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Mt. Ashland Ski Area copes with large crowds

Anticipating large weekend crowds, Mt. Ashland Ski Area managers are urging visitors to carpool or take a newly launched bus service.

Skiers and snowboarders have flocked to the ski area last week and this week, when students have been on a holiday break from classes.

The ski area's parking lot, which was expanded in 2012, has filled to capacity every day since Saturday, ski area managers said.

Beginning on Friday morning, the ski area is launching a Ski Hopper bus service to shuttle people from Medford, Phoenix and Ashland.

The Ski Hopper, which normally carries wine enthusiasts on Wine Hopper tours, was originally scheduled to begin runs up to the ski area during the second week of January, but will begin operating early because of the crowds, said Hiram Towle, ski area general manager.

"This is a result of pent-up demand and great conditions," Towle said. "People are excited."

The ski area was closed for the whole winter two years ago because of lack of snow, and only operated 38 days last winter. With regular snowstorms hitting the mountain this year, the ski area's fortunes have turned. It has 68 inches of snow at the base and 95 inches of snow on the upper mountain.

Round-trip Ski Hopper fare is $15 from Medford and Phoenix and $10 from Ashland. Bus service will continue on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 6.

The bus begins picking up passengers at 7:30 a.m. at the north Medford Fred Meyer parking lot at 1301 Center Drive, then stops at 8 a.m. at McDonald's at 221 Fern Valley Road in Phoenix. At 8:20 a.m. it stops at a Southern Oregon University parking lot at the corner of Wightman and Webster Streets and stops at the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites at 2525 Ashland St. at 8:35 a.m. The bus arrives at the ski area at about 9 a.m.

The Ski Hopper leaves the ski area at 4 p.m. and drops passengers off from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Ashland, Phoenix and Medford.

To reserve a spot on the 40-seat bus by 6 p.m. the day before a trip and to check availability, visit www.winehoppertours.com/mt-ashland-ski-hopper/ or call 541-476-9463.

Ski area managers also strongly recommend car pooling.

With so many people visiting the ski area, the ski and snowboard rental shop has seen long lines with hourlong waits. Rental equipment also has run out at times.

Towle urged people with their own gear to bring it to the ski area. For people who need to rent, he recommended arriving as early as possible.

"It's first come, first serve," he said. "We've been running out of rentals. It's a great problem to have. It means we're teaching new skiers and boarders."

With the ski area experiencing two lean years, it was not able to beef up its rental equipment stocks, Towle said.

The ski area has added more employees to help visitors and try to speed up the rental and lift-ticket buying process, he said.

Renting skis, ski boots and poles or a snowboard and snowboarding boots at the ski area costs $18 for age 12 and under all day and $29 for age 13 and older all day.

Rental equipment is also available at the Black Bird Shopping Center, 1810 W. Main St., Medford.

Skiers and snowboarders have been flocking there as well and the store has sometimes run out of certain sizes of rental equipment, employees said.

People are allowed to return rental equipment the next day, but the store is encouraging people to return gear at the end of the day so it will become available earlier to the next customers.

A set of rental ski or snowboard equipment is $20 for age 12 and under and $25 for those 13 and older, employees said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.