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'It's just a perfect day'

Skiers and snowboarders were looking down on the clouds and up at blue skies during opening day at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area Thursday.

Some were back for another year, others were taking to the area's slopes for the first time, but everyone was excited to be riding in the uncharacteristically sunny weather.

"I've never been here before, but I definitely see a lot of fun days ahead," said 29-year-old Jared Swenson, before popping his board off the ground and rushing down the hill after a short lunch break.

The runs were a touch icy during the first few hours of the day but softened up by 11 a.m., said Swenson, who moved to Medford from central California in October.

Rain from Tuesday predictably made the slopes a little slippery early on during opening day, but that didn't keep Grants Pass resident Marsha Hurd from rising with her 6:30 a.m. alarm to be one of the first in line when the lifts fired up at 9 a.m.

"I was in the parking lot at 8:30," she said, leaning on her skis, grinning.

Hurd, who is retired, said she's been skiing for more than 50 years.

"It's a terrific day "… what else can you ask for?" she said, waving her arm into the crisp blue sky. "There is plenty of snow "… not a lot of ground showing. What else do you need?"

Skiers and boarders are likely in line for more days of at least some sun on the mountain, with the National Weather Service predicting partly sunny or sunny days through the weekend.

"This is insane "… you can't ask for anything better this early," said Wolf Creek resident Nick Weber, who was at the mountain early along with Hurd and a few dozen other eager winter sports aficionados.

Weber, 63, purchased a season pass this year to Mt. Shasta Ski Park, where opening day isn't scheduled until sometime during the middle of December. But he couldn't wait that long to strap back his snowboard, he said, so he bought a Thursday pass.

"There are no rocks that I can see, and the snow is not bad," he said. "I can't believe they are already open."

Including this season, the ski area has enjoyed four openings during the first week of December or earlier, since 2000.

"We usually open between Dec. 12 and 18," said Mike Dadaos, public relation director for the ski area, "so we're looking at this as kind of a bonus."

The mountain opened with all four lifts operating above a snow pack ranging from 24 inches near the lodge and 53 inches near the top, Dadaos said.

Groomer operators worked through Wednesday night and early Thursday to ensure riders were able to enjoy 11 groomed runs, Dadaos said.

Ungroomed areas were covered with hard-packed snow, he said.

"We have an above-average base, all the lifts are open "… and it's clearer that we thought it would be," he said. "It's a good crowd today. I think we have a lot of pent-up excitement, because last year was such a marginal year."

Last winter, the ski area opened Dec. 16, but was forced to close Jan. 2 through Jan. 18 because of a lack of snow. A power outage also closed the ski area Jan. 23-25, which combined with the earlier closure to limit its season to 72 days.

Dadaos estimated that the ski area welcomed 700-800 people Thursday, and expects 1,200-1,500 today. During a busy Saturday, the area sees about 2,000 skiers and boarders, he said.

He said about 2,100 people have purchased season passes this year.

Add another one to the list of season pass holders, said Mason Freitas, 20, of Ashland.

"I just bought a ticket, but, by the looks of today, I think I'm going to have to get a pass," he said.

Today, riders can expect all lifts to be operating, and conditions similar to Thursday, said Rick Saul, development director for the ski area.

Snapping into his ski boots in the parking lot on opening day, Ashlander Lincoln Zeve was warming up for his first runs of the season by singing a few verses of "What a Wonderful World."

Zeve, 56, a Mount Ashland season pass holder, typically avoids opening day because of the crowds, but this year he made an exception.

"How could I miss this, it's just a perfect day," he said, taking only a short break from singing. "One of many hopefully."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.