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Magic carpet ride on the mountain

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Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe Poet Tow lift inside the learning center at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area will be replaced by a domed carpet surface lift.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe Poet Tow lift inside the learning center at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area will be replaced by a domed carpet surface lift.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe Poet Tow lift inside the learning center at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area will be replaced by a domed carpet surface lift.
Mt. Ashland to get enclosed, moving carpet lift for beginner slope

A public campaign to bring a quarter-million-dollar, enclosed beginner ski lift with a moving carpet to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area reached its goal in a little over three weeks. The new lift, which will ease instruction for beginners, will be installed for next season.

The public campaign was unveiled Dec. 19, and Mt. Ashland General Manger Hiram Towle announced it had sailed past the goal to $260,000 Jan. 13.

The see-through apparatus will provide a more enjoyable experience for beginners and help them develop a lifelong love of winter sports, said Towle. Currently beginners are in the elements and must balance while grabbing onto a moving rope tow.

Donations for the new lift were matched dollar-for-dollar up to $125,000 by the Sid and Karen DeBoer Foundation, long-time mountain supporters. Before the drive went public, other gifts from major donors had been received that totaled over $55,000. A total of 270 donors and organizations contributed.

“The basic improvement over the rope tow is that you don’t need to know how to ski and ride to use it,” said Towle. Instead, individuals just step onto it like a moving walkway in an airport.

Using a rope tow involves being able to stand on skis or a snowbird while grabbing hold of a moving rope, a difficult task for beginners who are not used to balancing on top of snow or ice with devices designed to slide on their feet.

“We often have first-timers hike up the hill,” said Towle. Despite the obstacles, the area has a good track record for training new riders.

A big advantage that Towle says will come with the new style lift will be an increase in repetitions.

“The more laps you can take, the better you will be,” said Towle. Also, more people can be placed on a moving carpet closer together than a rope tow would allow. Skiers can be placed nearly tip to toe, he said.

The clear cover has a 7-foot interior height and is wide enough so that a rider can step off on either side. One operator will be required to run the device.

A major benefit of the cover is keeping the carpet free of snow, which will decrease maintenance. In addition, the enclosure will provide protection from the wind. The beginner’s area is near the parking lot, which is known as one of the windier spots at the ski area.

After group lessons were canceled last season due to the pandemic, some of them have sold out this season, Towle reported. The new carpet should be popular with after-school student groups that visit the mountain regularly to ski in the late afternoons and evenings on Thursdays and Fridays.

“A lot of our supporters grew up skiing at Mt. Ashland and using the older rope tows and remember how difficult it is, even as a proficient skier using such a difficult lift,” said Michael Stringer, Mt. Ashland development director. The rapid response by the community to the fund request did not come as a total surprise, said Stringer, who says there are a lot of dedicated ski area supporters.

Stringer recalled when he took his then-2-year-old son, Hank, for his first lesson at Mt. Ashland. Hank had seen other ski area carpet setups and said, “No magic carpet.”

Mt. Ashland will purchase a Sunkid moving carpet system, the first created for the ski industry. The devices were invented in Europe in the mid-1990s and have since been adapted for other uses, including in bike parks, water parks and at event sites.

A July arrival is expected for the new lift, and it will be a permanent installation. It will be in the same location at the current Poet rope tow, with the same 150-foot length.

In Oregon, ski areas with enclosed carpets include Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Hood Meadows and Hoodoo, while Anthony Lakes and Willamette Pass have uncovered moving carpets. The Mt. Shasta Ski Park also has moving carpets.

Donors who gave $10,000 gifts included Alan and Becky DeBoer, Lynda and Paul Marikos, Jim and Debi North, Joel and Connie Slaughter and Mary Louise Pride.

Businesses were not asked specifically to support the lift project, said Stringer. Major business supporters of the ski area this year include Lithia for Kids, Professional Transportation Services, Inc., Valley Immediate Care and KOGAP.

“They along with a number others are a big part of us being able to provide a great product affordably,” said Stringer.

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