The word “nonprofit” isn’t a word that’s often associated with skiing and ski resorts. The costs and profitability of operating a ski resort feels a bit like advanced calculus when you think of the infrastructure of it all, from lift ticket prices to chairlift and gondola operations to base lodges and restaurants to ski rental facilities to grooming equipment and more. It stands to reason why many ski areas are a part of a conglomerate of ski resorts. However, there are a number of ski areas around North America that are making it work as nonprofit ski areas.
Owning and operating a ski area, and especially a nonprofit ski area, is no walk in the park. Yet dotting North America, often in smaller communities, are nonprofit ski areas that are championing the sport of skiing and snowboarding, and have some great terrain to boot. Read on to discover a few of North America’s nonprofit ski areas.
Nonprofit ski areas around North America
Bogus Basin, Idaho
There’s nothing “bogus” about Bogus Basin, which got its name during the Gold Rush when swindlers were making fake gold. Today, Bogus Basin, located 16 miles from Boise, is a successful nonprofit ski area thanks to Alf Engen, known as the “father of powder skiing technique,” who selected and laid out Bogus Basin (as well as another 30 ski areas). Bogus Basin’s mission then and now is to “Make the outdoors accessible today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.”
While always a nonprofit, Bogus Basin was given 501 (c) (3) status in 2005, which made it not only a nonprofit but also a charitable organization. That means that visitors can make a tax-deductible donation. Bogus Basin Recreation operates the ski area that today is the largest non-profit recreation area in the U.S., and Southern Idaho’s largest mountain of skiable terrain at 2,600 acres. It has 1,800 feet of vertical, 10 lifts (including 4 high-speed quads), and 90 runs.
» Check out lodging options at Bogus Basin.
Bridger Bowl, Montana
Skiers have enjoyed Bridger Bowl’s slopes since the 1940s. By 1949, the State of Montana negotiated with land owners and purchased 120 acres to gain access to Gallitan National Forest and a proposed state park and ski area. The Bozeman State Park and Recreation Association was formed in 1954 and 60 volunteers opened a platter lift to the public the next season. Nonprofit status was granted with membership open to Montana residents 18 years of age and older, and the rest is history.
Bridger Bowl’s original mission still stands today: “To plan, develop and maintain facilities and services in a financially sound manner which provide the best possible skiing experience at a reasonable cost to local, regional and destination skiers.” Bridger Bowl’s incredible cooperative effort and support of local volunteers, association and board members, businesses, staff, and pass holders over the past half-century have enabled the ski area to grow from that one rope tow and a quonset hut to a major ski area with 2,500 acres of terrain, 8 chair lifts, 2,500 vertical feet, 4 lodges and a plan for future expansion as needed. Financial stability has been achieved and all net profit has been reinvested into the mountain.
» Check out lodging options at Bridger Bowl.
Cochran’s Ski Area, Vermont
The Cochran name may sound familiar, since the four kids of Mickey and Ginny Cochran all became U.S. Olympians, with Barbara Ann winning gold in the slalom in 1972. They all learned to ski and trained on their backyard hill in Richmond, Vermont, and the next generation followed up with six grandchildren making it to the U.S. Ski Team. Cochran’s Ski Area has been a nonprofit labor of love for several family generations and untold numbers of volunteers in the community have helped make it successful ever since it began in 1961. Working together as a community, each year they were able to introduce countless kids to Vermont’s favorite winter pastime.
Today, Cochran’s Ski Area hosts 2,000 kids from school programs, facilitates races/training for the next generation of Olympic hopefuls, and remains a warm, welcoming place to learn to ski. The operation is sustained by donations, income from low season pass and lift ticket fees and volunteers. Among the unique things about the ski area is Cochran’s snack bar, a centerpiece of the skiing experience here with both an array of snacks and home-cooked meals provided by local families.
Mount Ashland, Oregon
Mount Ashland, the highest peak of the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon, was named for the nearby city of Ashland, located just 8 miles north of the mountain. While bankruptcy loomed for the ski area in the early 90s, two local businessmen who had grown up skiing here got the community excited with the “Save Mount Ashland” campaign. It raised $1.7 million to found the Mount Ashland Foundation nonprofit that would run the resort.
The same formula that has worked elsewhere is at play at Mount Ashland, in which locals pay into the ski area similarly as they would a fee-based park or local swimming pool. Mount Ashland’s terrain balance favors intermediate-to-advanced skiers and riders, but beginners take advantage of low-cost rental and instruction programs.
Antelope Butte, Wyoming
Antelope Butte is located in the Northern Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming in Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area. While the ski area closed in 2004 after 44 years of operation, the Antelope Butte Foundation was formed to revitalize the ski area in 2011 and it opened with limited operations in 2018 after receiving a U.S. Forest Service permit. Antelope Butte is by no means a large ski resort, but is a nice hidden gem of a ski area with 23 runs over 225 acres served by 3 lifts. Not to mention how affordable it is; a season pass for the 2022-2023 ski season was just $300.
Antelope Butte recently expanded with the addition of a 9,200-square-foot, 3-story lodge with a grand fireplace, rental service, retail shop, weekend food and drink service, and more.
Whaleback, New Hampshire
Whaleback, located in Enfield, New Hampshire, has gone through a number of iterations and ownership changes over the decades. After some closures and ownership changes, a group of Whaleback supporters founded Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation (UVSSF), a non-profit that established the ski area as a nonprofit in 2013. An initial round of fundraising raised about $200,000, which was enough to reopen Whaleback for the 2013-2014 season.
The ski area has 30 trails on 85 acres of skiable terrain with a good mixture for beginners, intermediates and advanced skiers and riders. The longest trail is one mile long. There is one terrain park, and 60 percent of the terrain has snowmaking installed.
Shames Mountain, British Columbia
Shames Mountain Ski Area is a ski resort located 22 miles west of the city of Terrace, British Columbia. Its journey as a nonprofit began in 2008, when owners of the Shames Mountain Ski Area wanted to retire and put up the ski hill for sale. Local skiers and boarders formed Friends of Shames to find a way to keep the ski hill open and viable for long-term skiing. Eventually, Friends of Shames landed on a community service co-operative model to help sustain the ski resort, and in 2011, My Mountain Co-op (MMC) was created through the help of local residents and businesses that bought memberships and worked together to raise awareness of the co-op.
Less than two years later, in January of 2013, MMC achieved ownership of Shames Mountain Ski Area, making it Canada’s first nonprofit community service ski co-op. Shames Mountain has 28 runs, and a number of natural glades, served by a surface lift and 1 double chair. It has a vertical drop of 1,600 feet, and summit elevation of 3,900 feet.