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Mount Ashland raises prices for pre-season passes

Citing rising energy costs, Mount Ashland has raised the price of its pre-season pass by $100 for adults &

to $425 &

but is offering a new Limited Pass that excludes weekends and holidays for $300.

The pre-season sale began Saturday and continues through April 30.

The pre-season rates for unlimited skiing passes are $425 for adults age 25 to 64, $315 for seniors 65 to 69, and $50 for those 70 and older. Passes in a new category for young adults, age 18 to 24, are being offered for $400. Juniors age 13 to 17 pay $50 more this year, or $265; kids 7 to 12 also pay $50 more, or $185; and children up to age 6 pay $25.

Another $100 is added to adult passes purchased in the fall. Adult passes purchased during the season cost $625.

The Limited Pass, which is valid midweek and during non-holiday periods, costs $300 for young adults and adults and $200 for seniors. For complete season pass prices, see .

Changes in the prices for day passes will be announced later.

Kim Clark, general manager of the ski and snowboard area, said the hikes reflect the economy and make up for a big cut in pass prices six years ago.

Bob Matthews of Rogue Ski Shop in Medford said the hikes are leaping ahead of inflation and will discourage skiers and snowboarders from using Mount Ashland.

"Skiers tell me it's moving too far, too fast, compared to inflation," said Matthews. However, he acknowledged Mount Ashland's fees are well below the national average.

The average ski area visitor in the Northwest spends $54 a day for skiing, rentals, parking, food, lodging, etc., said Clark. Mount Ashland visitors spend $27 a day on average without the lodging. The amount is low, Clark said, because Mount Ashland is not a destination resort, is a nonprofit organization and has a high percentage of season-pass users.

Clark said the increases are driven mostly by rising diesel fuel costs, which jumped from $2.80 a gallon at the end of last season to $3.82 now. The ski area burns 260 gallons a night grooming slopes with Sno-Cats, he added, noting that increased fuel costs also drive up food costs.

Tom Allred, owner of Jack's Board House in Phoenix and Medford, said pass hikes were inevitable and warranted because of the "outrageous profits of oil companies."

Don Keck of the Medford Educational Ski and Snowboard Foundation (which supports teen student use of the mountain) said fee hikes are typical of other Northwest ski areas and much less than he finds at Mount Bachelor and Mount Hood.

A former restaurant owner, Keck said, "I can tell you that food and fuel costs have skyrocketed, with a 25 percent increase in fuel alone &

and there's a huge spillover (from fuel) to food costs."

Fuel costs have not dampened teen interest in snow sports, said Keck, adding that he doubted season pass prices would discourage them, either.

While Mount Shasta has gentler, longer runs and season passes cost about $50 less than Mount Ashland's, Clark said the $25 cost of driving the 140 miles to and from Shasta will keep people from switching their activities there.

The new family package offered by Mount Ashland knocks off $25 per person on unlimited season passes as long as several criteria are met: must purchase a minimum of three unlimited passes, including one adult; children must be between the ages of 7 and 17; and passes must be purchased in person either at the mountain or at the downtown office during the sale period.

Mount Ashland created the young adult category in response to Southern Oregon University business interns, who advised that even a small break would be much welcomed by students, many of whom enroll at SOU to be close to the ski area, said Rick Saul, Mount Ashland's marketing manager.

Clark said in addition to fuel, Mount Ashland faces other increases: minimum wage, now up to $7.95 an hour; liability, vehicle and fire insurance, which costs $130,000 a year; and replacement of outmoded equipment.

Sno-Cats, costing $250,000 to $350,000, should be replaced every 10,000 hours but three of Mount Ashland's four machines have gone well beyond that, said Clark. Because ski and snowboard equipment can become outdated quickly, a fourth to a third of it should be replaced each year. But some pairs of boots are approaching 10 years old, he added.

Mount Ashland has spent $2.4 million planning and legally defending a proposed expansion, but Clark said these costs are capitalized outside operational budgets and "only a very small amount" shows up on season pass prices.

"The overall cost of living is going to affect our leisure time and some people won't be going skiing as much," said Allred. "But I don't want to blame Mount Ashland. They held the line on prices as long as they could."