Protecting the Powder: An Upgraded Mt. Ashland Ski Resort
To a ski resort, “green” isn’t necessarily a good word. It can mean a lean year and patches where the snow is gone and the grass is showing.
But in a 21st century, post-Al Gore framework, “green” also can mean something completely different: A sustainable business model and environmentally-friendly practices that support a prosperous future for generations to come—and that’s the green that Mt Ashland has achieved.
In the off-season, Mt Ashland announced a major milestone: It is the country’s first STOKE-certified ski resort. (Although somewhat bro-speak, STOKE actually stands for “Sustainable Tourism Operator’s Kit for Evaluation.”) Like LEED-certification for buildings, STOKE considers a checklist of factors and grades a resort for its sustainability. In early spring, Mt Ashland achieved that certification—and became the nation’s first ski resort to do so, and along the way, got a much-needed lodge renovation.
“One of the things that stood out most to me from the start,” explained STOKE independent evaluator, Pete Blanchard, “was the complete engagement of the Mt. Ashland staff. Everyone was helpful and committed to the spirit of the endeavor and achieving the certification.”
General Manager, Hiram Towle, said the lengthy process to pass the sustainability level approved by STOKE was well worth the effort. By working together, both organizations recognized areas where implementing changes could enhance the experience for visitors and take advantage of the well-established tourism draw to southern Oregon while continuing to steward the mountain.
Donations from the community supported numerous upgrades and an extra 1000 square feet of space to the distinctive Tudor-style lodge. “It’s nice to say that, in terms of its ski history and its architectural design, it is iconic and impressive, especially for a little community ski area,” says Towle.
After surveying skiers and riders, he determined that vital improvements were necessary to ease the flow of the tens of thousands of guests who visit yearly. One important modification was to direct traffic away from the lodge’s entryway.
“The café was originally built in the wrong direction so we spun it around to keep the lines away from the front doors because it was an operational challenge,” he said.
The new design allows for speedier ordering and pickup at the café and will offer customer favorites from a new condensed menu.
Through the removal of several walls and ceiling areas on the second floor, visitors can enjoy a more spacious bar and bistro area while gazing out at vistas from the 6500 foot peak. The main level staircase was removed from the center of the lodge and redesigned against a wall creating the much needed open space that Towle foresees will enhance the venue for the many popular summer events like weddings and class reunions—and bringing revenue year round, another step towards financial sustainability.
Another major improvement is the relocation of the rental shop to the basement of the lodge. “It used to be across the parking lot in a separate building,” says Towle, “so if you can imagine your first time on skis or snowboard and you have to go to one building then hike your way across the parking lot to get to the beginner slope, it wasn’t a very good way to entice people to become skiers and riders for life.” And a new Scooter Room has been redesigned to give kids freedom from the adult crowd as they learn the ropes, including a custom exit opening directly to the beginner slope.
First-time skiers and snowboarders can take advantage of the My Turn Program offering newcomers a 3-day lesson pass, equipment rental and lift use for $129. “What makes this a great place for new folks to come learn is that we have Sonnet; a lift that serves essentially its own little mountain,” says Towle. “You’re separated from the intermediate and expert skiers and riders and it’s right next to the lodge, which is really convenient.”
One of the largest and most popular events is Bavarian Night, which will take place in February; a fundraiser for the volunteer portion of the ski patrol. Festivities begin at twilight and feature live music, food, raffle prizes and a torchlight parade before concluding with a fireworks display.
Community driven, the non-profit resort continually reciprocates the support with offerings like low prices ($49 for adult weekend tickets), lesson scholarships for kids and free transportation on its Ski Hopper bus.