It was a pleasure to host our community on the mountain last week, to discuss this past season, our vision, and to hear from community members. Here is a recap of the evening:
We held the town hall gathering on Thursday, April 27 in the Mt. Ashland lodge. The intent was to recap our 2022-23 season, discuss the upcoming 60th anniversary and overview of the 5-year vision, and give community members an opportunity to express thoughts and feedback.
The 2022-2023 season was historic in a number of ways. Our previous all-time record for visitation was 106,003, and this year surpassed it by a great margin. The methodology for tracking visitation has remained the same for many years. This was also our longest season and with most operating days that we can confirm; our records only date back to 2012 and we know of at least one season in the ’80s with a May closing date, but do not know any specifics.
Although we had several days with inclement weather, the number of days that we were closed entirely or did not operate Ariel is comparable with previous seasons of extraordinary snowfall.
The season ended with a small budget surplus from operations. This amount was smaller than budgeted, as expenses have risen dramatically. Our most significant expenses have been insurance, payroll with higher wages, and supplies such as food and fuel.
Overall, this past season had many more visits than any previous season, and extended longer than seasons in recent history.
As of the town hall date, we had received 343″ of snow. This marks the fifth snowiest winter in recorded history on Mt. Ashland.
An end-of-season survey was conducted, and promoted via 2 mass emails and 3 social media posts. This survey was formatted using the Net Promoter Score paradigm, designed to measure how people think about and talk about you. Nearly all items were ranked positively.
Coming out of the 2013-2014 winter, Mt. Ashland established a framework for operations that focused on ensuring the ski area would operate for perpetuity. In this framework, all decisions about operations, schedules, staffing, and activities are integrated with how they relate to:
- Fiscal Responsibility: All decisions must be made with good business sense in order to maintain a positive fund balance.
- Guest & Employee Safety: The health and wellness of everyone on the mountain is a paramount concern. Our mountain operations team works in a dangerous environment with many variables, and decisions to keep them safe sometimes delay opening of the ski area.
- Guest Experience: Every part of the guest experience should be of high quality, including all staff and facility interactions.
- Mt. Ashland Association Mission: “Promote & provide a high quality recreation experience in an alpine environment.”
As a smaller, independent ski area there are a number of items that are threats to our success:
- Aging Infrastructure: Our lodge buildings and Ariel are nearly 60 years old, newest chairlift is 35 years old, and newest snowcat is 10 years old.
- Access to Capital & Liability Exposure: We do not have the ability to move equipment or staff from other resorts, or access to emergency cash like a larger company; Oregon’s liability and waiver environment is very precarious for ski area operators and is a significant concern.
- Climate Change: Winters are becoming shorter and more unpredictable- making operations and planning more difficult.
- Rising Costs: Insurance alone has increased 114% in the past 8 years. The ski area operating environment, coupled with inflation, makes pacing of ticket sales with expenses very difficult.
Our mountain is prone to wind closures, and we know that Ariel can take more time to open on storm days. We will look at ways to improve real-time communications on lift status and terrain.
Our primary project this summer will be to widen Aisle 2. This will double the width of the bottom portion of the trail. We anticipate construction starting in early July and completion by the end of August.
Uphill travel has become a significant challenge for mountain operations. For next season we are looking to better operationalize uphill travel, including an uphill pass. We will bring together stakeholders for a conversation this summer to help shape the new uphill program.
A work group focused on mountain transportation will present their report in early May.
We plan to add new community events including rail jams, banked slalom, and slopestyles.
We are looking at introducing a mobile ordering function for food.
We need to better promote the 2nd floor bistro, and provide a more well-rounded food experience in that outlet.
The lodge and cafe will open on Saturdays and Sundays, starting Memorial Day weekend. The USFS is currently reviewing our camping proposal.
The 2023-2024 will be our 60th anniversary celebration. In addition to celebrating our mountain, we’re reimagining how we are a community resource for alpine recreation.
A primary focus is looking at how we can utilize the Poma and Lodge Poma trails, to provide more upper Beginner/lower Intermediate terrain.
We are looking at additional programs, including non-skiing winter to help bolster our sustainability in low-snow years.
We are taking significant care to plan for the future. This includes becoming a summer recreation hub, and also ensuring that we have modern equipment and facilities.