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Dry winter brings end to ski area shuttle

Car-challenged skiers and snowboarders no longer have a shuttle service to help them reach the slopes of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area.

Ashland Mountain Adventure canceled its shuttle Jan. 5, after owner Bill Roussel said too little snow during Christmas break doomed his company's ability to break even.

Roussel, who started the winter shuttle when Mt. Ashland Ski Area ended its bus service in 2008, said his ridership numbers had declined over the past two years, and he didn't want to foot the bill for another bad year.

"We wanted to do it, but we've already missed the meat of the season," he said. "The weather has a direct reflection on our business "… and obviously there is no snow."

He said the company makes an eighth of its winter revenue during the three- to three-and-a-half week span that includes Christmas break. Most of the riders are under the age of 16, he said.

The ski area did operate daily during the break, but Roussel's shuttle attracted only enough clientele on two days during that span to cover operating costs, likely because of poor conditions on the mountain, he said.

To make matters worse, the ski area, which opened Dec. 16, closed because of the lack of snow on Jan. 2. That ruled out any possibility of running the route, he said.

"All the dominoes lined up against us running this year," said Roussel.

Kim Clark, general manager at Mount Ashland, said AMA's shuttle closing is another unfortunate example of the trickle-down effect this winter's lack of snow is having on the local economy.

"Vendors that we normally are spending $8,000 to $12,000 a month with right now aren't getting anything from us. We have 125 workers laid off until we get enough snow to operate "… it's all very unfortunate," he said.

Clark said the ski area hasn't considered bringing its ski bus back into service. During its last year of operation, in 2007, it lost $18,000.

Clark said the service saw an 80 percent reduction in ridership from its first to last year in operation, falling steadily for most of that time.

Last year, Ashland Mountain Adventure hauled about 350 riders to the mountain, Roussel said, about a third of the number he needs to cover the operating costs of running one shuttle.

"It seemed like everybody just started driving themselves," said Clark. "Or car pooling, which isn't a bad thing; that's something we really started promoting after ending our bus."

Early this season, Roussel had plans to expand Ashland Mountain Adventure's service by adding a second 14-passenger van for a midday shuttle to the ski area.

"That didn't pan out," he said.

Instead, Roussel opted to pull the insurance off his vans and close shop for a few months to save money.

Most of the company's business comes from shuttling mountain bikers during the warm-weather months. Those shuttles are scheduled to reopen May 1.

"Even when this year turned out to do what it did, this was still a pretty hard decision to make," said Roussel. "But at the end of the day, if you want to survive you've got to make good business decisions."

He said Ashland Mountain Adventure plans to operate a winter shuttle next year.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.