Grooming the mountain's facilities to suit the public
As Mt. Ashland moves forward from one of its most challenging periods we will focus on what you — the skiers, riders, and visitors — want at your local, nonprofit, community-owned area. We want to provide the best alpine experience possible on the 7,500-foot peak many cherish.
To this end Mt. Ashland Association recently completed a survey of community members to determine who they are, how they use and what they like about the area. The survey also asked what the community would like to see. Mountain management has already taken steps to address items raised by the feedback.
The survey was done at a critical juncture for our nonprofit association. Besides facing repercussions from not opening for the 2013-14 season, a new manager has taken the helm, and the board is in a year-long strategic study with support from a Ford Family Foundation leadership grant.
We were gratified that more than 1,200 people responded to the survey. More than 1,000 of those responses came from an internal audience contacted via the association’s email list, so this survey reflects the opinions of many mountain users and supporters. Survey responses from outside audiences, promoted via chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs and the media, were very similar to the first group.
Among our findings: Season pass purchasers in the last three years had been made by 57 percent of the internal and 21 percent of the external respondents. The male/female ratio was 65 to 35 percent in the internal group and 53 to 47 percent in the external group. External respondents with children 18 or younger were 48 percent, while they were 34 percent with the internal group.
Skier and rider visits by the internal audience were about 22 percent each in of four categories: 1 to 5, 6 to 10, 11 to 20 and more than 20 on the slopes. Half of the external respondents did not use the slopes, while 26 percent used them 1 to 5 days.
Mt. Bachelor emerged as a popular attraction for the internal respondents, 51 percent of whom visited there 1 to 5 days, compared to 41 percent who went to Mt. Shasta for a similar period.
One-third of the internal group contributed financially to the nonprofit Mt. Ashland, compared to 13 percent of the external audience. Mt. Ashland was viewed as important for its benefit to the local economy by both groups.
While open-ended questions led to many different responses, areas that emerged as top concerns focused strongly on indoor amenities, such a healthier and more varied food selections, more lodge seating and storage, a larger bar area and enhanced customer service. On-slopes improvements including longer runs, more beginner and intermediate terrain and better lifts also gained top mentions.
Other high-ranking suggestions included more on-mountain educational opportunities, including after-school and youth activities, and summer activities such a mountain biking, concerts and hikes.
New manager Hiram Towle has appointed task forces to address four concerns cited most frequently for this winter: food service, lodge accommodations, bar expansion, and creating a customer-service based culture. He wants each employee to see the area through customer’s eyes. While these key items will be addressed immediately, the findings will be used to guide us as we create plans for the near and more distant future.
We are looking forward to the upcoming season. When visitors arrive this winter they will a find the first on-ground physical improvements in several decades, including a 20 percent larger parking area, a recontoured “bunny” slope that is more beginner friendly, and widened runs and junctions points.
There are also new initiatives to ensure user access. These include a $299 pass for college students and “$99 Carload Mondays” for up to seven skiers in a single vehicle.
A Mt. Ashland DNA statement has been developed over the last few months. It better defines the mountain and its goals. Among these are being a community-focused area, remaining a cherished community resource, and having customer service as the top priority. The DNA statement recognizes the variety of terrain available, proximity to the valley, a commitment to introduce new people to alpine sports, care for the environment, and engagement in the community.
Mt. Ashland has survived challenges is the past, including severe financial problems in the 1970s and a threat of closure in 1992 that led to community ownership. We know we will survive the challenge of last winter and we’ll strive to enhance our offerings while enjoying continued community support.
Chris Cook is a skier and member of the Mt. Ashland Association Board of Directors. She is chairman of the Association’s Community Outreach Committee.