Ski Anthony owners say price hikes necessary
Owners say they’ve been operating the ski resort at a small but consistent loss since they bought it in 1998
With almost 5 feet of snow on the slopes, the triple chairlift is running and the cross- country trails are groomed and ready for skiers at Ski Anthony Lakes.
Although some fees have gone up at the resort, it’s still a bargain among Northwest ski areas, said general manager Bill Junnila.
“The biggest change is in the all mountain ticket prices, which went up from $35 to $39,” Junnila said. “That’s the main one. The rest are pretty nominal.
“Even with the increases we are still substantially under the cost to ski as our nearest competitor — Bluewood ski area outside Dayton, Wash., at $42,” he said.
Junnila said the season pass prices won’t change for this year, but will increase for the 2010-11 season.
The resort’s owners said the price increases were necessary to reverse their small, but consistent, operating losses.
“We just recognized that we have been losing money on the resort for the past 10 years, and we decided we had to do something to stem the losses,” said Lee Kearney of Vancouver, Wash., who owns the ski area along with his wife, Connie, and partners, Kim and Dana Kutsch of Jefferson, Ore., and Parke and Gail Ball, also of Vancouver, Wash.
“It isn’t losing a huge amount of money. It almost breaks even, so the fee increases are minimal,” Lee Kearney said.
While the three families own the resort buildings, chair lift and business, they lease the property from the U.S. Forest Service.
Lee Kearney said all of the owners have strong ties to the ski resort and to the Baker area.The Kearneys, Balls and Kutches bought Ski Anthony Lakes in 1998 from Dwaine Shubert, who lives in Union County and recently celebrated his 80th birthday.
Kearney said Shubert remained involved in management until he was in his mid 70s.
“We all recognize the value of the ski resort. I met my wife, Connie, there when I came up from Oregon State with one of my fraternity bothers,” Kearney said. “We wound up getting married in Baker.
“If not for the ski resort at Anthony Lakes, I might not have met my wife, so it is a special place to us.”
Parker Ball skied at Anthony Lakes as a member of the Junior Olympic racing team, and Dana Kutsch skied at Anthony Lakes when she was a kid growing up in the Baker area.
“As owners we recognize it is a real gem for Baker and Union counties. The ski resort is our connection to the communities where part of our families grew up,” Lee Kearney said.
He pointed out that even though the resort hasn’t been profitable, the owners have made improvements.
“As owners we have done quite a bit,” Kearney said, including replacing the double chairlift with a triple, renovating the lodge and adding to the network of groomed cross-country trails, snowmobile trails and back country skiing.
Kearney said the resort was bustling during the Christmas break — normally its busiest period as college students come home for the holidays.
Ski Anthony Lakes’ primary market is Baker and Union counties, but Kearney said the resort also draws skiers from elsewhere in Eastern Oregon, as well as the Portland and Boise metro areas.
“Recognizing that Anthony Lakes ski resort is one of the top five attractions in the region, the Baker County marketing program/Base Camp Baker has partnered with Anthony Lakes to help with its winter marketing across the region,” said Andrew Bryan, the county’s marketing director.
The area’s other top attractions include the Sumpter Valley Railroad, Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and historic downtown Baker City, Bryan said.
“I know the news just broke that they are struggling, but we have been aware of that for quite some time and have maintained a focus to help support Anthony Lakes, just like we do with some of the other partners in tourism,” he said.
He said the county’s marketing committee contributed $3,000 toward a $5,000 winter campaign promoting Ski Anthony Lakes with ads in Ski Oregon Magazine and Treasure Valley Family Magazine, as well as radio spots on FM station 94.9-The River, in the Treasure Valley.
“We wanted to make sure Anthony Lakes had a presence in Ski Oregon Magazine, so we helped fund ads featuring Anthony Lakes with local lodgers, who participated in the co-op ads,” Bryan said.
He said the winter ads also feature snowmobiling in Halfway and Sumpter.
The final cost to the county for the Ski Oregon Magazine ads was about $3,000, after the co-op partners paid their portions, Bryan said.
Those magazine ads reached 110,000 people, Bryan said. Ski Oregon is published by Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism promotion agency.
“This month our radio spots on station 94.9 and our ads in Treasure Valley Family Magazine go to 40,000 people in the Treasure Valley, featuring skiing at Anthony Lakes and snowmobile poker runs and women’s weekend in Halfway,” Bryan said.
He said the Base Camp Baker marketing strategy combines tourism and recreation promotions such as winter skiing and snowmobiling with cultural heritage tourism.
“Promoting the Friday art walk and skiing on Saturday. That is the type of travel that balances those two elements — winter recreation with cultural heritage,” Bryan said.
Lee Kearney said Ski Anthony Lakes’ owners have already submitted plans and completed an environmental analysis through the Forest Service to add another chairlift and make further expansions at the lodge in anticipation of increasing use of the ski resort.
“It’s a unique area. We have some of the best powder snow in the Northwest. For seniors and others who don’t want the downhill skiing or snowboarding, we have some of the best Nordic tracks in the state.
“We have a good variety of terrain, and most years we have good snow far into the spring season beyond the last ski days in mid-April,” Kearney said.
“One thing that’s new this year is the Black Lake Nordic Trail,” said Junnila.
He said the owners are committed to keeping the ski resort open, but said “they frankly don’t understand why more locals aren’t up there taking advantage of this wonderful skiing opportunity.
“This is a recreational opportunity they are providing on what is essentially a nonprofit basis because they love this area and have family ties here,” Junnila said.
As more people discover the excellent snow conditions and facilities at Anthony Lakes, Kearney said the owners will be happy to step up and invest in more improvements.
However, he said the core users of Anthony Lakes will likely always be the local area residents, and “if the public wants this activity to succeed, they need to use it more.”