Great Bear’s sister bought by Iowa county

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s not common for a local government to own a ski resort but a sister slope to Great Bear Ski Valley in Sioux Falls, just got a public owner.

The county of Pottawattamie, Iowa, just bought Mt. Crescent Ski Area in southwestern Iowa near Council Bluffs. A season pass at either ski area entitles the holder to discounts at either ski area.

Trail map from the Mt. Crescent Ski area website.

“We contacted Great Bear and the city of Sioux Falls,” said Mark Shoemaker, the executive director of the county’s conservation board. Shoemaker said Pottawattamie officials wanted to learn more about how the city operated Great Bear.

Great Bear is owned by the city and co-managed by Great Bear Recreation Park Inc.

Dan Grider, the general manager of Great Bear, said Pottawattamie County contacted him about three or four years ago. The county was interested in the city’s structure with city ownership and private management. He explained how the structure worked for Great Bear.

“It’s neat that a non-profit can run this (type) of business,” Shoemaker said.

Ski industry publications show that many large ski resorts in the U.S. are owned by corporations but there are some smaller independently-owned resorts. However, there appears to be few publicly-owned resorts.

Vail Resorts of Broomfield, Colorado, is a publicly traded company but at a market cap value of $12.7 billion at the start of the month, the company is far cry from Pottawattamie County and city of Sioux Falls.

“We’ve been looking at Mt. Crescent for about 22 years,” Shoemaker said.

The county considered buying it in 2000 and again in 2008 when it was sold again to private owners, Korby and Samantha Fleischer. The county talked with the Fleischers in 2008 about an agreement to give the county first choice should they decide to sell, Shoemaker said.

The county bought the 106 acre ski resort area for $3.5 million, Shoemaker said.

The county financed the purchase through a reported $1.5 million from the Iowa West Foundation and $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Action, COVID-19 federal relief fund.

Grider said a ski area does require a financial investment which includes the equipment. “The more you put into a ski area the better product you’re gonna get,” Grider said.

But what would a county want a ski resort?

“It’s not necessarily because the county wants to be in the ski business,” Shoemaker said.

However, the county is interested in expanding outdoor activity opportunities and economic development, he said.

Mt. Crescent sits right next to the county’s Hitchcock Nature Center, a 1,268 acre-area in the Loess Hills.

The Hitchcock Nature Center. Photo from the Pottawattamie County Conservation website.

Hitchcock has cabins, camping and trails.

Hitchcock saw a 400% increase in use in 2021, Shoemaker said.

Mt. Crescent is an important attraction in the region, Shoemaker said. But the county believes there are ways to increase the use.

The county is doing a feasibility study over the next six months to determine what options will be successful at Mt. Crescent.

Shoemaker said the county is interested in establishing cabins and/or a lodge.

“There is also room for, and demand for an RV park, so that might be something,” Shoemaker said.

Ultimately, “We want to focus on getting people outdoors,” he said.

County ownership also means the area won’t be converted to residential housing or other uses. Before the county bought Hitchcock, a developer was interested in converting the area into a landfill, Shoemaker said.

There is no plan to close the ski area, Shoemaker said.

Mt. Crescent has snow-making equipment so even if the area doesn’t have natural snow, the slopes can be open.

But, “If people don’t see snow on the ground they are not going to think ‘Let’s go skiiing at Mt. Crescent or Great Bear,'” Shoemaker said.

The county will need to market the fact that Mt. Crescent has snow and open slopes even when the region doesn’t have snow.

The Fleishers will operate the ski area through the season. The county will fully take over operations in the summer.

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