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Our Opinion: An uphill battle

Mount Ashland Association leaders are doing everything possible to haul the community-owned ski area out of the financial hole it slid into when it could not open last season. Hats off to the board for exploring new initiatives and creative financing ideas.

The 2013-14 season was the first in the ski area's history during it which it did not open at all for lack of snow. A $740,000 loan from the Small Business Administration is keeping it afloat for now, but the operation needs an infusion of cash, a good snowpack next winter, new financing measures, expanded operations or a combination of all those things to get back on its feet.

Snow is always something of a gamble on the 7,000-foot mountain, but there has always been at least enough to mount a short season if not a full one. Critics of the resort's relatively low-elevation location argue that it's too risky to continue investing in an iffy venture, but one non-season does not mean every year will follow the same pattern.

Fluctuations in snowfall have brought good seasons in recent years along with less lucrative ones, and there is no reason to expect anything different for the time being. The new approaches are aimed at smoothing out those bumps by creating a more sustainable revenue stream.

Among the changes the MAA board is considering are summer events to bring in revenue, including bands, dancing, hiking and a zip line. That would allow staff to be kept on all year. Other ski areas are venturing into year-round operations in pursuit of greater stability, and the MAA board plans to consult with other resorts to share information.

The board also is looking at partnerships with health care organizations, which could yield grants aimed at promoting outdoor recreation as part of an emphasis on wellness and healthful exercise.

Finally, the board is considering becoming a membership organization with annual fees rather than relying on year-to-year season pass sales and daily lift ticket revenue.

All of these are positive steps that could put the ski area on a more solid footing. Bravo to the board for thinking past business as usual and embracing new ventures.

But without widespread community support, it will be tough to come back from the missed season even with innovative approaches. Continuing opposition from those who have blocked the planned expansion of the ski area for years now does not help, and works against its long-term survival.

A healthy ski area contributes to the local economy, providing jobs and outdoor recreation opportunities. Here's hoping the Mount Ashland Association gets more support from the public as it regroups — and more snow next winter.