If there were any doubts about the Mt. Ashland Ski Area's economic value to Southern Oregon's economy, the record month it posted in December should erase them.
The community-owned ski area drew more than 22,000 skier visits during the month, 451 percent more than the year before. Revenue for December topped $1 million, a record, exceeding budget projections by 51 percent.
The Mt. Ashland Association, which operates the nonprofit ski area, is not taking that growth for granted, and is determined to build on the success by making the mountain more accommodating to larger numbers of skiers. The parking lot already has been expanded — although it still can't accommodate everyone who wants to park on busy days.
The ski area is embarking on a capital campaign to make long-needed improvements to the lodge, increasing the interior space, moving the rental shop into the bottom level next to the beginner chairlift and relocating the cafeteria service bar.
General Manager Hiram Towle says the ski area still plans to pursue adding new runs to the mountain, a project delayed for decades by legal battles with opponents. But for now, the focus will be on accommodating the skiers who crowd into the lodge on busy days.
Keeping customers happy is always good business, and keeping the ski area up to date and functioning smoothly will ensure skiers and snowboarders keep coming back.
Besides the salaries paid to staff members who work during the ski season, the lodge expansion and remodeling will employ local contractors during the summer months, adding to the mountain's economic footprint.
This is turning into a fabulous year for snow, but there is no guarantee next year will be as good, or the year after. The mountain barely survived two low-snow years in a row, but it has come roaring back.
The planned improvements might seem foolhardy, given that recent history, but the more successful the ski area can be in good snow years, the better it can absorb a low-snow season or two.