Friday, June 15, 2007

Big changes planned for little mountain

Rotarun Ski Club unveils master development plan

Express Staff Writer

Graphic courtesy of Rotarun Ski Club The Rotarun Ski Club?s master development plan includes a number of proposed improvements, including a new chair lift and base lodge. The club envisions replacing the existing base-area hut with the Sun Valley Helicopter Ski Guides building, which would be relocated from Ketchum.

Kicking off a fund-raising campaign to make Rotarun a thriving, full-time ski area, the Rotarun Ski Club said it hopes to raise $178,000 by Sept. 1.

Don Wiseman, executive director of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, presented a master development plan to the public on Tuesday, June 12, at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Hailey. The plan includes a chairlift, snowmaking and new day lodge.

While Wiseman said the club might hold one or two fund-raising events, it's mostly hoping the call for support will be passed by word of mouth.

"This is an opportunity for people in the north valley, who may have greater financial means, to help out," Wiseman said.

Rotarun is located west of Hailey in Croy Canyon. It is operated by the nonprofit Rotarun Ski Club, which leases the property for $1 per year. In 1957, the club obtained a 99-year lease from the Arkoosh family, which subsequently deeded the property to Blaine County in 1993 with the condition that the lease remain in place.

While the hill has been used for skiing since the 1940s, its economic survival is not guaranteed, as made clear by last winter's poor snowfall.

To negate that vulnerability, the ski club's priority is the installation of snowmaking.

"Because of the inconsistencies of natural snow, Rotarun is not viewed as a dependable ski area by the public," Wiseman said. "Our goal is to make Rotarun a viable and sustainable ski area."

After two years of research and planning, the club concluded that the installation of six York Safyr snow guns, similar to those introduced to Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley last winter, would allow the area to earn more money through after-school ski and snowboard race training, as well as learn-to-ski programs. That money would help fund construction of a chairlift and day lodge.

Last year, Rotarun received an additional $20,000 in pass fees from Hailey Ski Team and Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation members, Wiseman said. With snowmaking, he said, both teams would be able to increase their training activities and racing events on the hill.

While a simple-enough solution, it is not a cheap one. The club estimates the cost of the snow guns, from purchasing to installation, at $178,000. The estimated budget to complete all the recommendations laid out in the master plan is estimated at just under $500,000.

Thus, the club initiated its "Bringing Rotarun into the 21st Century Campaign," or as one person attending the meeting eloquently put it, "grassroots fund raising to keep us from skiing over grass and roots."

Already, Rotarun has received a significant contribution from Sun Valley Co. toward the latter two improvements. In the midst of its own upgrade on Dollar Mountain, the company donated the Dollar and Quarter Dollar lifts, except for the towers. Those lifts would be combined to create one lift to take skiers to the top of Rotarun.

"Sun Valley is really stepping up," said Jeff Smith, president of the Rotarun Ski Club Board. "It's like having a wonderful big brother right up the road."

However, Rotarun would need to supply the lift towers and pay for installation, resulting in a projected cost of $153,000.

Further generosity could come in the form of a new lodge. The developer of the property where the Sun Valley Helicopter Ski Guides building sits on First Avenue in Ketchum has committed to donating the costs of demolishing and disposing of the building toward its relocation to the bottom of Rotarun.

The current base-area hut is too small to fit all the ski teams or an administration office. However, even with the donation of the building, the club would need to add about $168,000 to make it suitable as a day lodge.

Unfortunately, time is an issue. Wiseman said the club has a Sept. 1 deadline to decide if it wants the heli-ski building, as the developer has time restraints of his own. That means the money for the snow guns, the pivotal improvement, must be raised before then.

The importance of Rotarun's continued existence was not lost on the vocally supportive members of the public in attendance. Many applauded the efforts of the ski club board in providing an affordable and nearby alternative for south valley residents.

Gini Ballou, mother of world-class snowboarder and Olympic hopeful Kenny Ballou, also spoke of the role the hill has played in the development of young skiers and snowboarders.

"Kenny spent three years learning there," Ballou said. "He would not be snowboarding if it were not for Rotarun."

Anyone interested in contributing can contact the Rotarun Ski Club at 788-1173 or by e-mail at

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