A plan to improve snowmaking infrastructure at Frost Fire Park awaiting approval for federal funding
Artificial snow plays an important role in keeping the ski hills open, which is why the Pembina Gorge Foundation plans to completely replace and expand Frost Fire Park’s snowmaking infrastructure.
Dustin Gorder estimates 99% of snow on ski hills at Frost Fire Park is artificial. The Pembina Gorge Foundation board member is in charge of snowmaking and grooming for the park near Walhalla, North Dakota.
“Last year, the entire time we were open, we only had about two or three inches of real snow the entire time, but we were open and skiing on several feet of snow,” said Gorder.
Artificial snow plays an important role in keeping the ski hills open, which is why the Pembina Gorge Foundation plans to completely replace and expand Frost Fire Park’s snowmaking infrastructure. The foundation is waiting to hear whether the project will receive a requested $2.2 million in federal funding from the Economic Development Association (EDA).
The snowmaking infrastructure improvement project is expected to cost around $2.8 million. The foundation has already secured 900,000 from the state through a legislative grant awarded to the Cavalier County Job Development Authority, and is hoping to round out the cost with an American Rescue Plan grant through the EDA.
Frost Fire Park’s current snowmaking system is original to the park, said Gorder.
“It’s 40-year-old infrastructure and a lot of it has just become inoperable,” said Gorder. “The pipes and everything that are underground have rusted out to the point that they don’t hold water anymore, and the pumps are really old.”
The park opened as Frost Fire Ski Area & Amphitheater in 1976 under Richard and Judith Johnson. Since 2017, the park has been owned and operated by the Pembina Gorge Foundation , which has been steadily making improvements. In 2018, a new four-seat chairlift was installed, and in July 2021, the summer downhill mountain bike trails were completed . Between 2017 and March 2021, $4.6 million in private and public funds were invested.
Most of the runs at Frost Fire park have water and electric lines that run alongside them. Portable snow machines, which can be moved up and down the slopes, are connected to these lines to make snow. The plan to improve the snowmaking system will put stationary machines along the hills, with new electric and water lines on all hills, including the two runs that do not have any snowmaking infrastructure. It will also replace the water intake system, holding pond and pumps used for making snow.
Frost Fire Park’s current snowmaking system takes a couple of weeks after temperatures drop below freezing to make enough snow to open slopes. With a new snowmaking system, that time could drop to around 100 hours. This would allow the park to be open a few weekends earlier, putting the opening date closer to Thanksgiving, like some other regional parks. This year, the park opened for skiing on Dec. 12.
Dawn Mandt, Pembina Gorge Foundation board member and Red River Regional Council executive director, says previous projects and the planned snowmaking improvements are just the beginning of the Pembina Gorge Foundation’s plans to improve Frost Fire Park in the near future.
“This project will kind of shore up our key infrastructure pieces and really set the foundation for the rest of the ideas,” said Mandt.
Those ideas include adding lighting to runs to allow the park to remain open after dark, expanding parking, increasing accessibility in the lodge and other facility improvements. Mantz hopes that in the future, the park will draw as many as 20,000 visitors in a year.
“There are 1.2 million people within a two hour’s drive of the Pembina Gorge," Mandt said. "So that’s always been, for me, the testament to the market potential for this project.”
The EDA is conducting an environmental assessment required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 for any project requesting federal funding, and is accepting, until Jan. 10, written comments about any potential environmental impacts.