FAIRFIELD • Family stories weave across the face of Soldier Mountain like the tracks left in the snow by their skis.
Tracy Gill’s family has been skiing on Soldier for at least 30 years. Her oldest daughter was on the ski patrol, and her youngest taught in the ski school. Tracy and her husband, Michael, were both active in the 4-H Ski Club. Now they are bringing their grandchildren to slopes their family has skied for years.
Soldier Mountain “is a vital part of our community,” she said.
Kristi Schiermeier of Bruneau not only learned how to ski here in the sixth grade, she met her husband, Don, here. He was a ski instructor, and friends set them up on a blind date.
“It’s such an amazing mountain,” Kristi said. “It has sentimental value.”
The Schiermeiers owned Soldier Mountain for two years before selling it to Hollywood actor Bruce Willis in the late 1990s. In early October, Willis donated it to a recently formed nonprofit organization.
Three of the group’s five board members — Will Varin, Jamon Frostenson and Russell Schiermeier — grew up in Fairfield, graduated from Camas County High School and learned to ski at Soldier Mountain. The other two board members, William Wardwell and Robert Thomas, are attorneys with Varin in Boise and skiers who have expertise working with nonprofits.
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On Oct. 26, Varin and Frostenson were at Soldier Mountain making sure the ski area was moving ahead with renovations and repairs for the upcoming ski season. A fine dusting of snow speckled the mountains surrounding the lodge. Further up the mountain, where the ski lift descended until it was more than mere lines, the snow was thicker.
Varin, Frostenson and Schiermeier were friends who stayed in touch after they graduated, but now because of the mountain they have been seeing a lot more of each other.
“It’s brought the Fairfield boys back,” Varin said.
Jamon Frostenson’s tie to the mountain goes all the way back to his grandfather, Bob Frostenson, one of Soldier Mountain’s founders.
“I feel really privileged to have this opportunity; it’s something you always thought about grow up,” Jamon said. “We’d always speculate what we’d do as we rode the ski lift, and now we get to try out those ideas.”
Jamon still lives and farms in Fairfield on land that his ancestors farmed since 1905.
In 1948, Bob and his friend Harry Durall founded Soldier Mountain after watching the 1948 Winter Olympic tryouts in Sun Valley. To start the business back then cost $10,000. In 1953, Durall sold his portion of the ski area to Bob Frostenson’s brother, Sten Frostenson, and Levard Hansen.
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From the beginning the ski area’s owners wanted it to be a place for families, and today that is still the goal.
Kristi and Don Schiermeier, parents of board member Russell Schiermeier, were up at the lodge on Oct. 26, volunteering their time to make sure repairs were made and renovations done. For the past 76 days they have been staying in a motor home parked in front of the lodge.
“We wanted to help keep Soldier going,” Kristi said.
So far 200 gallons of paint have been used to transform the army-green buildings to match the lodge’s colors. The bathrooms are being renovated and recarpeted.
“I painted over paint that I painted 15 years ago,” Kristi said.
She called Willis’ donation of the mountain to Fairfield a huge gift.
“I think he realized it was a part of the local history of the community,” Kristi said.
Varin said he learned how to ski at Soldier Mountain when he was 3. This is also where his father learned to ski.
When he heard that Willis was looking to donate the mountain to a local nonprofit, he knew just whom to approach to form one.
Varin, Jamon Frostenson and Russell Schiermeier, though they did not all graduate the same year, were all student body presidents and their classes’ valedictorians. And they all grew up skiing the mountain.
On the board, they do not get paid and all their time is volunteered. There are about 50 full-time paid employees during the ski season, and during the summer a skeleton crew of five to 10 people.
“We don’t own it. It’s the nonprofit entity that owns it; it’s a community-owned mountain,”Varin said.
An Oct. 11 town hall meeting to inform the community of the changes was well attended, Varin said. In a town with a population of 400, about 100 people showed up.
“Everyone was excited to have back it back in local hands,” Varin said.
In addition to repairs and renovations, Varin said, he sees a lot of potential to develop once they create a long-term plan. For this year they are working on implementing cat skiing in the backcountry, which has lapsed over the years. He said this type of skiing would give people access to ungroomed and more advanced terrain powder.
“We are really focusing on getting the ski school and ski programs back on the mountain,” Varin said.
The board members are trying to push the ski area’s presence on social media and with advertising. They have revamped Soldier Mountain’s logo and ordered merchandise.
Varin revealed the black Soldier Mountain shirt underneath his jacket as he and Jamon reminisced about their high school days up at the mountain and the hours spent looking for the perfect ski line.