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Mt. Ashland gets too much of a good thing

The Mount Ashland Ski Area is finally getting what it has needed so desperately for the past two years — snow, and lots of it. So why was ski area General Manager Hiram Towle sitting at the bottom of the ski area access road Monday morning, turning away potential customers?

"Power, it's all about the power," Towle said Monday afternoon. Electrical power, that is, which has been in relatively short supply on the mountain for two days, even as the snow came down in drifts.

The ski area was shut down Sunday morning after the heavy snows — accompanied by high winds and falling trees — took out a power pole. Pacific Power crews responded to the scene and worked until midnight that day restoring power. Then, it happened again.

"In roughly the same area, we lost a pole top and six more stands of wire," said Monte Mendenhall, Pacific Power regional business manager.

Mendenhall said the second outage was complicated by its distance from the road. The power company was bringing in a tracked vehicle from Klamath County in order to get into the site.

Both Towle and Mendenhall said the recent drought was a factor in the problems, as trees stressed by two dry years didn't stand up to the heavy snowfall.

"A lot of trees just weren't conditioned for it," Mendenhall said, "and when they got hit, they just started coming down."

The falling trees were not isolated to the Siskiyou Mountains. Highway 230 and the portion of Highway 62 leading to Crater Lake have been closed off and on for several days, with both closed Monday afternoon by falling trees and heavy snow.

Mendenhall said a co-worker told him that 200 trees had fallen in the company's right of way area between Diamond Lake and Lemola Lake, which are about eight miles apart.

Mt. Ashland may have had difficulty operating Monday regardless of the power supply, as the area reported white-out blizzard conditions. Winds were reported as high as 60 mph at the ski area lodge and 90 mph at the summit.

But Towle said they have high hopes of reopening Tuesday and knows that when they do, skiers won't be worried about rocks cropping out of a too-thin snow base. The ski area website reported 94 inches of snow on the upper mountain and 5 feet at the lodge. Not including the snow that fell during the day Monday, the area has recorded 112 inches of snow so far this winter.

All that on slopes that because of a lack of snow were open for only 38 days last year and not at in 2013-14.

"This is the snow that we're used to getting," Towle said. "It just came all at once."

The new snow created a great skiing day Saturday, when the storm clouds gave way to blue skies on the mountain.

"We filled the parking lot Saturday," he said. "We know there's a lot of pent-up demand."

The irony of losing skiing days to drought and then to too much snow is not lost on Towle or the 130 employees at Mt. Ashland.

"We get our heads down a bit and then pick up and go at it again," he said. But he also knows the snowpack will be good news in the long run for the resort and for the region.

"This is good for the entire valley," Towle said. "We'll take the good with the bad, but we need this in our watershed."

But, he added, "maybe not quite so much all at once."

For updates on the ski area's status and snow conditions, see www.mtashland.com or call the snow phone at 541-482-2754. 

Bob Hunter is editor of the Mail Tribune. Reach him at bhunter@mailtribune.com.