Mt. Ashland Ski Area will debut some noticeable upgrades this winter, but there is little chance of enough snowfall to open its slopes through the next 10 days.

Mt. Ashland Ski Area will debut some noticeable upgrades this winter, but there is little chance of enough snowfall to open its slopes through the next 10 days.

A new motor and control system installed this year will allow the mountain's longest chairlift, Ariel, to stay open through more severe weather conditions, and, for the first time, lift operators will carry electronic scanners to make sure riders are carrying lift tickets.

"It'll be a little different," said Rick Saul, Mt. Ashland marketing director. "The scanner system will allow us to pinpoint our skier visit count. It also does help eliminate fraud."

Saul said that through the money saved eliminating ticket fraud, Mt. Ashland could recover the $27,000 cost of the Point of Sale scanner system the first year using it.

The mountain made a $62,000 investment to upgrade its Ariel chairlift with a new variable speed electric motor.

"When it gets windy, we should be able to keep the lift going more frequently now," said Saul. "And it should end up saving us about $3,000 a year in electric costs."

He said the chairlift's old motor wasn't variable speed, and when operators tried to slow it down to keep it open on windy days, it would overheat.

"We can run it at any speed that we want to now," Saul said. "As long as we can keep the chairs from banging around and keep people safe, it should be open."

The mountain also added 119 pairs of new Nordica skis to its fleet of rental equipment, he said, replacing nearly all of the skis previously used in the shop.

Although Sunday there is a chance of snow at Mt. Ashland, it will not be substantial enough to open the mountain, said Dennis Gettman, science and operation officer for the National Weather Service in Medford.

Last year, the lifts started running on Dec. 3, early compared to the mountain's average opening date of Dec. 12.

"Unfortunately, I don't hold much hope for next week either," Gettman said, "but perhaps the week after that."

He said it may snow a few times before then, which is a good sign of more to come, but nowhere near enough to open Mt. Ashland, unless a big storm hits.

"We're talking about a few feet for that to happen," he said.

Saul said there is no exact amount of snow the mountain needs before it can open, but the 21 inches already covering the mountain's base, with the 33 inches up top, will provide a good base for whatever snow does fall.

"It might not take as much as you think," he said. "There is a nice firm foundation out there. It's bullet proof."

As long as it doesn't melt, the groomers will be able to use the blanket of snow on the mountain to pack new snowfall on top of, Saul said. The frozen base also makes it easier for the groomers to hold traction and maneuver around on the mountain.

Workers have already done most of the preparations around the mountain for the approaching winter.

"We're just fine tuning things now," Saul said. "Waiting for the snow to fly."

Paul Nieminen, manager of Aedion Aesthetics snow and skateboard shop in Ashland, said he's been watching a lot of snowboarding videos to keep his calm while waiting for more snow.

"I haven't been out this year. "… Haven't even strapped on the bindings," Nieminen, 30, of Ashland said. "It would have been nice to go up north for the first storm "… or over to Bachelor, but I couldn't make it."

He said some locals have been building jumps on the backside of Mt. Ashland, along with other small terrain park features.

"Just to get out there and kind of get it going," he said about the avid snowboarders.

"I'm not hurting that bad, but I can't wait for the season to start."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.