Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Soldier Mountain discusses the future

Snowmaking could be installed at Fairfield ski area

For the Idaho Mountain Express

Citizens of Fairfield have been asked to begin submitting their visions for the Soldier Mountain ski resort.

The resort is owned and operated by actor Bruce Willis' Valley Entertainment group on public land under a U.S. Forest Service lease.

Thursday, Willis' representatives, including former Blaine County Commissioner Mary Ann Mix and Valley Entertainment Chief Operating Officer Jack Pashkin, approached the City Council to announce a series of three public meetings intended to gauge the public's interests.

Willis and company are awaiting results of a market and demographic analysis of the ski area's potential by the SE Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based consulting firm that has consulted for ski areas throughout the West. The group has worked at the new Tamarack Resort near McCall and at Vail, Colo., where the firm is working on a new Ritz Carlton Residences project.

Representatives for Willis said at this stage the group is looking to maintain the business under a U.S. Forest Service lease that will maintain historic stewardship of the ski area according to Forest Service specifications.

City Council members and Mayor David Hanks asked how the city could support the information gathering process, and Mix said the group would welcome any letters of support and the city's participation in upcoming focus groups.

Some citizens voiced concerns about how changes at the resort will impact Fairfield.

"The biggest concern is the rumbling we're hearing about the airport," said Fairfield resident Jeff Kreyssig. "We'd love to see the community involved, not just a few people."

The rumblings Kreyssig focused on relate to the on-going debate about where a replacement for Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey will be located.

Willis has made offers to build an airport on private land he owns near Fairfield as a possible alternative to a site chosen for a new airport in southern Blaine County.

In the short term, Mountain Manager Larry Davenport, who also attended the meeting to announce a new ski school partnership with longtime Sun Valley Ski School Technical Director Kenny Corrock, said Soldier Mountain may have snowmaking this winter. He added that in addition to beefing up ski instruction, the resort is looking to reinstate a five-day pass that will provide students with affordable lift tickets combined with ski instruction. Davenport is also recruiting ski guides with a Level 2 certification to boost the mountain's backcountry, snowcat skiing potential.

Adding to the area's lift-served 1,150 acres, cat skiing offers access to another 1,500 acres at the upper reaches of the mountain, which reaches as high as 10,095 feet on Smoky Dome.

Pashkin declined to comment on Willis' longer-term vision, but he did say that Willis wants to see the resort maintain its family oriented and affordable character. He said more information about the group's vision would come to light after the public meetings—to be held in October, November and January—and after the SE Group presents its findings.

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