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  • Mt. A looks at year-round alternatives

    Mount Ashland Ski Area board considers new ways to remain viable
  • Operating on a $740,000 loan from the Small Business Administration after last winter's nonseason — and looking for a new executive director — Mount Ashland Association board members are casting about for ways to extend their mission into summer months and redefine themselves as part of what it means to be a healthy community.
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  • Operating on a $740,000 loan from the Small Business Administration after last winter's nonseason — and looking for a new executive director — Mount Ashland Association board members are casting about for ways to extend their mission into summer months and redefine themselves as part of what it means to be a healthy community.
    At a Monday board meeting, member Annette Batzer painted a picture of new partnerships with area health care organizations, taking advantage of grants, not for treating unhealthy people, but expanding the ski area's recreation mission to include keeping healthy people healthy.
    "We're going to survive," said Batzer. "We recognize, as a community, we are providing illness care. Staying well needs to be the focus — eating, exercising, sleeping well and lowering stress. We're re-visioning ourselves as part of a really healthy community, with Mount Ashland as a safe environment to be outside, actively enjoying yourself with family and friends."
    In the new world of the Affordable Care Act, planning is beginning and grant opportunities are arising to enable partnerships between health care organizations and recreation providers such as Mount Ashland, she told the board.
    To move in that direction and attain more financial stability, Mount Ashland is consulting with other ski areas about expanding the base of summer activities, said board Vice President Darrel Jarvis, in fun areas, including bands, dancing, hiking, weddings, a zip line — but not mountain biking because it's too expensive and fraught with liability.
    "But it's a real challenge to go outside the footprint," Jarvis cautioned, adding that it would allow them to keep a staff on all year instead of hiring a new one each winter. The ski area has taken on a consultant to share ideas with other ski areas on such topics.
    The board is also exploring becoming a membership organization, with annual fees to provide enhanced sustainability, he said.
    "Becoming a year-round operation is a big movement in the ski industry now, as it tries to become sustainable on year-round revenues," he said.
    Mount Ashland's operation of the concessions at Howard Prairie has not been a big money-maker, with low wedding reservations, water at 40 percent of normal levels and most boats pulling out by Labor Day, instead of the end of September — so the board will fall back to evaluate the feasibility of that operation.
    Speaking for the financial committee, board member Jack Works said last season was "pretty disastrous when you bring in $500,000 on a budget of $2.7 million in expected revenues."
    A lot of people don't realize, he added, that Mount Ashland has many fixed expenses, such as the power bill that has to be paid even if the ski area doesn't open.
    "If it snows, we've got the finances to have a healthy year," said Works. "If it doesn't snow, well, it's going to snow."
    The board, seeking to hire a new general manager, has received 30 applications and should make its choice by September. Jarvis said board members are filling in on many of the manager's tasks now.
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.
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