Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A changing of the guard at Soldier Mountain

Bruce Willis hands resort off to nonprofit

Express Staff Writer

Following an offer in April by Soldier Mountain ski area owner Bruce Willis to donate it to a local nonprofit organization, a town hall meeting will be held in Fairfield tomorrow to introduce the new owners to the public.

The meeting will be held Thursday, Oct. 11, at 6 p.m. at the Legion Hall. The Soldier Mountain Ski Area Inc. board of directors will be on hand for a question-and-answer forum.

The privately owned ski area, 11 miles north of Fairfield, operates on public land in the Sawtooth National Forest. The private holdings include two chairlifts and a recently built base lodge.

“It’s a total donation,” said Justin Nyquist, a spokesman for the new ownership group.

Nyquist said the nonprofit group is made up of five people who have strong ties to the town of Fairfield. It was founded by Will Varin, William Wardwell and Robert Thomas, principals in the Boise-based law firm of Varin Wardwell & Thomas along with Fairfield native and local entrepreneur Jamon Frostenson and engineer and farmer Russell Schiermeier. The new nonprofit has a pending 501(c)(3) status.

“Soldier Mountain is the pride of Fairfield,” Nyquist stated in an email. “The new owners want to keep it that way. This community meeting is a chance to lay out the ownership change to the town and offer residents an opportunity to ask questions.”

The organization was formed in the spring by team members of the group, many of whom were raised or currently live in Fairfield, Nyquist said.

Jamon Frostenson, one of the new nonprofit members, is the grandson of the mountain’s founder, Bob Frostenson. 

“After learning to ski at Soldier Mountain in their youth, [the members of the nonprofit] have spent countless hours skiing the mountain and appreciate the truly unique, family-friendly skiing experience it offers,” states a news release issued Tuesday. “Soldier Mountain Ski Area Inc. is dedicated to creating a community-centered, sustainable business model, with an eye toward future development and expanding the resort’s skier base.”

“We are excited to start this venture and extremely grateful for the generosity of Mr. Willis and his team,” Varin said. “They have given a gift that has an instant impact on the community and will continue to provide benefits for generations.”

Soldier Mountain Ski Area, with 1,150 acres of skiing, has been a family ski destination on U.S. Forest Service land since 1948. Skiers who visit the mountain experience short lift lines, varied terrain and proximity to both the Magic and Treasure valleys.

A news release states that the new entity anticipates the donation to be complete before the start of the 2012-13 ski season. Ski area consultants and planners the SE Group are assisting with the transition.

According to the news release, the donation is the first time that a fully operational ski area has been completely donated to a tax-exempt, locally run, nonprofit organization.

“I couldn't be more pleased with the organization that will be responsible for the management of the Soldier Mountain Ski Area,” Willis said in a prepared statement. “The community came together, established the SMSA organization, and now assures its continued success. It was exciting to see that the very people who ski at Soldier care so much about its future. I wish them the very best.”

The ski area has a base elevation of 5,800 feet, 39 ski trails, a vertical drop of about 1,400 feet and a backcountry snowcat skiing program.

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