Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bruce Willis offers to donate Soldier Mountain

Thursday meeting to consider operation as a nonprofit organization

Express Staff Writer

Soldier Mountain ski area near Fairfield could soon see a change of ownership. Actor Bruce Willis, who has owned the area since the late 1990s, has told Camas County officials that he is willing to "gift" the ski area to a local nonprofit organization.

Willis' Soldier Mountain Development owns and operates the ski hill on public land under a Forest Service special-use permit. A group of Fairfield locals called the Soldier Mountain Recreation Association say that with help from donors, they would like to take Willis' place.

A meeting to report on the latest ideas gathered by the association's steering committee will take place Thursday, April 5, at 6 p.m. at the American Legion Hall in Fairfield.

"If we can get our ducks in a row, seek sponsors and new members, we would like to transfer the Forest Service permit and continue operations," said John Palan, a long-time Soldier Mountain employee and member of the Soldier Mountain Recreation Association steering committee.

Palan, who began working as a lift attendant and now operates a social networking site for Soldier Mountain, said the ski area has been "operating at a loss for a number of years."


Switching ownership to a nonprofit organization could change the fate of the ski area, said Ted Beeler, president of SE Group, a ski area planning and design firm hired in 2006 to prepare a master development plan for Soldier Mountain.

Beeler said he has been working with Willis, Palan and other members of the Soldier Mountain Recreation Association since last fall to explore ideas.

"The owner [Willis] wants to turn ownership to a nonprofit entity that could continue operations of the ski area," Beeler said.

Beeler said Willis would transfer ownership at no cost to a nonprofit entity, allowing for tax-deductible donations to keep the operation afloat.

He said 30 nonprofit ski areas operate in the United States, including Bogus Basin near Boise and smaller ones in Wyoming and Oregon.

Soldier Mountain is a 62-mile drive from Sun Valley. The original lodge and ski area were established through the efforts of former Fairfield farmer Bob Frostenson and his friend Harry Durall. In the beginning, they installed two rope tows, the first powered by a 1938 Chevrolet engine.

Today, the ski area boasts 1,150 acres of in-bounds terrain and its three lifts give access to a vertical rise of 1,425 feet.

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