Ski area pushes toward $1 million goal

The Mt. Ashland Association has raised $371,100 as of Tuesday in its effort to bring in $1 million by Dec. 31.

On Oct. 14, the nonprofit group that runs the Mt. Ashland Ski Snowboard Resort publicly announced it needs the money to cover operating losses, replace aging equipment and continue pursuing an expansion of the ski area.

The expansion was delayed when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in September that the U.S. Forest Service had not adequately analyzed the environmental impacts of the expansion. The ski area is on Forest Service land.

Mt. Ashland Association officials predict additional Forest Service analysis will take six months to a year, with the new analysis also subject to appeal.

Despite the uncertainty, officials are moving forward with the fundraiser.

Of the $1 million being sought, $350,000 would fund a logging project to clear trees for new ski runs and other expansion improvements, said Mt. Ashland General Manager Kim Clark.

The rest of the money will help Mt. Ashland with needs that include covering operating losses and equipment depreciation, said Mt. Ashland Marketing and Sales Director Rick Saul.

Over the years, Mt. Ashland has spent $2.3 million for expansion planning, permits, consultants and a new sewage treatment facility, he said.

"Our retained earnings have been exhausted through those efforts," Saul said.

The ski area should be setting aside $70,000 each year in a snowcat replacement fund and $15,000 to $20,000 to replace rental equipment, he said.

"We haven't been able to fund depreciation at all for the last three years. Last year, we actually lost money with revenues versus expenses &

not counting the depreciation we didn't fund," Saul said.

Costs for labor, insurance, fuel and goods continue to increase, he said.

"We've kept lift tickets at $39 for several years in a row. We're trying to be sensitive to people's pocketbooks. We don't want this to be an exclusive resort by any means," Saul said.

Season pass rates have gone up during that time, and this coming winter, Mt. Ashland will not operate on Mondays or Tuesdays or on Saturday nights.

The resort will be open seven days per week during the Christmas break, and will also stay open for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents Day, which fall on Mondays, Saul said.

While the Mt. Ashland Association is trying to raise $1 million by Dec. 31, it has a far bigger fundraising challenge ahead.

After counting the $350,000 from this fundraiser that would go for expansion logging, Mt. Ashland needs to raise another $3.65 million to $3.7 million to fund the first phase of the expansion, Clark said.

Phase one includes new ski runs, another lodge high on the mountain and expansion of the parking lot, he said.

When asked whether Mt. Ashland officials view the $1 million fundraiser as a test for whether they will be able to raise the larger amount, Clark responded, "Maybe, to a small extent. The surveys we have, to see if we can raise the money, all say the money's there.

We'll look at it as a barometer. If we succeed, we will be very happy. If we don't, we'll have to reevaluate how we'll be moving forward."

Clark said a failure of the $1 million fundraiser would not mean the end of expansion efforts.

Mt. Ashland will build phase two and three of the expansion only if needed. Those phases include building a new lodge and refurbishing the existing lodge, building a snow tubing center, expanding the parking lot again and reestablishing the Poma lift area, he said.

The ski area doesn't have enough parking and building space to accommodate a new snow tubing center in the first phase of the expansion. Tubing also is not a proven money-maker for ski areas, Clark said.

"We're looking at it as a break-even facility. Some are doing well and others are not at other ski areas," he said.

Clark said he is not at liberty to give out names of donors who have given so far.

Donations are coming in varying amounts, with many in the $50 to $250 range, and larger figures that include a recent pledge to give $20,000 per year for three years. Mt. Ashland only included $20,000 for this fiscal year from the three-year pledge in reporting Tuesday's $371,100 fund-drive total, Saul said.

Before going public with the fundraising campaign earlier this month, the Mt. Ashland Association Board of Directors raised $325,000 with their own contributions and from people they spoke to, he said.

Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas, who has long opposed the expansion, said any donors should be aware that the Mt. Ashland Association still has to confront significant legal issues that could delay expansion for several more years or stop it altogether.

He said the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals identified significant issues, such as the need to protect riparian areas, that have to be addressed in more National Environmental Policy Act environmental analyses.

"I think the citizenry will be reluctant to continue to dump money into this endless hole of legal fees and NEPA. What the citizens want is investment in the current infrastructure," Navickas said.

Among other changes, he said Mt. Ashland officials should focus on improving the lodge, reestablishing the Poma lift area because it serves gentle terrain and replacing the two-person Ariel Chairlift with a heavier quad lift that could operate even in windy conditions.

Mt. Ashland officials have said the ski area needs to expand in order to add more terrain for beginning skiers, accommodate the current number of skiers and a growing regional population and improve its financial viability.

Confidence that the expansion project will actually take place is important to the success of the fundraising campaign, said Jason Keen, owner of a fundraising consulting company and the manager of corporate and business relations for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

But Mt. Ashland officials can overcome the uncertainty factor if the campaign's purpose is consistent with the vision, dreams and mission of the nonprofit organization, he said.

"If it's tied to those, it's a valid and good cause to put forward and donors will respond," Keen said.

He said the Mt. Ashland Association will be able to draw from a wide donor pool that spreads from the Rogue Valley down into northern California.

Keen said he does see the current $1 million fundraising campaign as an indicator of how successful future efforts would be.

"It's obviously a good gauge. It's tied to their ultimate goal, vision and dreams. If they start with a big bang and raise $1 million by Dec. 31 with relative ease, it will be a good measuring point," he said. "If not, they may need to take time to evaluate."

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