The Mt. Ashland Ski Area will put its 2011-12 season passes on sale for $249 during the month of April, $20 cheaper than its pre-season price a year ago.

The Mt. Ashland Ski Area will put its 2011-12 season passes on sale for $249 during the month of April, $20 cheaper than its pre-season price a year ago.

The passes will be the cheapest of all seven similar ski areas in the Northwest that have spring sales for the upcoming season, said Rick Saul, marketing and sales director for the ski area.

"No one is offering season passes for less money than Mt. Ashland, and I really feel good about our competitiveness," said Saul.

It's not as low as Mt. Ashland's recession-spurred price of $199, which was offered for five days at the beginning of April last year, but Saul said skiers and snowboarders realize it "was a one-time special ... and we've had no complaints about (not repeating it)."

The special pricing offered in last spring's sale was based on the flat economy, "which was in a worse situation than now," Saul said. "We needed to give the season pass a shot in the arm — and now we feel the economy is starting to do better."

The $249 season rate is for ages 13 to 69, a $220 savings over the in-season price of $469. Youth passes, ages 7 to 12, are $99 ($169 in season), and come with free ski checking.

The amount can be paid in monthly installments, with no interest. The pass pays for itself in 6.4 visits, while the youth pass is paid off in 3.4 visits. Mt. Ashland's "lead" pass price — the all-day weekend adult rate — is $39 now ($33 on weekdays) and will hold steady for the coming season, he said.

As the 2010-11 season enters the home stretch, Saul said the ski area is a little below projected earnings because of that six-week dry spell in January and February but is "still in the black."

The storm of mid-February, when the mountain received 30 inches of snow in three days, "got us right back on track," Saul said.

The ski area will maintain the same operating schedule next season as it did this year, being closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays after the holidays. Barring foul weather closures, it will offer 98 potential days of operation next season.

You can purchase a pass in person on the mountain during any open day in April, or at the Mt. Ashland business office in Ashland.

To finance payments, you need to come in person. Passes can be purchased on the Mt. Ashland website, at www.mtashland.com, starting April 1.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.