Mount Ashland ski area managers hope this winter will be kinder than the last one.

PHOENIX — Mount Ashland ski area managers hope this winter will be kinder than the last one.

Winter started slowly a year ago, and as the recession deepened, people stayed away from the mountain in droves, while the skiers and snowboarders who did show up spent less. Visitation was down about 15 percent, and income declined 28 percent, general manager Kim Clark said during the ski area's annual public meeting Monday evening.

Clark said two full-time employees had to be laid off, and seasonal layoffs for some other staff members were extended to as long as six months.

The ski area has prepared a budget for the year anticipating revenue of $1,786,000, and operating expenses of $1,778,500, leaving a margin of just $7,500.

The ski area is managed by the Mount Ashland Association, a nonprofit corporation. The association's October meeting is traditionally opened to the public.

Clark said the ski area sold 1,042 passes during its spring sale and an additional 377 during the fall sale, up slightly from the previous year.

During the public question-and-answer session, the mountain's financial future dominated the conversation. Several longtime mountain supporters chided mountain managers for policies they said had generated ill will among people who have supported the mountain for years.

"The mountain is being managed totally upside down," said Dave Bobb of Ashland. He said the new Tuesday-Wednesday closure will cost midweek skiers 40 percent of their season. He chastised managers for taking salaries he said were too high, paying minimum wage to most workers, and charging season pass prices that are "way out of line."

Pete Toogood of Ashland called on the board to replace Clark.

"Kim's had four years," Toogood said. "Let's give somebody else a chance."

Former board member Joan Thorndike defended Clark's work.

"When we hired Kim we were in dire straits," she said. "I believe Kim kept our mountain open."

Alan DeBoer said building proposed new ski trails and chairlifts is critical to the mountain's long-term survival.

DeBoer, a former Ashland mayor and member of the association's board of directors, noted that consultants years ago concluded the mountain would not survive without new trails and chairlifts.

DeBoer said the arrangement whereby the city of Ashland holds the special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service for the ski area and leases it to the Mount Ashland Association could be a financial liability for the city if the ski area were to close. DeBoer said the permit holder has responsibility to restore the ski area, and that could cost the city as much as $1 million to $2 million.

"It is absolutely critical for the city of Ashland to turn that permit over to Mount Ashland," DeBoer said.

Sam James, the board president, said the Forest Service is now working on the environmental studies that were required by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when three environmental groups sued the Forest Service over its analysis of the proposed new ski trails. Those documents could be completed by January, James said.

During the business portion of the meeting, the board approved Darrel Jarvis, a Medford attorney, and Fawnda Shahalami, of Rogue River, to fill positions vacated by the retirement of Bill Little and Deborah Ameen.

Sam James will remain board president; Tom Mayer, vice president; Lisa Beam, treasurer; and Deborah Martin, secretary.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail