Back on the slopes

Employees at Mt. Ashland Ski Area are welcoming this week's storms and the mountain's second opening of the season with relieved smiles.

"I think the whole staff is happy to be back," said training director Linda Parazoo. "It was just nice to see the forecast "… when I saw that it was solid, I just thought, 'Oh, finally.' "

The 17-day closure, which affected about 125 workers, didn't strain her financially, said Parazoo, who also works two days a week as a surgical assistant for Oregon Oral and Facial Surgeons in Roseburg.

But for other employees, the temporary layoff was tougher to weather.

"This is their livelihood," said Kim Clark, ski area general manager. "It's how many of them make a living."

Most of Mt. Ashland's employees won't immediately be called back but will be rotated into the schedule as the season progresses.

"It looks like everybody's coming back "… so I'm sure they're all looking forward to getting back on the snow," Clark said. "But you have to staff to what you need "… and you have some people that just work particular shifts."

He said about 50 employees were called back for Thursday's 10 a.m. opening, the first chance skiers and snowboarders have had to ride the mountain since it closed Jan. 2 because of lack of snow. A handful of workers were called back on Wednesday to prepare the ski area for the incoming storm, said Clark.

"This is what we've all been waiting for," he said. "We told our employees and guests that this was a temporary closure and the weather has finally come through. "… We're looking forward to some good snow."

Thursday's reopening was also the first opportunity for students in the After School Ski Program and the snowboarding class at Southern Oregon University to ride on the slopes — an unusually long wait, Parazoo said.

As of Thursday afternoon, about 10 inches of snow had accumulated on the mountain since the storm moved in Wednesday morning, making it the first significant storm on Mt. Ashland since Thanksgiving.

Rick Saul, marketing director, said he wouldn't be surprised to see a foot of new snow on the mountain this morning from overnight snowfall. But "the initial predictions haven't held true," he said. "I don't think three feet is going to happen."

Three of the ski area's four lifts are running, excluding the Ariel chairlift. The top of the mountain has yet to open this season, and likely will need more snow to establish a solid base before that happens, said Clark.

At least 10 of the ski area's 23 runs aren't accessible by chairlift when Ariel isn't operating.

"We'd love to be able to open up with everything, but that just is not the case if the crew can't get up there safely," Clark said. "We'll just have to assess it as things develop. "… There is still considerable setup that the patrol needs to do on top."

The mountain is operating on its regular Thursday-through-Monday skiing schedule, staying open until 4 p.m. except on Thursday and Friday, when it offers night skiing until 9 p.m.

"Everyone's excited for us to reopen again," said Monica Farnsworth, who works in administrative support for Mt. Ashland. "The phones are ringing off the hook."

Although the passing storm is putting down nothing but rain on the valley floor, the below-freezing temperatures on Mt. Ashland are resulting in a powdery snowfall that is light and fluffy, said Parazoo.

Thursday was her first day back on the slopes of Mt. Ashland since the closure.

"The weather is one thing this industry always depends on, we all know that," said Parazoo, who has also worked at Willamette Ski Area and Mount Bachelor during her 15-year span working at ski areas. "But we obviously like the work, or we wouldn't choose to work in this industry."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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