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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Carving out local mountain charm at Mt. Ashland for over 57 years

Steep and Deep

Carving out local mountain charm at Mt. Ashland for over 57 years

Story by KM Collins

 

Rogue Valley locals have been quenching their thirst for powder on Mount Ashland’s steep and deep slopes since the ski area first opened in 1964. With a summit at 7,533 feet, Mount Ashland is the highest point, and many say the crown Elizabethan jewel, of the Siskiyou Mountain Range. Beginner to expert, this charming winter playground welcomes skiers and snowboarders from near and far with four lifts and over 240 acres of varied terrain including a summit bowl with five chutes, 23 distinct trails, forest glens to ski the trees, and 1,150 feet of vertical drop from peak to parking lot. While some might call it compact, Mt. Ashland offers a lot for being community owned. Most terrain is on the intermediate to advanced side and surprisingly technical and challenging.

In the formerly magma, now granitic, igneous heart of Rogue-River Siskiyou National Forest, the Siskiyou Range is a subrange of the Klamath Mountains which cross state lines running from northwestern California into southwestern Oregon. An intrusive pluton later carved by glaciers, the mass known as Mount Ashland is composed of diorite, granodiorite in addition to granite—a rocky alpine recipe not unlike that of Yosemite, though at an elevation and on a parallel where it captures far more seasonal snowfall. From December through April, Mt. Ashland averages 265 inches of snow per year.

Mt. Ashland is no more than a half-hour drive (23 miles) from the hamlet of Ashland, home to Southern Oregon University and the annual, one-of-a-kind cult-classic Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Check out the town for dining, lodging, and a world-renowned bustling arts scene.

Following in the ski tracks of the famed Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Mt. Ashland’s trails share names with Elizabethan Era characters like Juliet, Romeo, Brutus, and Tempest. The entire hill has the feel of an amphitheater with get back names like Aisle one and two, Betwixt, and a scenic showing of alpine biodiversity from each lift ride.

Popping onto Ariel, the summit lift, the upshot of a clear day is that the grand flanks of Mount Shasta, Mount Mcloughlin, and other peaks are visible during the ride up and from the top. Below your ascending lift chair, white fir, Shasta red fir, and Pondarosa pine line the trails and constitute spicy forested ski lines; though, in the midst of winter each will be cloaked in a blanket of snow. Lighting your way like fluorescent medieval wall sconces, bright lime green Usnia and Wolf lichen adorn the evergreens. Hidden in the shadows, you could spy a coyote, bobcat, chipmunk or Pacific fisher, while chickadees, towhees, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers may make appearances above the tree line. 

Once at the summit, skiers can decide on an array of descents from the ridgeline connecting black diamonds on the cirque and its adjacent chutes, blues headed back to the lodge or something off-piste in a maze of moguls in the woods. 

If the easily accessible side country terrain in the bowl isn’t remote enough for you, uphill traffic is allowed from the parking lot along the arete on the south side of the mountain. Be sure to wear a headlamp and reflective clothing to be easily sited by the early morning or late evening snow cat crew. Off the ridges of Grouse Gap many aspects are discernible offering freshies. Though the runs are quick hits, they offer outstanding views and leashed dogs are welcome.

For perhaps the dreamiest descent, check out night skiing. Offered twice a week, Mount Ashland shares 40 acres of terrain with those wanting to experience the magic of skiing after dark. Below stadium lights, surrounding Windsor and Comer lifts, there isn’t much snow worshippers like more than a chance to ski at night!

Seething for a little more Elizabethan throw-back? Explore the delightful Tudor style lodge adjacent to the parking lot. Amenities like a gift shop, rentals, ski school, a cantina and bar with fresh brews from local favorites like Caldera Brewing are readily available.

If you aren’t sold yet on the small town (big pow) pleasantries of Mt. Ashland, maybe the feel-good fairy tale story of how the mountain became a non-profit will grant a change of heart. When originally founded, the ski hill changed private ownership many times, until 1992 when rumor has it a series of snow-drought winters caused then-owner Harbor Properties to threaten to dismantle the operation. At that time the community came together, raised over 1.7 million dollars to “save Mount Ashland” and formed the 501(c)3 nonprofit Mount Ashland Association. Presently, each year thousands are donated to support Mount Ashland programs like after school youth adventures, a free shuttle offered on weekends and holidays, Access Ski, Ride Against Hunger Day, Winter Wellness Day, Special Olympics, and the Mount Ashland Racing Association.

With a tradition of fun loving family vibes, Mount Ashland is famous for throwing the best parties the powder room has to offer. During spring break, when the mountain is open for a full week straight, they host a Beach, Hallowednesday, and Homecoming theme days. Weekly concert series, Bavarian Night, and fundraisers for victims of various wildfires are just a few of the downhome events Mount Ashland rallies for locals and visitors alike.

Mt. Ashland has come a long way since its inception, when the dirt road leading to the lodge was only one way, uphill traffic in the morning, downhill traffic in the evening. Today, the entire operation is STOKE Certified, meaning it’s been certified sustainable through the Sustainable Tourism Operator’s Kit for Evaluation. In 2017, Mt. Ashland was the first ski resort ever to receive such an award. Some of the aspects of operation which helped earn this award are special carpooling programs, treatment of staff, and installation of 85 solar panels that now sustain 12% of annual energy consumption on the hill.

As it stands, winter can be the most enchanting time of year, but visiting Mt. Ashland for a snowcation is the frosting on any winter recreationalists ice cream cake. If you enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or just sipping peppermint schnapps or hot chocolate in the lodge while your little ones adventure about in the snow, Mt. Ashland truly offers something for everyone. Some might say, A Midwinter Night’s Dream.

 

www.mtashland.com

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