Since the early 1990s, Bruce Willis has owned Soldier Mountain Ski Area near Fairfield, and now hes giving it back to people with long-time ties to the Fairfield community.
I couldnt be more pleased with the organization that will be responsible for the management of Soldier Mountain Ski Area, Willis said in a press release. 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.
It was a whirlwind of circumstances that started last April when word trickled out that Willis was considering donating the ski area.
A nonprofit group formed and the community of Fairfield quickly got on board to bring ownership back into local hands, according to Will Varin, president of the nonprofit that now operates the mountain.
It went from idea to execution in a matter of weeks, he said.
Varin is a Boise attorney and graduate of Camas County High School in Fairfield. Varin not only learned to ski at Soldier Mountain, so did his father, Jack.
Varin and Soldier Mountain vice president Jamon Frostenson of Fairfield and treasurer Russell Schiermeier of Bruneau all skied at the mountain as kids.
We all grew up there and have family ties with the mountain, Varin said.
Frostenson is the grandson of the areas founder, Bob Frostenson, and his father, Jack Frostenson is a former mountain manager there.
Schiermeier learned to ski there and also worked there with his family.
Weve got that legacy, and theres a passing of the torch, and now its our turn, Varin said.
The group spent the summer repainting buildings at the ski area and working on the ski lift to ensure its reliability.
They also added two used snow cats for grooming and backcountry skiing.
Varin said theres renewed energy at the mountain, and the community of Fairfield is looking forward to hosting skiers and boarders who are familiar with the area, and first-timers who want to experience the roots of the sport.
Its an honor and a privilege to do it, Varin said. At the end of the day, we dont own the mountain, its a community mountain.
For the most part, people will see similar things at the 1,425 vertical-foot mountain that they have seen in recent years, but Soldier is revamping its catskiing program.
Varin said they are currently working with the Forest Service to renew the permits, and operators are looking at a two-prong catskiing program.
Skiers and boarders could take a traditional day-long, backcountry catski trip, or a cat will also leave for short trips within the ski area boundaries to serve slopes outside the lift-served runs.
Over the longer term, Varin and his fellow board members are working to ensure the ski area is financially sound and sustainable.
It has operated continuously since the late 1940s, and it has a history of being profitable, Varin said.
Because its now a non-profit, all revenues beyond expenses will be put back into the ski area, which could mean new lifts and possibly expansion in the future.
For now, Varin hopes people will take a trip or two to Soldier Mountain this winter to experience inexpensive and uncrowded skiing.
Varin points out that a family of four can ski for about the same price as one lift ticket at Sun Valley.
And while the lodge is small in comparison to other ski areas and there are only two lifts, Soldier Mountains acreage and vertical feet are similar to larger resorts.
It doesnt have a small mountain feel, Varin said.
And another incentive, with the lifts only running four days a week, the snow piles up and there are lots of chances to find untracked powder.
Varin and his crew are excited to get started and welcome the next generation of families skiing at Soldier Mountain.
We want this to be a great experience, he said.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors