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Snow shuts schools, opens Mt. Ashland

Virtually all schools closed, some fenders got bent and a whopping 3.5 inches of snow — the 10th biggest daily snowfall in February in all 107 years of weather history here — Thursday dusted the valley with a delightful white blanket, but one that created “only a little bump” in the region’s all-important snowpack.

It’s stuck at 39 percent of normal.

The good news is that the storm upped the week's snow total at drought-stricken Mt. Ashland Ski Area to 13 inches of snow, allowing it to announce late Thursday morning it will reopen Friday, with sights set on skiing through the next ten weeks, to the end of April, weather permitting. This is two or three weeks longer than normal.

Comer, Sonnet and Windsor runs are open, but Ariel (the summit lift) needs six or eight more inches of damp, packable snow to cover obstacles — and an absence of wind so it doesn’t blow away, said Mt. Ashland Development Director Michael Stringer. Windsor will be for expert skiers only.

The forecast in the ski area was half a foot for Friday, then light snow till Sunday, when a storm is expected.

The ski area will keep usual hours, Thursday through Monday, but, in an effort to make up for closure in most of December, January and February, will be open every day during spring break, March 24 to April 1.

“The stoke (excitement) is incredibly high,” Towle said, in a statement. “Local diehards have been climbing up to ski — and reports are that the mid-mountain has great coverage, especially Romeo and Juliet. Guests should expect early season conditions with some unmarked obstacles on the intermediate and advanced terrain.”

The bar, grill, rental shop and ski school will all be operating.

“I believe we’ll make it to the end of April, given forecasts and we’re optimistic about building a solid base to do it,” said Stringer. “But it’s going to be a short season. There’s no way to make up for those lost days but we’ll do our absolute best to provide value in the days we have.”

Although Mt. Ashland is “obviously financially challenged” from previous drought years, last season was above average and the one before it was normal, so the operation has built up financial reserves and, says Stringer, and will be good to open this fall.

The forecast for the coming eight to 14 days is colder than normal, so snowpack in the mountains (the source of stream water in summer) won’t melt, said Meteorologist Ryan Sandler at Medford’s NOAA station. Precipitation looks normal or a little wetter than normal and “we’ll inch our way toward normal” during that time.

Although Thursday’s snowfall was at all-time hit levels for February, he said it’s tied for 45th for the year and is “not a big deal.” While the valley-paralyzing blizzard of Dec. 6, 2014, was a doozy — flash freezing on roads, then deep cold for days — it was only a little more snow, 3.5 inches, than Thursday’s.

Most of Thursday's snow disappeared quickly, he adds, because the ground is warmer and sun higher this time of year.

Crashes caused delays on I-5 north of Grants Pass. Southern Oregon University was shut for the day. On its website, Ashland School District had a quick response for the unexpected Snow Day — an all-day Play Day at YMCA.

Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara reported no crashes — just a few calls about obstructions on roads.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.