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Mt. Ashland will have limited offerings due to COVID-19

Multiple services will not be offered for the upcoming ski season at Mt. Ashland Ski Area due to COVID-19, including the restaurant and bar, retail shop, and locker rentals, Mt. Ashland officials reported.

Under a new operations plan, passed by the nonprofit ski area’s board of directors earlier this week, lodge access for restrooms, warming, storage or suiting up and night skiing won’t be offered either. Portable toilets will be placed in the parking lot. Lodge use will be for employees, rental customers and ski school participants only.

The decisions are based on Oregon Health Authority COVID-19 guidelines for venue and event operators and outdoor recreation organizations, and on the National Ski Areas Association’s COVID-19 best practices document titled, “Ski Well, Be Well.”

That document, which can be viewed online at nsaa.org/skiwellbewell, focuses primarily on guidelines that apply to outside operations, Mt. Ashland General Manager Hiram Towle said.

Under OHA phase two guidelines, venue and event operators are required to “limit the gathering capacity to a maximum of 100 people indoors or 250 people outdoors, not to exceed 250 indoor and outdoor.”

Food and beverage services at the mountain typically include two bartenders and about a dozen kitchen staff, Towle said. The largest departments — ski school and lift operations — will continue uninterrupted.

“It’s a bummer,” Towle said. “We’re not happy about not being able to provide all the services that serve the community, but we are very happy to be able to provide skiing and riding, because there are actually a number of ski areas who are not even opening this year because of the challenges from COVID.”

Ski school will have limited capacity and smaller group sizes this year, and lessons will not be available to anyone younger than 7 years old. All lessons and rentals must be reserved and paid for online at least two days in advance. Face coverings will be required in places around the ski area where physical distancing is not possible. Tickets must be purchased online in advance. There will be no on-site ticket sales.

Lifts will be impacted also, with Mt. Ashland officials needing to help physically separate skiers and snowboarders waiting in lines for their chair. They’ll do this by spreading out the length of the lines and putting empty spaces, or “ghost lanes,” between them, Towle said.

“We’re guessing we’ll probably lose somewhere around 30% of uphill capacities,” he said, and capacity will be determined through online ticket sales day to day.

“We’re going with a very conservative approach,” Towle said. “It’s easy to move up from there. It’s very hard to step back.”

Officials will also factor weather forecasts and time of the week into day-to-day decisions on capacity.

“We try not to worry about the things we can’t control and just worry about what we can and address those,” Towle said. “Obviously we’re also going to need to be flexible and be prepared for changes. There’s going to be a lot to stay on top of.”

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com.

Mail Tribune / file photoNancy and Lucas Blackenship ride the Sonnet chairlift at Mt. Ashland.