Late-season snow boosts ski areas’ final weekend

Recent snow storms provided local ski areas a bounty of powder to shred. Pictured here, skiers enjoyed a great day at Cottonwood Butte Ski Area on March 2.

Twenty years is a long time, and for Snowhaven Ski & Tubing Area boss Scott Wasem, it may be enough – depending on what the Grangeville City Council decides.

During an interview with the Free Press Monday, March 11, he endorsed assistant manager Mark Vandlik to step into the role he has held for two decades.

“I’m looking at putting Mark in as manager for next year, and I’ll stay on as assistant manager,” Snowhaven boss Scott Wasem told the Free Press Monday, March 11. “That all depends on City Hall, what they think, but I think they’ll be good with that. Mark could probably take over and get through a lot of it, but I think he wants me there.”

If indeed 2019 marks that change, Wasem will be leaving the facility on solid footing.

“Our attendance was about 7,000 this year,” he told the Free Press. “We were up about a thousand people, 12 percent, or closer to 15 percent. We ended the year really good financially. From our record year we were probably up 20 percent, revenue-wise. It was just a good year.”

Saturday, March 9, marked the final day of operation this season.

“We were just up at the hill, it was 40 degrees and the snow was melting just as fast as you could imagine,” Wasem told the Free Press. “I think we quit on a good note, instead of trying to go one more weekend. We had 230 or 250 people there that day, that was our third-best day revenue wise, of the season. Through the season, the [Lewiston] valley does probably 75 percent of our revenue. We had a lot of locals up there this weekend, too.”

The 2018 season closed March 10 with fewer than 100 in attendance, he said, noting it takes about 75 tickets for the operation to break even. He said about 40 percent of those who attend ski, while about 60 percent tube.

“Last year at this time, I had all my wheat in the ground,” Wasem said. “We’re not going to see that for another month, I bet.”

He said at last check, there was about five feet of snow at the top and about four feet at the lodge – “the most I’ve ever seen in 20 years.”

Snowhaven’s work crew – about 30 employees at the peak and about 25 employees at the end – made short work of closing up shop on Sunday.

“We took all the T-bars off, we took all the handles off of the tubing hill, we brought all the pads in, we got the rope tow stowed away,” Wasem said. “The lodge is all clean, the rental shop is all clean, the kitchen, I finished cleaning it this morning, and Mark and I are in the process of putting together a list of things we need to do this summer up there.”

The list so far includes repainting the T-bar seats, rebuilding two drive motors off the groomer, and greasing the T-bar towers.

“That’ll take 4-5 hours, because it’s every tower you get up and down off the ladder,” Wasem said.

In addition to a late burst of winter, which made for the strong attendance late in the season, Wasem said he has seen increasing cooperation from local snowmobilers in recent years, who he has asked to avoid the hill during the season.

“My hat is off to them and the snowmobile club,” Wasem said. “Wherever they’d go, we’d have to go in and groom. This year, we didn’t see any of that. I personally appreciate that. Also, my hat’s off to the county road crew. Those guys do an unbelievable job making sure our roads are clean and drivable, and making it so our customers can get up there. Chad Miller and Jeff, those guys are out there when they should be and I can’t give them enough thanks.”

Cottonwood Butte also called last weekend the end of its 2019 season, while the Forest Service’s Fish Creek grooming report found 56 inches of snow, four of which was new, with a temperature of 29 degrees at about noon last Friday, March 8.

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