Keep ski area as vital part of local scene

By Observer editorial August 20, 2010 11:57 am
Sure, it’s no Aspen. Or Whistler. Yet little old Ski Anthony Lakes does have much to boast. The area in the Elkhorn Mountains west of North Powder has the highest base elevation (7,100 feet above sea level) of any ski area in Oregon — and incredible, breathtaking views. The ski area 40 miles southwest of La Grande boasts the driest deep powder snow in the region and, best of all to many winter sports enthusiasts, virtually no lift lines.
The ski area has a long and storied history. By the early 1940s, a rope tow had been put up and the area was running as maintained by the Anthony Lakes Playground Association, Evergreen Ski Club and a lot of enthusiastic volunteers. Then in 1962, with some assurance from Gov. Hatfield that the access road would be plowed, a poma lift was installed. Day lodge and chair lift completion took place by 1967, and the Little Ski Lift That Could was off and

Now, however, the legacy of this resort, popularly known as the “Friendliest Little Ski Area in America,” is in doubt.

We applaud the Baker County commissioners for schussing to the rescue. The commissioners recently voted to take control of the Ski Anthony Lakes resort. And they have the right idea, long term, in transferring responsibility for the ski area to a non-profit group and keeping the direct burden from the shoulders of taxpayers.

Three couples have owned the resort — chairlift, lodge and other buildings — since 1998, and offered earlier this year to give the resort as a gift to the county. The resort is on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The owners say they’ve lost an average of $45,000 a year for the past several years.

The move will probably save numerous jobs, both full-time and part-time, and in a recession every job is important. When the economy rebounds, the ski area should get more business again and become more profitable. A road improvement project currently under way should improve access to the ski area and speed its return to profitability.

If the ski area closes down, according to terms of its current 40-year lease with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, the owner will need to remove the improvements. That would be a shame. The ski area has been an important part of the local scene for more than half a century and is a tremendous asset to the region.