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Eagle park would serve as skier incubator

Anne-Allen_White-Bckgrnd_WEBEvery fall, people ask Scott Wasem, a farmer who for 16 years has been running the Snowhaven ski hill in Grangeville, for his winter weather forecast.

Wasem, who grows wheat, canola and barley, always has the same answer: “I’ll let you know in April.”

Like farming, the ski business relies on cooperation from the weather and is not for the faint of heart. When it snows in time for Christmas, the tiny Snowhaven, which has only a T-bar and a rope tow, is able to stay open for two weeks in a row, and that’s when it makes most of its annual profit. After that, it’s back to weekends only.

In its reliance on the weather, Snowhaven, which is owned by the city of Grangeville, is not that different from large peers like Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area or Sun Valley Resort, which must count on high snowfall and low temperatures around important holidays.

Snowhaven offers 40 to 60 acres of groomed hill with a vertical drop of 400 feet, and a 1,200-foot tubing hill with a vertical drop of about 150 feet. A day pass is $17.

During ski season, Wasem is the general manager and the jack of almost all trades. He tests the water; he hires the 30 or so people needed to run the operation. He paints the walls, and he serves as the head groomer and chief mechanic. His wife runs the ticket booth, his sister-in-law runs the kitchen, his niece works in the kitchen, and when his children were growing up, they all worked there too.

It’s at such small ski areas that many of today’s adult skiers got their start. So I was glad to hear that an even smaller one – just one-fifth the size of tiny Snowhaven – was proposed for Eagle.

Small ski areas are an ideal place for children to get their wobbly start on skis. Without them, many families with small children probably wouldn’t even tackle the expense and trouble of traveling to a major ski area, especially if they know their children are only going to last an hour or two on the slopes. I grew up skiing at a place in Canton, Mass., called Blue Hills. It’s still around, offering a vertical drop of 309 feet and 60 acres of terrain.

I’m not the only one who thinks tiny ski areas are an excellent place to train tiny skiers and boarders. Most ski area managers know this too, or they should.

Wasem said the city-owned Snowhaven serves as a training ground for skiers who later go on to ski and snowboard at Brundage, 90 miles to south.

“Brundage loves us,” Wasem said. “My main clientele is probably 9, 10 years old up to 17. After that, they go to Brundage. They can come up to Snowhaven, learn the basics and move on.”

That’s what the proposed terrain park in Eagle will do when it’s up and running: produce the young skiers and snowboarders who head to Bogus when they’re older and ready.

The terrain park, which has been approved by the Eagle City Council, is planned as a 7-acre outdoor facility for tubing, skiing and snowboarding, with snowmaking from a reservoir. As planned, it will include jumps and rails and other features sculpted from snow. It will have a 30-foot vertical hill, just a fraction of the size of Snowhaven’s.

The backers of the terrain park are going through the approval process for the water and power. They also have to convince the Ada County commissioners that the park is the right use of the land. If they can, Eagle will end up with a park that’s just the right size and place for the families who want to give their children a start in skiing. And they’ll help Idaho’s other ski areas stay busy.

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

About Anne Wallace Allen

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