Most of the lifts at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area will open Friday for a weekend of skiing, with ski area officials hoping at least 6 inches of dry powder will fall there in a storm expected to arrive tonight and last through Thursday.

Most of the lifts at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area will open Friday for a weekend of skiing, with ski area officials hoping at least 6 inches of dry powder will fall there in a storm expected to arrive tonight and last through Thursday.

The ski area was able to hold on to about 2 feet of snow it received mostly from a mid-November storm, and its groomers have been working to pull more snow onto its runs from other areas of the mountain that are more covered.

"The groomers have been out for the last couple of days moving snow out of all of our little storage areas," said Kim Clark, general manager of the ski area. "They are working it into the areas on our runs where we're low on snow."

The plan is to run three lifts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on opening day, keeping Ariel chairlift closed, he said. The mountain will be open Saturday and Sunday, too.

On Tuesday, the ski area had 21 inches of snow at the base and 30 inches at the top — less than it had a week ago.

Recent temperatures that consistently dropped into the teens and 20s at Mount. Ashland kept the snow frozen. With that firm base to operate on, the groomers have been able to work, Clark said.

"We either needed the temperature to drop, or we needed it to put some snow back down if it was going to stay warm," said Clark. "We're still hoping to get a little more snow, so that we can show off our improvements to Ariel."

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

"It's going to be early season snow out there," Clark said, who went out on a probe of the runs Monday. "It is an early opening with limited conditions . . .. We're recommending that people use caution."

Clark said there is some exposed terrain.

During last summer, for the first time in about 15 years, workers trimmed the brush on every run down to no more than a foot tall to allow for an earlier season opening with less snow on the mountain, Clark said.

"(That) is really aiding us in being able to open this early," he said.

The mountain received about a half-inch of snow in a light Sunday night flurry.

Clark said it would take about a foot of wet snow to open Ariel chairlift, or up to 3 feet of dry powder if conditions are windy.

The storm expected late tonight and tomorrow at Mount Ashland could produce 25 to 35 mph winds, said Megan Woodatad, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Medford.

In windy conditions, with dry, lightweight snow, said Clark, it's sometimes hard for it to accumulate on the ski area's exposed slopes.

Woodatad said that sometime around Dec. 22, Mount Ashland might see another storm, but the "big one" likely will not arrive until late December, as the high pressure system is expected to rebuild Friday with more sunny weather.

"The storms through next week just don't look like they will pack much of a punch," said Woodatad.

For the first time this year, lift operators at the ski area will carry electronic scanners to make sure riders are carrying lift tickets.

The move could save up to $27,000 in ticket fraud, Rick Saul, Mt. Ashland marketing director.

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.

"We're definitely excited," said Clark, having made the decision Monday to open on Dec. 16. In 2010, the area opened Dec. 3.

"Hopefully people get a chance to come up and enjoy themselves, but it's a long season, so sometimes people need to remember not to go out and get too crazy on the first day,"

Clark said Thursday's storm, and Friday's sunny weather could make for a spectacular opening day on the mountain.

"We'll have to wait and see," he said. "The groomers will have plenty of work to do."

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