Operating a ski area is a very tough business – fickle weather, high capital costs, energy and water expenses for snowmaking, and competition for customers are just a few of the challenges ski areas face in order to turn a profit while turning chairlifts.
A few ski areas, formerly out of business, are making comebacks as non-profit foundations, while others have operated as non-profits since their inception. Non-profits benefit from community involvement, donations, and volunteer spirit that contribute to their success. Here are four interesting non-profit ski areas in the United States that you might not know about.
Ascutney Ski Area operated from 1947 to 2010 in south central Vermont, adjacent to the West Windsor Town Forest and the Mt. Ascutney State Park. The ski area started with only a rope tow, but by the 1980s had added numerous chairlifts. A high speed quad was installed in 2000. However, mounting debt caused the ski area to close its doors in 2011 and several of the lifts were sold to other ski areas. Sadly, the original base lodge burned down this past January.
Now, a non-profit called Mt. Ascutney Outdoors is hoping to reopen the area this winter. The organization is working to acquire the land with the help of Trust for Public Lands and Upper Valley Land Trust, supplemented by private donations. The focus of the new non-profit will go beyond just skiing, and include environmental education, mountain biking, horseback riding, and other year-round activities.
Ascutney’s comeback shows how a defunct ski area can return as a community resource and asset, both for residents of the area, property owners, and visitors. Bringing back the ski operations, even if only a reincarnation of the original rope tow, would provide great recreational opportunities for the local area.
2. Antelope Butte
The rugged and remote Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming are home to the Antelope Butte Ski Area, which closed in 2004. After a 6-year hiatus, the Antelope Butte Foundation was formed in 2010 to bring back lift-served skiing at the area located on National Forest Service land. The non-profit organization has been busy raising funds to resurrect the ski area, located about 60 miles west of Sheridan. Last month, the organization bought the ski area from the Forest Service for $275,000, the first step in getting the area up and operating again. A few weeks ago, members of the Crow Nation offered blessings to the mountain and prayers for the foundation’s success.
Like Mt. Ascutney Outdoors, the Antelope Butte Foundation is concentrating on more than just skiing and snowboarding – they want to provide year-round recreation with an emphasis on youth-oriented activities to benefit the residents of the local community. The local effort is currently planning to reopen the area to the public in December 2016.
3. Bridger Bowl
One of the most successful non-profit ski areas in the US (and a model to current efforts to revitalize other ski areas) is the hill where you can “Ski the Cold Smoke.” Bridger Bowl, located outside Bozeman, Montana, has been operated by the non-profit Bridger Bowl Association since the mid-1950s.
Its status as a non-profit means that money that might otherwise go to shareholders or owners go straight back into financing improvements. There are also no taxes on those profits, which allows the organization to plow even more money into the ski area. This past season, the ski area welcomed a beautiful new Alpine Cabin, partially funded from donations by locals and families.
The Bridger Bowl Association is supported by another local non-profit, the similarly named Bridger Bowl Foundation. The foundation provides funding for recreational and educational activities and programs at Bridger Bowl, including youth and family programs, lessons, clinics, and alpine skill development. The strength of the mountain culture in Bozeman is evident through the support of the foundation and the tens of thousands of school kids who have graduated from the skiing and snowboarding programs.
4. Bogus Basin
Another longtime non-profit ski area, celebrating over 70 years of skiing and snowboarding, is Bogus Basin, Idaho. Situated in the Boise National Forest, the ski area started in 1942 as a non-profit with its current mission statement of “engaging the community to provide accessible, affordable and fun year-round mountain recreation and education.”
The Bogus Basin Recreation Association is heavily involved in the Boise community. True to its mission statement to make skiing and snowboarding “accessible and affordable,” the ski area was the first in the country to offer heavily discounted season passes, dropping the price from $550 to $199 for the 1998/99 season. Many other ski areas across the west mimicked this tactic, resulting in the current landscape of season pass prices today.
These four areas are good examples of non-profit ski operations in the US. The culture of skiing inspires passion, volunteerism, donations, and community involvement to support such organizations, a phenomenon that make our sport special and unique.