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Bring your own lodge

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Those who look for the rare opportunity to enter the lodge at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area this winter get a quick dose of Sarah Buie, the lodge’s official “doorbassador.”

The diminutive Buie gives a quick peek not only to make sure entrants wear a mask, but a COVID-19-approved mask. Then she gives a quick rendition of the 4-1-1 on social distancing, lift-line etiquette and anything else that helps keep visitors healthy on the mountain and able to come back.

“Everybody is stoked to be here,” Buie says. “It’s like, if this is what I need to do to ski or snowboard, then that’s what I’ll do.”

Mt. Ashland opened a month ago and has remained open with a trimmed-down capacity most days as ski area workers and visitors grow accustomed to strict protocols aimed at not just keeping everyone safe from COVID-19 but also showing regular proof skiers and snowboarders can hit these slopes without fear of infection.

Visitor numbers are kept down daily, with preference going to season pass holders. Masks must be worn in lift lines. Skiers ride lifts alone or with someone who came to the ski area with them. They keep 6 feet apart from others while skiing the slopes mask-free until they encounter others.

This mantra comes from the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention specialists who are trying to shepherd the country through the teeth of this pandemic now raging in its 11th month.

While many businesses have either shuttered or opened to very limited capacity, ski area managers have kept Southern Oregon’s go-to snowsports facility humming along.

The ski area is open Thursday through Monday when weather cooperates, and visitor numbers are limited. All rentals and sales are handled online to reduce human contact.

Still, the place has sold out more days than not.

“We have a really good plan in place, and we are executing it perfectly,” ski area Manager Hiram Towle says.

Visitors understand that they need to toe the line on virus-safety measures or the ski area will shut down.

“Quite frankly, people need this for their body and mind,” Towle says. “We can all interact from a distance, and it is as safe as we can be.”

Nowhere do the safe-distance and fun quotients meet more than in the ski area’s parking lot, where skiers and snowboarders have learned that this year on the mountain is all about self-reliance.

The mantra for Mt. Ashland visitors this year is bring your lodge with you, since Buie’s line of defense is severely limiting lodge entrants to a handful of nonworkers in need of rentals and other assistance.

On any given day, the parking lot is loaded with pickups with tailgates down and SUVs with hatchbacks raised for everything from breakfast and lunch to happy hour.

Mike Pugh and his fellow Ashland snowboarding buddies are no rookies when it comes to ground zero of parking-lot parties.

They originally hit the mountain for their regular boarding trips expecting to grill hotdogs and brats for themselves. But a funny thing happened, Pugh says.

People in the parking lot seem so much more in tune with each other than when they hung out in different alcoves of the lodge.

“I’ve met so many different people,” Pugh says. “It’s like, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Do you want some food?’ It’s pretty cool.

“It’s like a Super Bowl party every day,” Pugh says. “People have a really good attitude about everything, especially about being your own lodge.”

And a bit more cost-effective than hanging in the lodge.

“The beers definitely are a lot cheaper,” Neal Thompson says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Mike Pugh, left, and Neal Thompson cook up hot dogs while hitting up the slopes at Mt. Ashland.