Snow Job! Q&A With Mt Ashland Director Hiram Towle
RVM: Does being a nonprofit naturally make Mt Ashland more community based?
HT: We’re not sure that the nonprofit status dictates that the organization be more community-based, but we certainly embrace the idea. We have an outstanding list of partners that includes the U.S. Forest Service, La Clinica, Kids Unlimited, Oregon Adaptive Sports, a whole host of gear shops, media companies and hotels in the area, and more. We help our partners and they help us—it’s a very symbiotic relationship. Those who support us through ticket sales or donations do get a unique sense of ownership. We always say to them “this is YOUR mountain” and we mean it.
RVM: Obviously, climate change directly affects operations—and snow fall. You can’t change the location of the ski area, or its elevation. How do you “respond” to weather and snow changes?
HT: That’s a great question and one we wrestle with frequently. We have spent the past five years preparing the mountain to operate on less snow. We have stepped up our trail trimming efforts to allow skiing with less snow than ever before. We have built loading ramps at the lifts so we no longer have to sacrifice precious base area snow to build up the snow under the lifts for safe loading. There is about four feet of snow needed under the lifts to get to the proper loading height. We can now spread just an inch of snow on the deck and effectively load guests. In low snow years, we have “farmed” snow from the parking lot and areas where we can take it without affecting the skiing surface and move that snow to where we need it. We even modified one of our snow grooming machines to allow it to act as a dump truck to deliver snow out on the mountain. Now that our Lodge renovations are complete, we are in a planning phase now for the future of Mt. Ashland. We received a planning grant from Travel Oregon to assist us with this effort and we’re excited about what’s to come. Stay tuned for the details, but it comes down to our need to be ready for the next drought.
RVM: Mt Ashland has taken several measures towards sustainability. Can you highlight one or two of those?
RT: We love talking about our sustainability efforts! There are three stool legs of sustainability: environment, community, and economy. On the environment side, we installed a solar grid that gives us about 12 percent of our power. We offer free hourly bus service on weekends and holidays, and we just installed an electric vehicle charging station. For community, we offer free use of our ski lodge for community groups and we have more than a dozen live music performances planned for 2020. For economy, we do our best to keep our folks gainfully employed and work with partners to keep them working year-round—in addition to building the rainy-day fund we mentioned above.
RVM: What do you think most surprises people when they first come to Mt Ashland—or, asked differently, what sets you apart?
HT: We have an awesome and friendly staff. We have a wide variety of terrain that includes challenging areas like steep chute skiing in the famous “Bowl” and world class back country that are both accessible by lift. We also have a beginner friendly learning center with a rope tow and triple chairlift that serves a separate area that is a mountain unto itself. Beginners and intermediates can progress in comfort without the fear of being surrounded by fast moving experts. From the parking and lift attendants to the ski school instructors and ski patrol, we are all here because we love this place and hope every one of our guests does too. We think of ourselves as the alternative to places like Lake Tahoe, because the slopes are not crowded, the people are friendly, and the prices are reasonable.
RVM: When did you start skiing? How did you learn?
Let’s just say I don’t remember learning how to ski! I have been skiing for 48 years and still learn something new every year from our incredible ski school instructors and skiing with folks who are way better than me. I started at two years old and was taught by my parents initially and then on my own exploring the mountain day after day. I did take lessons, but those only bored me. I just wanted to ski fast and make jumps and I still do to this day. I grew up at a small ski area in New Hampshire called Crotched Mountain where my father was a ski patroller. My family has skiing deeply ingrained in our DNA. When the snow is on the ground. We ski.