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April skiing — do it while you still can

Now that it's April, lots of you are thinking about anything but skiing.

Your garden is calling you, or your bicycle or your golf clubs. Pity, because there's likely to be plenty of snow well into May after the most recent storm. Mount Shasta had 2 feet of freshies Monday morning, the latest in a long list of gifts from El Niño, and Mount Ashland has collected about 20 inches since the weekend. Resorts farther north that were worried about staying open through spring break are now getting calls from people wondering whether they'll stay open into May.

Most of them won't. Mount Shasta shuts down Sunday, along with Willamette Pass and Hoodoo. Mount Ashland closes this weekend, too, unless 1,500 of you show up on Saturday and Sunday, in which case they'll run one more weekend.

They're closing now, with the deepest snow of winter, because when the days get warmer, even dedicated skiers and boarders find it hard to resist the attractions of the river or the trails or the garden.

"People are interested in doing the things they haven't done for four or five months," says Rick Saul, Mount Ashland's marketing director. "It's exactly the same pang skiers and snowboarders feel in November and December (when they hike in to ride on thin snow before the chairlifts open). That's just human nature."

Some people think the U.S. Forest Service (which issues the permit for the Mount Ashland ski area) requires a mid-April shutdown. Nothing could be further from the truth, Saul says. Come April, families that brought their kids to ski in January and February are taking them to soccer games and Little League, he says. From a business perspective, it's just not profitable, especially for small ski areas, to stay open.

But if you put away your skis now, you'll miss some of the best days of the season — blue skies, warm sunshine and shirt-sleeve-and-shorts skiing on that sweet concoction known as spring corn. The freeze-thaw cycle of warm spring days and cold mountain nights produces icy kernels that thaw during the day, producing a thin lubricating layer of water that makes them easy to ski, but fun.

You could emulate the folks who climb uphill to earn their turns on snowboards and telemark skis, but you don't have to. Several nearby resorts will remain open into May, and they're offering attractive discounts if you're one of those people who would rather ride the corn than plant it.

Mount Bachelor will remain open with spring hours through May 16. You can buy a pass good through the end the season for $139, but if you wait until Monday, April 19, the price drops to $99, less than two daily lift tickets.

If you'd rather visit Portland than Bend, Mount Hood Meadows will operate daily through April 25 and intends to continue operations on weekends through May 16. Meadows is offering a $99 pass good for five days of riding, and so is Timberline, which will operate daily through May 31.

So get out there and enjoy it while it lasts.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 541-776-4492, or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.