A snow storm shook Ashland Friday, snarling traffic on the Siskiyou Pass, closing schools and allowing Mt. Ashland to open for the season.

A snowstorm shook Ashland Friday night and this morning, snarling traffic on the Siskiyou Pass, closing schools and allowing Mt. Ashland to open for the season on Saturday.

"The cold front kind of hung up there on the Siskiyou Pass, and we saw fairly good snow rates up there," said Mike Johnson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Medford.

The storm dumped three to five inches of powder on south Ashland, while north Ashland saw about half that between about 3 p.m. Thursday and midnight, he said.

"It's a real mess," Johnson, an Ashland resident, said this morning.

The storm brought the first snow day of the season to Ashland School District and Southern Oregon University.

Because the cold front stayed over the Siskiyou Pass, the Medford area saw very little snow, Johnson added.

Mt. Ashland opens

The storm poured about 18 inches of snow on Mt. Ashland in 24 hours, allowing it to open Saturday, said Rick Saul, Mt. Ashland marketing director.

"We opened last year on Dec. 20 and we're opening this year on Dec. 20 too, just in time for the holiday season," Saul said this morning, when the opening was announced. "That was our Christmas wish and we're glad that that came through and we're really looking forward to another great season on the mountain."

The ski area will open its Windsor, Sonnet and Comer chairlifts with groomed runs on the later two lifts. Mt. Ashland officials are recommending only expert skiers and snowboarders use the Windsor lift.

"Early season conditions will exist and we encourage people to use caution until our coverage becomes more substantial," Kim Clark, Mt. Ashland's general manager, said in a statement released this morning.

The ski area will open more terrain as it receives more snow and snow grooming crews prepare additional runs, according to the release.

Mt. Ashland will be open daily through Jan. 4 during the holiday season. Twilight skiing will begin Dec. 26 and continue Thursday and Friday evenings from 3 to 9 p.m. through March 20.

Chains on Siskiyou Pass

The Oregon Department of Transportation began requiring all vehicles except four-by-fours to have snow chains on the pass Thursday afternoon and was still requiring chains as of press time.

Although several cars spun out on the road, no injuries or serious crashes were reported, said Gary Leaming, spokesman for the ODOT Medford office.

The pass was not closed during the storm, but officials did stop traffic a handful of times to clear the road and remove cars that had spun out, Leaming said.

Traffic on the pass was beginning to move more calmly as of 9 a.m. today and weather conditions were expected to improve throughout the day, Leaming said.

"It looks like business as usual out there," he said. "The pack should be breaking up in the valley, according to the weather reports."

Icy Ashland Roads

Ashland public works employees worked on sweeping streets all night, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, said John Peterson, Street Department supervisor.

"Right now I'm on the south end of town and it's snowing pretty heavy but the roads are in pretty good shape right now. Still we're recommending people stay home unless they have to go somewhere. And chains are always a good idea," he said this morning.

The crew of about five workers had cleared all arterial roads and those around Ashland Community Hospital as of about 8 a.m. today, he said.

"Surprisingly," no car crashes were reported in Ashland during the storm, said Sgt. Scott Schuster with the Ashland Police Department.

"It was a pretty quiet night," he said.

Weather Forecast

Forecasts call for rain Saturday night and Sunday in Ashland, when another storm will move over the valley, Johnson said.

"We'll probably see rain even at the pass levels. A cold front will come in late in the day on Sunday, but snow levels will remain high, so we'll see mainly rain," he said.

Monday "another quick hitting cold front" from Canada will rock the pass, bringing snow to high elevations and more rain in the valleys.

"Ashland could see snow, but not like what we just saw here," Johnson added.

Forecasts call for another system to arrive in Ashland on Christmas Eve, bringing snow that afternoon and the following day, he said.

"We have a good chance of a white Christmas in Ashland," Johnson said.

Planning Meeting Canceled

A Planning Commission meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday was canceled due to the snow. Commissioners will take up the agenda items at their Jan. 13 meeting, said Bill Molnar, community development director for the city.

"It's supposed to get worse and we're just worried about people getting hurt," he said Thursday, after he announced the cancellation. "Plus if people did come they would have been sitting here worried the whole time, wondering about whether they were going to be able to make it home alright," Molnar said.

Richard Appicello, city attorney, joked that he was the only city official not contacted beforehand about the cancellation.

"Why don't you just say it was canceled because Bill wanted to go play in the snow?" he said.

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 and hguzik@dailytidings.com.