower pads and ordering food for the lodge, said Saul.

While the new snow was welcome, the cold temperatures accompanying it don't make for a very good base. The snow at this point, Saul said, is "dry, with lots of air in it, so we have to hold off on grooming until next weekend."

Grooming of slopes won't start any earlier than about Nov. 29, he said.

Located on 7,532-foot Mount Ashland, the ski area has 23 ski runs served by four lifts.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.