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Mt. Ashland 'prays for snow'

Still far short of the snow needed to open, the Mt. Ashland Ski Area is holding a Pray for Snow Party on Saturday.

The event, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature a barbecue with sales of hamburgers, hot dogs, soft drinks, hot chocolate and coffee.

Everything in the ski area's retail shop will be 40 to 60 percent off.

Sale items include goggles, sunglasses, helmets, gloves, hats, face masks, Mount Ashland logo apparel and other accessories.

The popular local bluegrass band Eight Dollar Mountain will play from 2 to 4 p.m.

Items will be raffled off, including a season pass for next winter, gift cards and lift tickets.

Saturday's Pray for Snow Party is replacing the ski area's 50th anniversary celebration, which had been planned for that day but has now been postponed.

The ski area received a coating of snow in early December, but not enough to open. That snow largely disappeared during weeks of dry weather later in December and early this month.

New snow has fallen on the mountain this week, brought by clouds that are bringing rain to the Rogue Valley floor. Several inches of snow fell at the ski area on Thursday, but the total remains far from enough to open. As the snow began to fall, the area's website reported a snow base of 0 to 2 inches.

If enough snow does accumulate, the ski area could do a partial opening of some lifts next week, said Kim Clark, ski area general manager.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a 30 percent chance of snow today, a 100 percent chance of snow on Saturday and a 40 percent chance of snow on Sunday.

Monday will likely be sunny, with mostly clear weather continuing through Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

Clark said the ski area has lost about 30 percent of its income for the season because it has not been able to open.

The ski area averages a mid-December opening, in time to welcome crowds of skiers and snowboarders during the holidays.

"We'd be kidding ourselves and everyone else if we said we weren't hurting," Clark said.

All the ski area's full-time workers, including Clark, have been furloughed for the past two to three weeks.

Seasonal workers have yet to work, except for training in December, Clark said.

The ski area normally would have paid out about $190,000 for payroll by this time, he said.

Including payroll, the ski area has usually spent $300,000 to $350,000 by now, Clark said.

That's money that went to employees, food and fuel vendors, hardware stores, auto parts stores, and a host of other businesses, he said.

"There's a ripple effect all the way down," Clark said.

Employment at the ski area helps balance out the seasonality of some local jobs, said Katharine Flanagan, director of sales, marketing and the Visitors and Convention Bureau for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.

Some locals work as river guides in the summer, for example, then spend winters working for the ski area, she said.

The ski area's late start has caused some workers to go without paychecks, while others may have looked for other jobs, said Flanagan, who worked for the ski area several years ago.

"It's definitely an impact," she said.

Flanagan said it's too early to tell how much of an impact the ski area's late start will have on local businesses.

Retailers suffered from icy, snowy conditions in early December, but then many finished the holiday shopping season strong, she said.

Like other skiers and snowboarders in the valley, Flanagan said she is wishing for snow.

"I'm hoping within the next two weeks it will snow and they can make the most of the rest of the season," she said.

Clark said the ski area usually stays open until the second or third week of April.

"We'll stay open as long as people keep coming up," he said.

Some people who bought season passes have inquired about refunds, but the ski area is sticking to its usual policies about season pass refunds, Clark said.

People can get refunds for medical reasons, for example, he said, while noting that two-thirds of the season still remains.

Financial losses from the delayed start come on top of cost overruns from summer and fall projects to widen existing ski runs, lessen the steepness of the beginners' hill and expand the parking lot.

The Mt. Ashland Association had originally sought $250,000 in community donations to fund the projects, but raised the fundraising goal to $434,000 in December.

Donors have contributed more than $293,000 so far, according to recent updates.

Meanwhile, the Mt. Shasta Ski Park in Northern California opened Dec. 26 through Dec. 29, but then closed again when the snow petered out. The Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort is open and reported mid-mountain snow depths of 56 inches on Thursday afternoon, when it was in the midst of a snow and wind storm.

For more information and updates on the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, visit www.mtashland.com or call the snow conditions phone at 541-482-2SKI.

Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter at @VickieAldous.

Mount Ashland received a few inches of snow Thursday and skiers are praying that more is on the way. The ski area is holding a Pray for Snow Party from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore