By Jayson Jacoby
After almost three years, quasi-public ownership of Anthony Lakes ski area no longer seems like an experiment to Alice Trindle.
Trindle, a longtime skier, ski instructor and one of five members of the board of directors for the nonprofit Baker County Development Corporation, which owns the ski area 35 miles northwest of Baker City, believes the switch to public ownership has proved its merit.
During the 2012-13 ski season, the third since the resort's former owners turned it over to Baker County, which then transferred the operation to the nonprofit corporation, Anthony Lakes employed more than 100 people with a payroll of $400,000, and it bought almost half a million dollars in goods and services from businesses in Baker and Union counties, said Trindle, who lives near Haines.
And those figures don't include money that visiting skiers spent in local motels, restaurants and other businesses, she said.
The "Stay and Ski" program, which has motel-and-ski packages for visitors, has proven popular, and helped to entice more skiers from the Portland area, Trindle said.
Motels in La Grande, Baker City and North Powder booked more than 300 room nights last winter through the program, according to a press release from Anthony Lakes.
Peter Johnson, Anthony Lakes general manager, emphasized the ski area's economic benefits in the press release.
"There is no doubt that the communities of Baker City, North Powder and La Grande have seen a stabilization of their winter business due to the economic contributions of Anthony Lakes ski area," he said.
Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners, said there was trepidation in July 2010 when he and fellow commissioners Tim K. Kerns and Carl Stiff voted to accept the ski area from the three couples who had owned it since 1998.
The chief concern was that the county would fare no better than the previous owners, who said they had lost an average of $45,000 per year over the past several ski seasons - except the taxpayers could be forced to make good any losses.
Transferring the business to the nonprofit corporation quelled that concern.
And as it turned out, after three seasons the corporation has "in excess of $150,000" in reserves, Warner said.
"We went into it with the hopes of saving Anthony Lakes as our number one winter attraction, and something that's really important to the community," he said. "After three operating years, the community has supported Anthony beyond my wildest expectations."
Both Trindle and Warner referred questions about the number of skier visits to Johnson, who could not be reached for comment.
Warner said visits were up slightly this season compared with last.
He said the new nonprofit got a boost before its first season when skiers flocked to buy season passes after the price was cut.
Daily lift ticket prices that season also were trimmed, from $39 per day to $35 for adults.
Warner said that of the local skiers, who are the ski area's largest clientele, about 60 percent live in Union County, and 40 percent in Baker County.
In addition to the boost in pass sales that first year, the Baker County Transient Room Tax Committee gave the nonprofit corporation $30,000 for marketing.
Union County chipped in $20,000, and commissioners there also approved a 10-year exemption on property taxes, which saves the corporation about $4,500 per year.
(The lodge and other structures are just across the Union County border.)
Warner said that due to the corporation's nonprofit status, surplus revenues are used to upgrade equipment and facilities.
Last year, for instance, the owners focused on improving the lodge.
This summer, significant maintenance work on the triple chairlift is needed, Warner said.
Besides the contributions from Baker and Union counties, Warner cited assistance from the Leo Adler Foundation, which sponsored the "Ski For the Health of It" program that brought more than 160 students from local schools to the mountain on several Fridays last winter.
Both Warner and Trindle said they're optimistic about the ski area's future.
"We have a great management team in place," Trindle said. "This is our ski area, and we want to take pride in it and share it with other people."