Oregon Public Broadcasting

Oregon's southernmost ski resort, Mt. Ashland, announced Friday that it will not open due to lack of snow. That's the first non-opening in the mountain's 50-year history.

A snowpack of less than 20 inches and forecasts for March temperatures in the 60s weighed in the final decision, said Kim Clark, general manager of the non-profit ski resort.

"The daffodils are up and the trees are blooming down here, and people are starting to think about springtime activities unfortunately," Clark said.

"It seems like every time we get some snow this year it's followed up by pineapple express coming in with some rain, or really warm temperatures, or a combination of both," Clark added. "When we get some snow, we get our hopes up and our enthusiasm upand then the weather changes on us."

Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association president John Gifford said Mt. Ashland was the only major ski resort in the Northwest to stay closed for 2013-14. That's because Southern Oregon has had the lowest snowfalls in the region.

Although many areas in Washington and Oregon had late openings, he says a wet February and March have largely turned the seasons around.

These weather events have even brought the Washington Cascade Mountains' Snoqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass ski resorts above-normal snowfalls.

Gifford says that Mt. Ashland joins Mt. Shasta Ski Park, just over the California border, which has also announced it won't open. In addition, the tiny Warner Canyon ski area near Lakeview, Ore., remains closed for the 2013-14 season.

The latest opening in the Mt. Ashland's history was Feb. 17 in 1977, with an average opening on Dec. 10.

Mt. Ashland doesn't do any artificial snowmaking, which Clark said hasn't been an issue in the previous 49 seasons.

"While this may have been our fiftieth anniversary, maybe we can try all this again for our fiftieth season," said Clark.

Kim Clark 2

Kim Clark with commemorative booklet.

Credit: Devan Schwartz

A fiftieth-anniversary event planned in January was cancelled and boxes of commemorative booklets sit unopened in the business office.

A Doppler station at the top of Mount Ashland provides information about weather and snowpack.

"The U.S. Forest Service has done snow surveys since 1963, the year before we opened up on the mountain and this is the lowest snowpack ever recorded," Clark said.

Ordinarily the mountain would support 130 paid staff and about 60 volunteers including ski patrollers, lift operators, instructors and restaurant operations.

In contrast, the staff has been reduced to four -- each working part-time. Clark has lost his employer-provided health insurance and has signed up for replacement coverage through the insurance exchange, Cover Oregon.

With an annual budget between $2 million and $2.5 million, Mt. Ashland reports a loss of about $1.8 million so far.

For season-pass holders, the ski resort has offered two options: 50 percent off next year's season passes or a tax-deductible donation for the price of this season's pass.

Neither option will soothe the sting to local businesses.

State economists have calculated that Mt. Ashland has an $11 million impact on southern Oregon.

Matt Dopp owns Kokopelli, a ski shop in the winter and river guiding service in the summer.

"Our winter business for the ski tuning and the snowboard tuning is probably 5 to 10 percent of what it normally is," Dopp said.

Dopp and his wife usually go to Mt. Ashland a couple dozen times; this winter, they haven't gone up once, even to snowshoe.

Low snowpacks also impact river flows for recreation and stream health.

And though Dopp is planning on low flows for kayaking and rafting, he says he's still hoping for a wet spring.

This story originally appeared through the EarthFix public media collaboration.

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