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Frost Fire eyes new goals with ownership change

WALHALLA, N.D.—The Frost Fire ski resort of Walhalla has officially changed hands.

The Pembina Gorge Foundation closed the purchase of the resort June 19, purchasing it from the original owner, Judith Johnson, for $1.067 million.

And the foundation has big plans for the facility, said its interim executive director, Kristi Wilfahrt.

"There's so much excitement around this project from so many areas," she said.

Much of what Frost Fire has done in the 40 years since its opening—such as theater and, of course, skiing—will be continued under the direction of the foundation, but significant changes are also in store.

One of the main changes the foundation has planned is the addition of a mountain bike terrain park, which Wilfahrt said could be open by the fall. The terrain park will utilize the ski slopes, making Frost Fire a destination year-round. The foundation also plans to move its headquarters into the resort's lodge.

For now, the foundation is focused on tending to the facility's immediate needs, including fixing the decommissioned chairlift and replacing shingles and skiing equipment Wilfahrt said. She also noted that there is much work to be done on the facility, amounting to $1.6 million in necessary renovations.

And the foundation isn't stopping after Frost Fire.

"Frostfire is really 5 percent of the bigger vision, but it's 95 percent of what can make the rest of this all happen," said Wilfahrt. Their vision encompasses the entire Pembina Gorge area and will make it more accessible with more to do.

Enhancing the experience in the Pembina Gorge means a variety of activities and changes coming to the area. Wilfahrt said there are 22 miles of trails throughout the gorge and extending those to connect with Frost Fire is a goal the foundation has identified. It also hopes to bring kayaking, canoeing, educational programs, fossil digging and a campground to the area. Wilfahrt also said it wants to make the gorge accessible to those with disabilities.

The Foundation

"The mission of the foundation is to preserve what we have, preserve the gorge, but also enhance that experience for people." Wilfahrt said.

The Pembina Gorge Foundation was incorporated in January, in response to the threat of Frost Fire disappearing.

"If we lost Frost Fire we'd miss the most tremendous opportunity ever to capitalize on the natural aesthetic there," she said.

As interim executive director, Wilfahrt said much of her job is fundraising. The foundation has set a goal of raising $3.1 million for the entire project, including Frost Fire and the Pembina Gorge Plan, and has raised $1.1 million in private donations and grants so far.

"It really is a legacy project for the state of North Dakota," she said.