ASHLAND — Four fresh inches of snow on Mount Ashland over a mid-February weekend normally is a good thing.
But when it only doubles the snowpack at the base of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, it prompts General Manager Kim Clark to simply shrug.
"At this point, any snow makes us happy," Clark says.
The anniversary of the latest opening in the ski area's history came and went Monday as skiers, snowboarders and the businesses that cater to them kept their collective eyes on two approaching storm fronts that may or may not generate enough snow for the ski area to open.
Forecasts call for the mountain to receive anywhere from 6 inches to 20 inches of snow this week. Snowfall amounts on the high end of that prediction could get the ski area open, but Mt. Ashland's faithful know that past fronts have underachieved in precipitation this winter much like they did in 1977, when the ski area opened Feb. 17, then the latest opening ever.
"We'll have to wait and see," Clark says. "We're still concentrating on getting the doors open. That's our focus."
Productive storm fronts could generate some much-needed focus on the ski department at the Black Bird Shopping Center in Medford, where a distinct lack of customers left sales tech Hank Kleyn-Schoorel hearing only crickets.
The loft that houses the department normally teems with people renting and returning snow gear or accessorizing during what would be the middle of the season.
"I think we're probably down 75 percent," Kleyn-Schoorel says. "We're doing a little bit of rentals for (Mount) Bachelor, but that's about it."
Competitive high school ski and snowboard teams have had to travel to Mount Bachelor and Mount Hood to train as well as to enter races that can qualify them for state championships early next month.
A good showing of the white stuff this week could keep them close to home for the first time this year.
"I really hope they do open, and salvage a little bit of their season, " Kleyn-Schoorel says.
Last week's storms brought rain to the ski area, eroding what little snowpack has accumulated slowly at Mount Ashland and elsewhere in the Rogue River Basin. The storms were able to boost the anemic water year to 50 percent of average, but high snow lines meant the snowpack crept up from 22 percent to 30 percent as of Monday.
But storm fronts coming in today and again Thursday will bring colder air and lower snow levels, according to the National Weather Service.
"The snow level should be below them for the duration," weather service meteorologist Tom Wright says.
The weather service has forecast tonight's storm to dump about 8 inches of snow on Mount Ashland, where there was a foot of snow on top Monday. Thursday's front is a bit weaker, Wright says.
"It looks like, as far as we're forecasting, 6 to 10 inches for Mount Ashland," Wright says. "Then that should be it, in terms of fronts, for a week."
Clark declined to reveal how many season passes have been sold for the ski area so far this season. The passes state they are non-refundable.
"We're focused on getting them on the mountain so they can use those passes," Clark says.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.