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Mt. Ashland taking it 'day by day'

ASHLAND — A snow-melting downpour and warmer temperatures forced the Mt. Ashland Ski Area to temporarily close its lifts two days after it opened for the season and evaluate its reopening date day by day.

The ski area was open Friday and Saturday but closed Sunday and Monday, and will remain closed Tuesday. Mt. Ashland officials said the hillsides last week had a 22-inch depth, about 4 inches more than needed for a solid snowpack layer. But weekend rains melted 5 inches of it, leaving ski area employees hoping for a white Christmas weather officials say may be inbound Wednesday.

"Until that time, we're going to just keep evaluating day by day," said General Manager Hiram Towle. "Hourly, if you're me.

"We could really use some fresh snow on top of the surface that we have."

Ski area officials also are waiting for rainwater to finish draining and absorbing into the ground so they can get grooming equipment back out on the snow.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service reported a system is expected to hit the Oregon Coast and push inland Wednesday afternoon. Between 3 and 7 inches of new snow is expected to fall on the hillsides by Christmas Day, with snow levels potentially dropping as low as 2,500 feet.

Mt. Ashland opened for the season on a limited basis at 9 a.m. Friday. Towle said by the end of the day Saturday, 594 skiers and snowboarders had hit the slopes.

"That's about a third of a really good midwinter weekend, but we figured with only having two lifts open and four runs, that was a really good turnout," Towle said.

The ski area was unable to open during the 2013-14 season because of historically low snow levels on the mountain, the first time the area's slopes went untrod by skis and boards in 50 years.

"They didn't even get an entire foot of snow up on the mountain before they made the decision to close in March," Towle said.

With rain and river levels subsiding and snow in the forecast, park officials and employees waiting in the wings are just hoping the rest of this season isn't a repeat.

"We'll remain cautiously optimistic," Towle said. "We're going to focus on the things we can control."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.