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There's white at end of the tunnel

High school ski teams have faced a dilemma this season: What do you do when there's no snow?

Just as swimmers can't swim without water, skiers are strapped when their season arrives and the local mountain, in this case Mount Ashland, barely has enough white stuff to make a snow cone.

That, of course, is changing with each passing hour thanks to a steady stream of long-awaited storm activity.

Mount Ashland ski area opened Thursday morning, and those with a passion for wintry sports couldn't be happier.

Even the recorded voice on the resort's snow-report phone was chipper and welcoming.

Nine inches fell Wednesday night and another inch was added Thursday morning, bringing the base to 26 to 36 inches, depending on elevation.

"There's a ton of excitement," said Gary King, who oversees the Rogue Valley high school ski teams.

They had a little bit of snow to ski on during the holiday break, but most of their work has been fitness and technique related on dry ground or inside.

Despite stormy weather late Thursday, King called for a practice on the mountain to get his skiers used to the idea of regular work on that day, as well as on Saturdays and Sundays when meets don't interfere.

Ordinarily, the ski teams are in competition by now. A practice race was scheduled Jan.7 and the first competition was slated last Friday and Saturday.

"Those have come and gone," said King, adding that members of the Oregon Interscholastic Ski Racing Association are required to get in at least five races by mid-February to qualify for state competition.

The state meet will be March 2-3 on Mount Hood.

King was at the ski area earlier Thursday to help as resort officials revamped schedules. Mount Ashland also is home to school snowboarding competition and Mount Ashland Racing Association events as well as other programs.

"Mount Ashland is juggling their schedule to help us," said King. "We have to try to fit everything in in the short amount of time we have left."

The first races will be next Friday and Saturday, he said, "If we get the snow as promised through the forecasts."

In the event Southern Oregon League teams can't get in five races — a mix of giant slalom and slalom — the league can petition the OISRA, citing forces (Mother Nature) outside its control for not being able to meet the requirement.

The Southern Oregon League is made up of teams or individuals from North and South Medford high schools, Crater, Ashland, Phoenix and St. Mary's.

King coaches them all, alternating his days in Medford and Ashland.

Klamath Union rounds out the league, one of six in the OISRA.

It takes three members to form a full team. Ashland's boys and girls teams are each full, as are the South Medford boys and Crater girls. Others don't have enough participation for team status but have individuals competing. The numbers could rise with the advent of snow, said King.

Even without snow, the skiers have been able to train.

King, who has been coaching prep skiers here for a half-dozen years and is certified as a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) instructor, said there are two base areas of training: technique and tactical. For the latter, gates are required, but there's hasn't been the requisite 2 feet of snow in which to set them.

The ski area was open the last two weeks of December, and King's corps of intrepid racers showed up in the mornings during the holiday break.

"Mount Ashland did such a good job of grooming a couple runs, we were able to still ski," said King. "There weren't many people showing up the rest of the day, but we have athletes who are dedicated and were up there anyway."

They worked on the core techniques of balance, pressure, steering and edging, and King said he has about 20 drills related to each phase. For instance, he said, the disco drill is for body positioning and the whirlybird drill has skiers spinning on their skis to hone pressure and edging skills.

In Medford, they worked out at Spiegelberg Stadium, running stairs and doing full-body drills on the turf. In Ashland, they took advantage of the school's new weight room.

"The kids' attitude and work ethic have been fantastic this year with the limitations they've had," said King. "We had the best attendance of dry-land training that I've had in six years of high school coaching."

When the season does get under way, there are several skiers to watch, he said.

The top boys are Charlie Legg (Phoenix), Reece Pressman (Ashland), Alec Bishop (Ashland), Ean Flockoi (Crater) and Nick Wogan (Klamath Union).

The leading girls are Megan Ganim (Ashland), Maddie Chavs (Ashland), Riley Houck (North Medford) and Kailey Flockoi (Crater).

Two boys and girls teams each qualify for state, as do two boys and girls each in giant slalom and slalom individual events.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com