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Road Trippin' : Mighty Mountain

Trish Glose/KTVL

Fresh snow, blue skies and a cold, Monday morning. The giddiness was in the air as crews shuffled into work, coming off a great opening weekend. It's the second opening for Mt. Ashland this season, but General Manager Hiram Towle says better late than never.

"A late start to the season isn't fun. We had a good feeling the snow was coming, based on trends. It was a La Nina year last year, it's a La Nina year this year, we had 371 inches of snow last year, one of our best seasons on record. Things are definitely turning around and it's a pretty solid operation now, and we're keeping some money in the bank to weather these dry spells is really what's keeping us strong," Towle says about the season.

Towle is full of energy on this sunny morning as he breaks up the ice in front of the lodge's entrance. He greets every guest with a familiar pat on the back and is all smiles as he watches skiers and snowboarders file in.

"Some ski areas are into revenue per skier visit. We're into smiles per skier visit," Towle said with a grin.

Some would say that philosophy is what landed him the job at Mt. Ashland. He arrived in the Rogue Valley in August of 2014. He hit the ground running and hasn't slowed down since.

"I heard the story of Mt. Ashland through a friend who was here and it was a sad story at the time, embroiled in a legal battle over an expansion for 20 years, didn't open on the 50th anniversary on the ski area's existence and I had to take out a $742,000 loan to make sure the ski area didn't go away. I had a lot of experience in the nonprofit world and ski business. It was good for me and I wanted to take on the challenge. I wanted to help this little ski area be the best ski area it can be," Towle said.

It was that determination and the mountain's history that fuels Towle to keep the place open and running. The ski area was near closure in the early 90s, but Towle says the community and their love for the mountain saved it.

"The community bought out the ski area in 1992, and that's when we became a nonprofit, which really, that was the savior of the mountain because we can fundraise around capital projects and use our operating money to continue to operations. This lodge is a great example of that. We raised 1.4 million dollars in less than a year to do this," Towle said.

"I've worked through the year we had 27 inches, I was originally hired the first year we didn't open, so I've seen the mountain at its worst and after last year, I've seen the mountain at its absolute best," Groomer Dave Dunham said about Mt. Ashland.

Towle says a good season or bad, he can always depend on his staff. He credits his crew and their attitude as one of the main reasons skiers and snowboarders keep coming back.

"We get a lot of kudos for our team here. We are very blessed that we have such a great team that continues to smile and gives guests a great experience despite the challenges. You have to think, we hire 160 people in December and when they have to wait a long time to open, that's really tough on them. The fact they come back with a smile on their face is a testament they love their mountain as much as our guests do," Towle said.

"For me, it's very special," long-time skier Mike Dados said, "it's just a half hour from home, I moved from California in 1971 because I wanted to go to a college near a ski town and I've been here ever since."

Dados was a ski instructor for Mt. Ashland for 10 years in the 70s, he was on the board of directors and when he retired, he came back to work there.

"My son got married here seven years ago and now I have a granddaughter. We'll be teaching her to ski here shortly," Dados said.

Getting future generations hooked not only on skiing but spending time on Mt. Ashland is music to Towle's ears.

"We are humbled by the support from the community and we're happy to serve our community. This is their mountain, not ours and we'll be great stewards of it until the end of time."

Changes could be in the mountain's future when it comes to making it a year-round recreation site. Towle says they're working with the Forest Service and looking into activities like disc golf, zip lines, and rock climbing walls.

Towle says playing at Mt. Ashland is also affordable. He says the average ticket price across the United States right now at ski areas and resorts is $116 at the window. Mt. Ashland is $49. Find out more information about lifts, prices, and conditions on Mt. Ashland's website.

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