The new operators of Mt. Spokane Ski Area want to calm the fears of skiers worried about who’s running the resort this year.
Arbitrators decided late Wednesday that Mount Spokane 2000, picked by the state to operate the ski area, must pay the current owners $1.375 million to take over.
Mt. Spokane Ski Corp., owned by Gregg Sowder and his family, has run the ski hill for the past 20 years, but lost the concession to Mount Spokane 2000 in 1996.
“The state will take pride in our operation after we’ve had an opportunity to prove ourselves,” said Ted Stiles, of Mount Spokane 2000, a nonprofit group of local business and civic leaders unhappy with the way the resort was run.
“We want families to return to Mount Spokane.”
While an appraisal three years ago valued the resort’s assets at $3.5 million, Mount Spokane 2000 argued that the value is closer to $1 million. Assets include the lodge, five chairlifts and other equipment.
Sowder couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday, but his attorney, Todd Startzel, said Sowder’s company will continue to operate the resort until final details are worked out.
“We have to continue to operate it until we’ve been paid and everything has been transferred,” Startzel said.
The major hurdle to transferring operations is Sowder’s lawsuit, pending in Thurston County Superior Court. The suit against the state and Mount Spokane 2000 contests the transfer of the concession.
The state owns the ski resort and accepts bids every 20 years to determine who will operate it.
To pay Sowder and operate the ski area, Stiles said his group will quickly arrange for financing - probably a combination of loans and revenue bonds floated by a public development authority set up by Spokane County.
The group plans to start selling season passes in two to three weeks and open the resort this winter, Stiles said.
There will be no major changes in ticket prices, he added. An adult season pass cost $200 last year, with a junior pass selling for $70.
Season pass holders and other skiers were angered last year when Mount Spokane cut back to a four-day schedule and closed earlier than other ski hills despite record snowfalls.
The new owners plan to hire Snow Engineering of Bellevue, Wash., to operate Mount Spokane during its first year while the new owners sort out the resort’s finances. After that, Mount Spokane 2000 plans to hire a full-time manager for the mountain.
Snow Engineering has been involved in management of Whistler, north of Vancouver, B.C., and Crystal Mountain in Western Washington, Stiles said.
Thursday’s news was a relief to Spokane business owners who rely on the ski area.
“It’s like a roller coaster. The emotions run so high and so low,” said Louis Kneubuhler, owner of Loulou’s Sports Shops.
Many of the region’s ski resorts have been in financial or legal turmoil in recent years, he said, which is nerve-racking for businesses.
“This announcement for Mount Spokane will bring a stability that is badly needed,” Kneubuhler said.
An important part of the decision, he added, is that the group running the ski area is a nonprofit. That means any money made will be used to improve facilities, not pad the owners’ pocketbooks, he said.
“It’s not how much this is going to bring to investors, it’s how much it’s going to bring back to amenities for the mountain,” he said.