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Frost Fire chair lift could cost $1.35 million to replace, foundation says

Joshua Johnson, flanked by friends Daniel Mac, left, and Warren Mac, lead a pack of chairlift riders to the top of Frost Fire for another run on the slopes. Johnson is the grandson of Frost Fire developers Dick and Judith Johnson who opened the ski resort near Walhalla on Christmas Day 35 years ago. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

WALHALLA, N.D.—A decades-old chair lift at a northeast North Dakota ski resort could cost more than $1 million to replace.

The Frost Fire Ski and Snowboard Area near Walhalla "will not be fully operational" this winter after staff realized maintenance problems for a triple chair lift were worse than expected, according to a news release from the Pembina Gorge Foundation. The group's board thought it would take about $80,000 to fix the chair lift.

"It's unfortunate—the condition of the chair lift," Foundation Board Director Pat Chaput said in a statement. "The Board of Directors and development team didn't anticipate the need to replace the entire chair (lift).

"The reality is, to fix the chair lift we have, it would cost over $400,000."

The chair lift model is from the 1950s, though towers were installed more than 40 years ago, according to the release. The chairs and other components were replaced 20 years ago.

Resort engineer Howard Anderson said he would not assist in fixing the chair lift, citing its "dire condition." Instead, he offered to help with replacement, the release stated.

A used chair lift could cost between $600,000 and $700,000, while a new one likely would have a price tag of $1.35 million

The foundation closed on a deal in June to by the Frost Fire resort from the recreational area's original owner, Judith Johnson, for roughly $1 million. Created in January, the foundation received support from state and local government agencies in hopes of making the resort more of a tourism attraction for northeast North Dakota.

The organization intended to raise $3.1 million for the venture, but that goal will increase with the cost of the chair lift replacement and other facility needs. The foundation also wants to have a $1 million endowment, the release stated.

Winter operations were limited to tubing last year due to problems with the ski lift. Tubing, the beginners hill, snowboard terrain park, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing should be available this year, according to the release.

Safety is a primary concern, but the foundation wants to "find the right solution fiscally," foundation President Rachel Gornowicz said in the release.

"Frost Fire will be back safer, stronger and better than ever," she said.

It's unclear how the foundation will proceed, but it hopes to be fully operational by July, according to the release.

The resort has been working to boost hospitality amenities, such as organizing various programs and offering food and beverage services. Construction has begun on a mountain bike terrain park at the resort, with a soft opening planned for the spring.

Frost Fire is about 110 miles northwest of Grand Forks.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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