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Mt. Ashland Ski Area crew dips to five

The Mt. Ashland Ski Area is down to a skeleton crew of five after a lack of snow forced deep layoffs.

The ski area had 139 permanent and seasonal employees ready to work this winter, said General Manager Hiram Towle.

Enough snow fell on the mountain to allow the ski area to open Dec. 19, 2014, and run for 13 days. But with a light snow pack, managers ran a lean operation with 82 people working on days when all chairlifts were running, Towle said.

"We've taken actions to run lean even when we were open," he said.

The ski area then closed, and staffing fell to 15 people. More layoffs last weekend cut employment to five people, Towle said.

"We're making difficult decisions in the best interest of the ski area," he said.

Last year, the ski area was closed all winter because of inadequate snow. It took out a $750,000 Small Business Administration loan to stay afloat in spring 2014. Payments on that low-interest loan are now coming due.

"We'll begin making payments next month," said Towle.

The ski area must pay $3,100 in February and has money budgeted to make the payment, he said.

Meanwhile, managers and the Mt. Ashland Association board of directors, which oversees the nonprofit ski area, are developing plans to deal with a worst-case scenario if the ski area remains closed for the rest of this season, Towle said.

"But our focus is on getting reopened when the snow comes. We still have 2½ months left in the season," he said. "There's quite a bit of season left."

The ski area emailed an open letter to supporters Thursday saying there had been layoffs.

"We're trying to get the message out and be open and honest. It's the Rogue Valley's ski area," Towle said.

The email also announced the Mt. Ashland Ski Area has reached a deal with Mt. Bachelor ski resort outside Bend for Mt. Ashland season pass holders to be able to buy a pack of four Mt. Bachelor tickets for $189, a $127 savings off regular ticket prices.

Mt. Ashland 2014-15 season pass holders must show their passes to get the deal. Tickets must be used by the season pass holder. Tickets cannot be used Feb. 14-15.

The Mt. Shasta Ski Park in Northern California — the closest back-up option for Rogue Valley skiers and snowboarders — remains closed due to a lack of snow.

Mt. Ashland Ski Area's snow pack ranges from nine inches near the bottom of the resort to 32 inches high on the mountain. The Mt. Shasta Ski Park is fairing even worse, with five inches at the base and 10 inches at the top.

Mt. Bachelor resort snow depths range from 46 inches to 74 inches.

The National Weather Service is forecasting no precipitation for the Siskiyou Mountains — which include Mount Ashland — and the Mount Shasta area until Tuesday, when there is a chance of rain.

For Mt. Ashland Ski Area updates, visit www.mtashland.com or call the snow phone at 541-482-2754.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.