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A fiscal cliffhanger at Bogus Basin ski area

Bogus Basin is one of the most underrated ski areas in North America.

First of all there are the prices. While season passes at other places are edging dangerously close to $2,000, at Bogus this year they were a mere $179 for those wise enough to buy early. After Dec. 1, they’re still only $429.

Bogus is delightfully close to town. It’s usually covered in snow when it’s supposed to be, though last year was a notable exception. Lift lines are quick, and there are plenty of places to park. The lodge is too small and at lunchtime becomes dysfunctionally crowded. However, there’s space aplenty for tailgating outside.

And Bogus is accessible enough to welcome a wide range of skiers and would-be skiers through its programs. In some places, skiing is so expensive that I’m pretty sure it’s going to join polo as the sport of kings. At Bogus, it’s still the sport of working stiffs and their kids.

The managers of Bogus, which has been a nonprofit organization for five years, pride themselves on making skiing available to many. Affordability is built into the company’s mission statement. General Manager Alan Moore grew up in Boise, but he said he didn’t learn how to ski there; in those days, he couldn’t afford Bogus. He didn’t make his first trip to Bogus until 1974, when he was out of college.

Accordingly, Moore and other Bogus executives are alarmed about proposals in Congress to cap all itemized tax deductions, which would seriously undercut donors’ incentives to give to nonprofits like Bogus.

Bogus isn’t just a local nonprofit; it’s a fairly large employer, certainly the largest in Boise County. Employment at Bogus is a mere 35 in the summer months, but it balloons to 700 full and part-timers in the winter.

The automatic cuts that have prompted talk of a “fiscal cliff aren’t as much of a concern for Bogus as they are for the nonprofits that feed, clothe and house the very poor. Those groups see their workload increase when funding for social programs is whittled away.

But Bogus would be hit hard by any cap on itemized deductions, another budget-cutting proposal getting serious consideration from policymakers.

The ski area has an annual budget of about $10 million a year, most of which it makes from selling ski passes, food and beverages, rentals, ski lessons and other services. But it collects the money it needs for capital expenditures from donations. Back in 2006, Bogus launched a $24 million capital campaign to pay for a new lift, some ski school improvements, and an expansion of crowded lodge. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation paid for improvements on Chair 3, a high-speed quad that is now in place.

When the economy started hotdogging it downhill in, Bogus’ managers abandoned the rest of the campaign.

Instead, they’re starting a much smaller effort, with a special pass for $100 donors. There’s no timetable for a new capital campaign, but Moore said the next one will aim much lower, about $12 million instead of the $24 million.

While foundations will still be in the mix, Moore expects most of that money to come from individual donations.

The proposed deduction cap is expected to limit deductions to a specific level such as $15,000 to $25,000. Yet, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of all the states, Idahoans already take deductions worth $22,000 in other areas, such as real estate, mortgages, and state income tax. That wouldn’t leave much money for charitable donations.

Would a federal tax policy change that far-reaching put Bogus out of business? Probably not. But it would certainly be bad news for the folks who are looking forward to enjoying more elbow room in the ski lodge.

Anne Wallace Allen is managing editor of Idaho Business Review.


About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.