Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rising from the ashes

New Soldier Mountain lodge part of larger development plan for resort

Express Staff Writer

Soldier Mountain Manager Larry Davenport said work on the new lodge has been running “from daylight to dark” in order to get the building in operation for the upcoming ski season. The lodge is one of a number of improvements listed in the resort’s master development plan, which is awaiting approval from the U.S. Forest Service. Photo by Willy Cook

Soldier Mountain is turning an unfortunate event into a positive change, as a new base lodge is being erected to replace the former lodge, which burned down in March.

Construction of the 4,500-square-foot lodge at the ski area near Fairfield is under way, with the framing nearly complete. Mountain Manager Larry Davenport said construction is on track for an anticipated Dec. 15 opening.

"It's an exciting new beginning," Davenport said. "Our operation is going to be a lot more efficient."

Davenport said that before the fire, which was caused by an electrical malfunction, ski rentals, ticketing and the ski school were in separate out-buildings. The new lodge will host all those functions, as well as administrative offices, a cafeteria and a bar.

"The lodge won't be full of Italian marble and stone, but our guests are going to experience the same down-to-earth, family-oriented lodge that they have been accustomed to," Davenport said.

The new lodge is part of a master development plan for the ski area. The plan is in the midst of an environmental impact analysis by the U.S. Forest Service, which issues a special-use permit to the area to operate on public land.

The master plan includes five new lifts, increased snowmaking and expansion of the ski area boundaries.

Currently, the mountain boasts 1,150 acres of inbound terrain, and its three lifts provide access to a total vertical rise of 1,425 feet. Soldier Mountain has only been open Thursdays through Sundays except during the Christmas holiday. Soldier Mountain powder days have been known to draw a few Sun Valley devotees over the hill to take advantage of the deep, untracked snow the three-day breaks can create.

In addition to good snow and a growing cat-skiing operation, the resort has gained recognition because of actor Bruce Willis, whose Valley Entertainment Group owns and operates the ski area.

Skier numbers at the area, a 62-mile drive from Sun Valley, are small compared to those of its more glitzy neighbor, which draws around 400,000 skier visits a year. According to figures included in the master plan, 16,061 visitors took to the mountain during the 2007-08 season, while the area saw 11,842 skier visits in 2006-07.

The skier count is important for Soldier Mountain, not just as an indicator of economic health, but as a trigger point for various improvements in the master plan. For example, the plan states that snowmaking would be installed when the area begins to draw 20,000 skiers per year.

The new lifts would take the ski area from its existing 2,400-skiers-per-hour capacity to 9,600 skiers per hour.

The new lifts on the north and west sides of Soldier Peak would provide improved access to the area's many glades and open parks, the master plan states.

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