Mount Ashland's skiers and snowboarders were replaced with prayer flags, sage and a crowd of worshippers Wednesday to bless the land and snow that will eventually become the city's drinking water.

About 75 people gathered at the second annual interfaith ceremony led by Native American elder Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim to offer prayers, sing songs and enjoy the last of the season's snow.

"No matter what your religion or culture, celebrate that you are here today and that you are alive," said Marie Hunter-Ripper, who later translated her prayer into Cherokee.

She and other speakers told of all the blessings the mountain has bestowed on the people of the Rogue Valley, from the enjoyment of recreational users to the habitats for the plants and animals, and asked that people work to stop global warming and abuses that damage Alketeh, a native word for the mountain.

"It's never too late to save our world," Pilgrim said, asking for healing for the people who would eventually use the melted snow.

Observers entering the half-circle at the base of the mountain were fanned with smoke from burnt sage in a purification ritual. Just before leaving, all tossed tobacco onto the ground, believed to help prayers reach the sky father, Hunter-Ripper said.

The Rev. Kurt Katzmar of the Medford Congregational United Church of Christ pointed out that mountains are also significant in the Christian faith, with a covenant made on Mt. Sinai, Jesus preaching his sermon on the mount, and even one of God's names, El-Shaddai, meaning "the God of the mountain," he said.

Steven Meeks, who has ancestors from both Iroquois and Seneca tribes, brought his six-month-old granddaughter to the ceremony to pass on his respect for the land.

"My traditions run deeply through me and into my son and into my son's daughter," he said. "I don't want her to ever not have access to this beautiful mountain."

Both Mt. Ashland representatives and organizers of the event hope to make it an ongoing tradition.

"We really welcome cultural events like this whether they're musical or spiritual because it's all about appreciating Mother Nature, without which we can't do what we do," said Rick Saul, the marketing director for Mt. Ashland Ski Area. "When I think about the water cycle...it really is a miracle."

The mountain will be open for skiing one final weekend, April 19 and 20.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .