Ski Bluewood fans faced the closure of their small family-sized hometown ski hill this winter. But locals, led by two ski instructors, rushed in at the last minute to purchase the southeast Washington ski area to keep it open this winter.

Kelly and Michael Stephenson hope to close on the purchase of the ski area by Nov. 22. The couple are finding themselves to be the unlikely operators of the resort. "It's not like we dreamed of owning a ski area," Kelly told us. "We all thought someone would step in, but we didn't think it would be us."

The former owners of Ski Bluewood operated the resort for the past 26 years and wanted to retire. But no one stepped forward to purchase the resort. That's when the Stephensons started talking to other skiers in the area, rounding up enough investors to purchase the ski area. Michael, who has taught skiing at the resort for 15 years, hooked most of the local investors with a singular vision-that skiing and riding provides kids with self-esteem.

The Stephensons, under an agreement with the former owners, are scrambling even before the purchase closes to get the ski hill ready for winter. "The owners intended to close, so they left in spring with no maintenance done," explained Kelly. Two chairlifts needed maintenance and inspections, and the lodge needed some work, among other projects.

Ski Bluewood, which relies totally on natural snowfall, plans to be ready to open by the first or second weekend in December. The location 21 miles south of Dayton in the Blue Mountains usually starts seeing snow by Thanksgiving at the latest.

Plans for the future of Bluewood include updating the lodge and perhaps adding summer hiking and mountain biking trails. "People that have skied for years have seen the writing on the wall. It's tired. It'll take us a couple years to get it nursed back up to speed," said Kelly. "But then, we'd like to raise it to its full potential."