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BOUNTIFUL BLIZZARD

The pent-up demand for snow was apparent Monday, with cars packing the parking lots and skiers and boarders filling the slopes as Mt. Ashland opened for the season.

A 53-inch snow total on the lower mountain greeted first day participants, a far cry from the previous season when the area opened for only 38 days with minimal snow pack. Even that was better than 2013-14, when it didn’t open at all.

“It’s good,” said snowboarder Anthony Hinson of Central Point, who earlier in the day had to park down the access road and hiked in due to the overflowing lots. Hinson said he didn’t board at all last year after hearing about poor conditions.

At 1:40 p.m. area officials said at least 750 visitors were on the mountain. They had seen a steady stream of cars coming and going and suspected the total would be higher.

“This is an exciting opening,” said area General Manager Hiram Towle. “There’s a full parking lot and happy people.”

Joel Slaughter of Medford said he had been skiing Mt. Ashland since 1970 and couldn’t recall an opening day with more snow.

Spencer Kirkwood, 12, of Ashland enjoyed both her first snowboarding lessons and a day off because Ashland schools were closed. A previous skier who was in the Mt. Ashland Race Association program, she was there with her father, Mike, and brother, Rogue, 9, already a boarder.

“It’s really good,” Spencer enthused about both the snow and the boarding lesson with instructor Rabbit Townsend.

“It’s about fun today,” said Mike Kirkwood. “It’s around 3 or 4 feet deep in places.”

Ski area crews measured 55 inches of snow at mid-mountain, while the upper mountain boasted 84 inches. But the Ariel lift going to the summit didn’t operate as the ski patrol wasn’t able to assess snowpack stability to ensure the terrain was safe. Skiers who use special gear to hike to the top of the mountain were also prohibited from access to that area.

“It’s perfect snow for a base,” said ski patroller Ken Kempner, noting that what had fallen was wet. “This is more snow than we have had over the last two years. Everybody took the day off.”

Overnight, the area received 13 inches of snow on top of 16 inches from the previous 24-hours. Saturday’s snowfall disrupted power to the area, preventing a planned Sunday opening.

Monday’s opening was slightly delayed due to power issues. Only the Sonnet beginner lift and the Windsor life serving the mid-mountain operated. Sonnet started turning at 9:30 a.m., followed a little later by Windsor.

The first users to make it to the ski area found a narrow access road and limited parking as Oregon Department of Transportation snowplows had just been able to perform that work after ensuring Interstate 5 stayed open, Towle explained. As the day progressed more parking was cleared.

Mt. Ashland will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, conforming to its normal operation schedule, but will then be opened 19 days in a row through Jan. 4 for the holidays. 

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter @gmail.com.

Skiers load up on the Sonnet chairlift Monday as Mt. Ashland kicked off its season following several days of heavy snow. photo by Tony Boom