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Alms For the Lift: Bogus Basin's Nonprofit Ski Model Stands Alone

Ski area's 501(c)3 status means new rules/opportunities for fundraising

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As the autumn morning sun was still warming the Boise Foothills, a low, droning sound echoed across the hills. Slowly a massive helicopter rose into view, supporting an even more massive metal tower beneath its hovering bulk. Gradually, with pinpoint precision, the tower was maneuvered up the mountain and lowered inch by inch to a crew waiting to permanently anchor the tower in its new home.

While a group of local media huddled on a ridge overlooking the scene, the newest, and much anticipated addition to Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area, began to take shape. The Superior lift was being reborn as a $5 million high-speed quad, with the capacity to carry twice the number of skiers and boarders to the top of the hill in half the time of its predecessor.

Though the addition of a new lift is a big deal for any resort, the way this lift became a reality busts the traditional ski-area model. Where most resorts would have set aside funds each year and eventually taken out a loan for such a massive capital-improvement project, Bogus Basin turned to the public. From a front-page feature on the resort's website to donation boxes at the base of the hill to a text message donation system, Bogus is taking every advantage of a status that is rare in the industry--Bogus is a nonprofit.

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Despite Bogus being a major highlight of winter life in the Treasure Valley, its status as a nonprofit isn't widely known by the public. But it's that status that has allowed the resort to approach business in ways usually not found in an industry that is dependent on both the weather and the willingness of skiers and snowboarders to fork out cash for lift tickets. When is the last time you were able to text a $10 donation to help you get to fresh powder faster? (Text the message BOGUS to 20222 if you're interested.)

From the convenience-store-counter-style donation boxes mountain bikers and hikers found at the base of the hill throughout the summer to an official campaign dubbed "Make 2011 a Superior Summer," Bogus Basin officials had a clear picture of not only how much they needed, but how they would get it.

The expense of a new lift is significant for any resort but especially for one the size of Bogus Basin. With an annual budget of around $10 million, taking on the $5 million lift project has been a major undertaking.

"We're targeting $1 million in equity toward the $5 million [cost of the lift], and we're borrowing $4 million through a Home Federal Bank loan," said Mike Shirley, Bogus Basin general manager.

To date, approximately $850,000 of the $1 million goal has been raised, and the remaining gap is closing daily. The lead donation was $500,000 from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, with George and Bev Harad contributing an additional $100,000.

Bogus' status as a nonprofit traces its origin back to 1942, when a group of die-hard skiers decided to create a resort. They established the Bogus Basin Recreational Association, and this ownership structure has weathered the last 70 years.

The association is comprised of 50 members and elects a 12-person board of directors. That board appoints the general manager, a position responsible for hiring the staff to run the resort, which generally numbers 100 to 120 during the winter.

Nonprofit resorts can be found in other areas, but in most cases they are run as a branch of a municipality. In the case of Bogus Basin, Boise and the other neighboring cities do not have input into its operations, making it one-of-a-kind even among the subpopulation of nonprofit ski areas.

The thought of converting to a for-profit business has never really been pursued by Bogus' leadership, even though some resorts in the industry have been sold to real estate investment trusts and then leased back to the groups responsible for running the resorts.

"Nonprofit is the best way for Bogus Basin to be operating. I will always ask my friends to contribute to Bogus Basin, but never to invest," Shirley said.

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