Ski hill to open winter 2015
The newly installed chairlift at the Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl at Plumas-Eureka State Park sits at the bottom of the hill waiting for completion. The Eastern Plumas Recreation District plans to have the hill back open next winter. Photos by Carolyn Shipp
The Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl has been a common topic of conversation for Eastern Plumas County citizens over the past few years. For years the mountain has been without the echo of jubilant skiers, and the community has been left without the economic boost the winter activities could bring to the area.
However, that could very soon change. Through the collaborative efforts of the Eastern Plumas Recreation District and Plumas-Eureka State Park, as well as a myriad of other entities, the ski hill could reawaken as soon as next winter.
Yet, the question arises: How will this ski hill operate? What will prevent it from shutting down again like it did in the past?
The board members of the recreation district are prepared to answer those questions.
“We are seeing a movement in the community. People see something happening up there. I am very confident we will open next year.”
Don Fregulia, Chairman of the Board, Eastern Plumas Recreation District
What happened to the hill?
Downhill skiing has been a historical necessity of the county since the 1850s. It acted as one of the only forms of transportation during the area’s treacherous winters.
However, when the miners of the Lost Sierra organized the first downhill ski competition in the 1860s, they turned necessity into recreation and opened up a venue for winter activity that historians believe had never before been introduced in the Western Hemisphere.
The ski bowl in Johnsville, which sits at the bottom of Eureka Peak in Plumas-Eureka State Park, hosted one of the first recorded downhill ski competitions. Miners zoomed down the 2,600-foot run on their 14-foot skis at 90 miles per hour, creating a sporting and social event for residents to look forward to during the gloomy winter.
In the 1950s the Plumas Ski Club, a private nonprofit entity, adopted the hill.
For years, the club contributed immensely to the hill’s success. By installing two Poma lifts and one surface lift, the hill turned into a family-oriented venue complete with a rustic one-room lodge.
Many Plumas County residents reminisce about spending time at Johnsville and learning to ski there. However, the day came when the ski club, which ran on volunteer labor, had exhausted its resources and could no longer manage the facility.
In 1999, The Gold Mountain Foundation, a real estate group in Portola, bought the facility from the club and went on a month-to-month operation contract with the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
Because of the aging chairlifts, the Gold Mountain Foundation created a project proposal to install a new chairlift at the hill. However, the plan fell through and Gold Mountain’s lease was terminated in June 2002.
The hill then defaulted back to the Plumas Ski Club. However, representatives for Plumas-Eureka State Park said that the ski hill would be better suited for operation by a public entity.
In 2010, the Eastern Plumas Recreation District stepped in and secured a 10-year operating agreement with the state park.
“I think there is a great interest up here to get that ski hill going again,” said Recreation District board chairman Don Fregulia.
Their business here
To receive their operating agreement with the park, the recreation district had to construct a business plan for the operation of the hill.
The business plan, written by ski hill advocate and businessman Jack Bridge in 2012, highlights a detailed method for getting the hill operational again, and keeping it operational.
The plan is complete with 28 pages full of marketing and sales plans, details on operations, details on financials and much more. Through relentless fundraising efforts by the district and other entities, the district has acquired a double chair lift and three surface lifts from the Squaw Valley ski facility.
After four years of efforts and gaining support, the project is heading into its final phase of construction.
In November 2013, the district, and volunteers from the community, installed the first terminal of the chair lift, breaking ground at the hill.
A viable business
Fregulia said that ticket sales alone will not keep the hill operational, as day passes will cost as little as $25 – $35. However, due to the intuition of district board member and ski hill ad hoc committee member Dan Gallagher, the hill will soon transition from primarily a winter recreation center to a year-round events center.
Fregulia said the hill will host its first wedding this fall. It is also becoming a very popular concert venue after the success of the Lost Sierra Hoedown last year.
The new lifts will also contribute to smoother operation for the hill. The better-quality machines, which will replace the outdated Poma lifts, have fewer moving parts and will break down less, “putting more people on the mountain,” said Fregulia.
There will still be room for volunteer assistance, mostly for snow patrol, but the district plans to hire a full-time mountain manager, a part-time assistant manager and a food and beverage manager.
Fregulia said this was advantageous for the district and in cases of winters with little snow, the only money they would have to pay would be for the full-time manager and the ski hill’s insurance.
With the rising enthusiasm for the ski hill, momentum of the fundraising and the installation of the chair lifts, Fregulia expressed no doubt when he said the ski hill would open in winter 2015.
“We are seeing a movement in the community. People see something happening up there. I am very confident we will open next year,” he said.