Ski area to close two days

Poor midweek attendance and rising costs will force the Mount Ashland ski area to close for two days a week next winter.

Ski area managers will decide by April 1 whether to close on Monday and Tuesday or Tuesday and Wednesday, Kim Clark, general manager, said Monday.

The management team originally proposed closing on Mondays and Tuesdays in July 2007 to reduce operating costs, but they agreed to stay open on Mondays after people who work weekends complained they would not be able to ski on their days off.

"The restaurant and service community convinced us they were going to show up in droves," Clark said. "They didn't."

Monday numbers have been "as bad as they ever were," Clark said. He noted that on one recent Monday there were just 90 skiers and snowboarders on the mountain, barely 7 percent of the crowd on the previous Saturday. "When you're bringing in one-half to one-third of what it costs to operate for a day, you can only do that so long," Clark said.

Mount Ashland has been one of the few small Northwest ski areas (by definition those with around 100,00 daily visitors in a season) to operate six days a week. Some, including Willamette Pass and Anthony Lakes, operate just four days a week — Thursday through Sunday. Clark said the nonprofit ski area's board of directors made the decision to close two days, and left the decision on which days to close to staff.

"We want to welcome people to Mount Ashland," he said, "but they have to understand that we have to pay the bills."

At least one former board member who criticized the original two-day-a-week closure plan has had a change of heart.

"When they first suggested that I was a knee-jerk no," said Ron Roth, owner of Geppetto's restaurant in Ashland. "But being in business myself and seeing what's happening (to business during the recession), especially at midweek, as a business decision, it makes sense."

Roth said the ski area has to make tough business decisions to stay alive during a severe economic slump. "Nobody's going to bail out Mount Ashland," he said, referring to federal bailouts for banks and insurance companies, "and Mount Ashland is not too big to fail."

Clark said the ski area will hold the line on single-day tickets at $43 for weekends and $36 for weekdays for the 2009-10 season and discount season passes $50 for adults and $35 for juniors and seniors. For the first time, season pass buyers who use a credit or debit card will be able to spread the cost of passes bought during the spring sale over five months of equal payments.

Clark said he got the idea when he was looking at his bank statement and noticed all his automatic withdrawals, and realized the ski area could do a similar arrangement.

The spring sale for passes will run from April 1 to April 30. An unlimited-use pass will cost $375 during the sale, and the weekday pass will cost $250. (Weekday pass holders can ski on weekends for an additional, reduced, daily fee.)

Clark said attendance and income will be down this year, but he declined to provide specific figures.

"We know we're going to be down," he said. "We know we're not going to be down as much as the destination resorts.

"December was fairly good," he said. "January was not so good. February was fairly good. March is starting off like gangbusters."

Although the ski area is a nonprofit organization, it is not bound by the public information laws that require government agencies to disclose financial information. Clark said he would not share financial information or season pass sales figures because such disclosures might be used by competing ski areas.

"We've got to operate as a business," he said.

The season is scheduled to end April 12.

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