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Day one comes a day early

Thanks to a mix of preparation and last weekend’s snowstorm, Mt. Ashland will open Friday — a day earlier than its scheduled start date.

All four lifts will open at 9 a.m., the nonprofit ski area announced Wednesday.

Mt. Ashland has received 20 inches of snow in the past week and has collected 34 inches for the season, according to Mt. Ashland marketing coordinator Amy Schlotterback, who said cold temperatures on the mountain are keeping the snow soft.

“It’s like a dusting even after we’ve run the groomers,” Schlotterback said. “It’s going to make for some fantastic early-season skiing.”

Skiers and snowboarders should be prepared for early-season conditions, Schlotterback said. The all-volunteer ski patrol is currently in the process of marking obstacles.

Mt. Ashland General Manager Hiram Towle said there’s “quite a bit more” snow coming Sunday night, and the National Weather Service confirmed it.

A trio of wet weather systems is predicted over the next week, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Shad Keene.

The first system is expected to arrive Saturday morning, bringing a light dusting of snow, Keene said.

“You’ll see some snowflakes flying, but no real impact,” he said.

A system expected to arrive late Sunday into Monday morning should bring more snow than the Saturday arrival, and a system expected to blow in by Wednesday should produce flurries, Keene said.

No rain or temperatures above freezing are in the mountain forecast for at least the next week, Keene said, and Weather Service computer models predict a steady increase in snow for the remainder of the month.

“December’s still looking pretty good for increasing snowpack,” Keene said, describing “above-normal precipitation” in the model.

The early December opening is a lot better for skiers than last season, which didn’t start until Jan. 26 and lasted only until Feb. 5, before dry weather ground operations to a halt. Mt. Ashland reopened Feb. 23 and managed to salvage the season by staying open for 46 days until April 22.

The ski area last opened on its targeted early December date in 2016-17, when it garnered about 80,000 visitor-days during a 90-day season.

Schlotterback said crews took steps during the off season to operate with less snow.

“After last season we wanted to respond,” she said.

Crews constructed loading decks for the Sonnet and Windsor ski lifts so Mt. Ashland wouldn’t need to wait for snow to ramp skiers up, according to Towle. The Aerial and Comer lifts still have traditional snow ramps.

“We’ve been doing a lot of shoveling and getting the hill ready,” Towle said.

The ski area also built a large fence near the parking lot to prevent snow from blowing away near the Sonnet lift, according to Schlotterback.

The ski area will open Friday with 34 inches of snow at the base, within Mt. Ashland’s normal range, Schlotterback said.

“It’s setting us up perfectly for an opening,” she said.

Opening early required coordinating volunteers from the ski patrol, expediting maintenance on the lifts and completing lingering construction on the new loading decks, according to Towle and Schlotterback.

“It was a little bit of a scramble,” she said.

Towle said they wouldn’t have been opening without the 20 inches of snow that fell last weekend.

“Once it was on the ground, that’s when we can start moving safely around the mountain,” Towle said.

Schlotterback said the ski area opted to open early based on the weather, but also because of strong attendance at last Saturday’s annual Snow Stomp party. She guessed that close to 300 people attended.

“That really was a game-changer for us,” Schlotterback said.

Friday will be “Day Onesie” on the mountain. Anyone wearing a one-piece ski suit can get a lift ticket for $25. A “Onesie Parade” is slated to begin at 8:30 a.m., giving “first lift chair honors” to skiers and snowboarders dressed in a onesie.

“We’ll get them on the Sonnet lift first,” Towle said, adding that he’s hoping to “start the season with a bang.”

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

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