Community December 21, 2020

Changing Hands

Soldier Mountain gets its 5th owners in 73 years

In 1947, friends Bob Frostenson and Hurry Durall founded Soldier Mountain Ski Area while visiting Sun Valley to watch the Olympic Team tryouts. Since then, the Fairfield ski area has had generations of new owners from actor Bruce Willis who purchased it in the late ‘90s to a non-profit to Matt and Diane McFerran. Now the mountain is in the hands of its newest owners, a group of six investors—all skiers, boarders, and backcountry enthusiasts—with a vision for keeping this iconic, historic resort just as people have come to love while making beneficial changes to help move it into the future.

A family-friendly mountain, Soldier is small but packs a punch in terms of what it offers. Two chairlifts reach up to 7,177 feet and one can even hit the backcountry bowls by skiing down the backside. Soldier’s snow cat skiing is one of the most successful operations in the country where skiers and boarders can reach 10,095 feet to access private powder, all at this unassuming resort. Kids will enjoy the magic carpet for learning and the whole family can gather after a cold day in the Lodge for food or for a pint at the Fox Den Pub.

Before purchasing Soldier Mountain, the only member of the investment group who had actually been to Soldier was Paul Alden, the only Idaho resident of the group. Alden, who lives in Driggs at the base of Targhee, had visited the mountain 30 years ago when he was running volunteer events for the intermountain region and an event scheduled at Sun Valley had to be moved to Soldier. He didn’t return again until March 2020 when the other five Utah-based investors had him go investigate this newly-for-sale ski area.

“One of the principle investors in our group somehow stumbled across the fact that Soldier was up for sale,” said Alden. “We’re all rather involved skiers and snowboarders—anything outdoor related, this group is very passionate about.” As someone who had been around the snow sports industry for roughly 40 years, Alden was the perfect person to go see what the place was like. When he did, he fell in love with it and set in motion the purchase of Soldier that would culminate with the permit transferring at the beginning of August.

Though all investors are involved in the ins and outs of Soldier Mountain, Alden is the “boots-on-the-ground” guy, commuting from Driggs to Soldier where he’s rented a house to stay in four or five days a week (often accompanied by his wife of 62 years).

Alden, who has just turned 84, refers to his position at Soldier as his “fourth failure at retirement.” In his 40 years in the snow sports industry, he has certainly experienced all facets of it from working for Burton snowboards for 10 years to a family business that installed most ski lifts that required helicopters in the western U.S. A snowboarding convert after 25 years of skiing, he even worked in the early days to get snowboarding permitted on various mountains in the U.S. and worked on the committee to get snowboarding in the Olympics. During his first “retirement,” Alden, a Level 2 snowboard instructor, taught at Targhee for 22 years.

Since indicating their interest in Soldier back in March, Alden has been under the tutelage of the mountain’s fourth owners, Matt and Diane McFerran. Both of the McFerran’s last days were in mid-October, but the transition of ownership has been successful, especially due to the majority of managers staying on.

With new ownership comes new changes, the first of which was tragically cut short prematurely. A new bike park was installed this summer with the grand opening day scheduled in August the same day that a fire came through and burned the whole operation. This also put a kibosh on another endeavor the new owners had planned to pursue: snowmaking.

“Snowmaking hadn’t been used in 30 years,” Alden said. “One immediate change was going to be getting that up and running because it would extend the season early and late.”

Because the pumphouse burned down and some 30-odd hydrants around the mountain melted, the project will take a backseat to getting other damage, like the main chairlift, back up and running. The fire did extensive damage requiring the replacement of Lift 1, the Magic Carpet, and communications lines. But rest assured, Soldier will be operating this winter season. With the priority being on getting the mountain back into the shape it was, new updates to Soldier are on the backburner…for now. But Alden and his fellow owners have plans to not only get the bike park open for next summer but to extend it as well. With a wedding already scheduled for next summer, they hope to book more events and celebrations, and also plan to keep the restaurant and lodge open for most of the summer.

“As we see ways to serve more people in more varied ways, we will act on that as quickly as we can,” Alden said. Clearly, Soldier Mountain Ski Area is here to stay.

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.