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Mt. A looks to sustainability

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More seats on the free bus service to Mt. Ashland Ski Area will be available this winter as the resort continues a focus on sustainability and gets ready for its 56th year of ski and snowboard operations.

Opening day is scheduled for Dec. 14, depending on conditions.

Mt. Ashland Association purchased two used school buses with 32 seats each to increase the capacity of the weekend and holiday service. Last year, the first year hourly service was offered, moved 5,500 people with a contracted bus and the association’s own 15-seat bus. On busy days riders were standing in the aisles. Use of the buses frees up parking and reduces the carbon footprint of the area.

“I am thrilled with the snow bus success last year,” said Annette Batzer, who was elected president for the association’s board earlier this month. “We have skiers and nonskiers utilizing the bus, improving our guest experience and expanding the community we serve.

“We have spent the last few years focused strongly on sustainability, thinking about that from a true 360-degree view, including all aspects — financial, programs, environmental, infrastructure, etc.,” Batzer added. “That remains my strong focus, having deep discussions and doing research on what makes sense for Mt. Ashland going forward for the next 50 years.”

Solar arrays projected to provide 12 percent of the area’s electricity were installed in 2016. In 2017 the area was certified by STOKE, an organization that provides assessment of resort practices, policies, community engagement and environmental sustainability. That work has informed many practices, including waste management, energy use, recycling, habitat protection, soil stabilization and buying locally, said Hiram Towle, ski area general manager.

The area is coming off a strong 2018-19 season that saw 98,667 skiers over a 91-day season, a record since the area went to five-day per week operations. Management expects to have $1.1 million in cash on hand Dec. 1, exceeding a board goal of $1 million to handle potential low snow years.

Adaptations to operate at lower snow levels have continued. A ramp at the top of the Sonnet beginners lift where skiers unload means less snow will have to be moved to that area. Ramps had previously been installed for the Sonnet and Windsor lift loading zones.

In addition, a bar that can be lowered in front of lift riders has been installed at the Sonnet chairs. “That will provide a little more sense of security for beginners,” said Towle.

Trail trimming has continued, with work currently in progress on the Upper Winter run. The previous two years, work was done on the Poma run and to create more open tree and glade terrain served by the Windsor and Aerial lifts.

“I am also excited about our continuing efforts on trail trimming, as it directly impacts skier experience, enjoyment and safety,” said Batzer, who is a volunteer ski patroler. Trail trimming as an element of improved skier safety is especially important to her, she said.

Finishing touches have been completed on the $2 million lodge renovation, including siding work, painting and new rails on the outside deck off the bar. Patrons will find propane-powered fire pits on the deck this season.

A used half-pipe cutter to create terrain parks was purchased for $40,000. Besides pipe creation it can be used to contour runs for a gentler transition from steeper terrain to flatter terrain.

A new weather station will be installed to eliminate the anemometer from freezing in cold weather, with resulting loss of wind speed readings. It’s all part of the mountain being transparent about what’s going on, said Towle, who noted that all five webcams are now functioning.

Bus purchases with installation of drop-down chains and ski racks will run about $25,000. The area has retained its smaller bus to use on either slower or overflow days. Funding for capital improvements has come mostly from donor support to the nonprofit associations, Towle said.

New this year, pass holders can get three days of skiing at Mount Spokane in Washington and three days at Homewood by Lake Tahoe. Last year’s benefit of four days at Tahoe’s Diamond Peak continues. In addition, pass holders can get $25 tickets at Mount Shasta and two other Northwest resorts. Pass holders from the exchange areas get similar benefits at Mt. Ashland.

“A lot of families are passing on Tahoe and spending an extra hour on the road to have an affordable and fun ski experience,” said Towle. “They have a great time in Ashland and the Rogue Valley. They are getting back to the roots of skiing.”

The exchanges are in response to consolidation in the ski industry. Vail Corporation now offers access to up to 59 resorts through a pass. Alterra Mountain Company pass purchasers can ski or ride at up to 41 areas.

Ticket prices have remained the same as last season, with a top adult price of $52 on weekends and holidays. Preseason pass rates are in effect through Oct. 31, then increase to the full rate.

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

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneMt. Ashland manager Hiram Towle talks about the lodge with new siding that was completed over this summer.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneMt. Ashland purchased two buses to get skiers and snowboarders to the mountain throughout the season.