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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The resistance to becoming for-profit is centered primarily on the fact that the resort is a capital investment that is only used for about three months each year. There are biking and hiking trails and a disc golf course that are used during the off months, but the vast majority of revenue enters the coffers during the winter, while Bogus treads water--at best--the rest of the year.

The fact that the resort depends on natural snowfall, which can vary greatly between years, has minimal snow-making capabilities, and the uncertainty of when a season will begin and end all combine to limit Bogus Basin's revenue-generating ability, which makes a long-term financial commitment all but untenable for potential investors. Additionally, there would be statutory problems with selling the resort to a for-profit enterprise. The legal process would be cumbersome and complicated, and Shirley and the board of directors have no desire to go that route.

Of course, there are some financial benefits to being a nonprofit as well.

"We don't pay any income taxes," said Shirley, adding that any income typically would be written off as depreciation of the equipment. "We don't pay any property taxes, and we can raise tax-deductible contributions for capital improvements."

That last point has been the impetus for Bogus Basin's fund-raising campaign, because the resort changed from a 501(c)(4) to a 501(c)(3) organization in 2005, which paved the way for Bogus to accept contributions that donors could write off on their taxes.

According to National Ski Areas Association President Michael Berry, Bogus is a standout in the industry.

"Bogus' situation is somewhat unique in that their setup allows for tax-deductible charitable contributions. It was a unique asset in a unique situation with a unique amount of support. It allows for a high degree of community involvement. There are no parallel examples, though others have looked at it," Berry said.

The process of making resort improvements is vastly different at Idaho's most well-known resort, Sun Valley, where all major projects are self-funded.

Basically if the money is there and the upgrade makes sense--as was the case two years ago when a new gondola was installed--they will invest in the change, according to Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley marketing manager.

It's much the same story in nearby Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the area's largest ski hill, the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, is owned in whole by the Kemmerer family. JHMR Marketing Coordinator Anna Cole said the resort typically takes out traditional bank loans to pay for significant upgrades, including the recent replacement of the resort's famed aerial tram, which can carry 100 passengers. It was constructed three years ago at a cost of $32 million. This summer's improvements totaled $4.5 million.

Bogus' modification of its nonprofit status has emboldened officials to market the resort in a different way, strongly emphasizing the connection between the resort and the community and the direct impact the community can have on Bogus' success and growth.

"The 2010-2011 winter was the best financial season Bogus has ever had. The total of 354,000 skier visits was a very close second to the record set in 2009-2010," said Gretchen Anderson, Bogus Basin spokeswoman, about the benefits of this new approach and the growth it has created.

As a nonprofit, making money is not Bogus' No. 1 goal--although it is vital to operations, of course. The primary goal, from its inception to today, has been to keep people skiing.

Shirley emphasized that Bogus Basin has "always spent everything it makes on capital improvements, reinvesting in the resort."

Anderson agreed. "This new high-speed detachable quad is one of three now on the mountain, and it makes a difference. It really brings Bogus Basin into the 21st century in terms of having a high-speed quad on all sides of the mountain."

Still, any new features have to be paid for somehow, and both Anderson and Shirley said that the numerous contributions from season pass holders and others have been greatly appreciated, and more people are giving all the time.

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