Locally Owned Skiing

Co-op formed to potentially purchase California's Bear Valley Mountain

Any self-respecting ski area has to have a sun deck with a good view. The lodge at Bear Valley Ski Area. PHOTO: Matt Hansen

Any ski area worth a cooperative has to have a sun deck with a good view. The lodge at Bear Valley Ski Area. A group of impassioned skiers are forming a cooperative to buy this mountain. PHOTO: Matt Hansen

WORDS: Eugene Buchanan

Hey, Californians: Want to own part of a ski area? Here’s your chance.

California’s Bear Valley Mountain could soon be going the way of REI, the Green Bay Packers, and Vermont’s Mad River Glen by becoming a co-op.

“The mountain is having challenges and the owners are trying to sell it,” says former Mountain Hardwear and Timbuktu CEO Mike Wallenfells, who has a house in Bear Valley and has been skiing it for years. “We’ve formed a cooperative that hopes to take over the mountain and make a uniquely locally owned and operated community mountain…think Mad River Glen in Vermont.”

Mad River Glen is the only other resort in the country currently owned by a co-op, which has proven a successful model. Wallenfell’s group—headed by Bear Valley second-homeowner Steve Troyer, whose father is longtime friends with Mad River’s former owner—is hoping to emulate the Eastern approach out West. “We’re closely matching their process and template,” adds Wallenfells, interim board member for the newly formed Bear Valley Mountain Cooperative. “We’re in the process of making our initial offer for the mountain, village, and lodge.”

Bear Valley Ski Resort first opened as Mount Reba Ski Bowl in 1967 and quickly became a top-notch destination by the early ’70s. In 1991 it changed its name to Bear Valley Mountain Resort, which was purchased in 2005 by Dundee Bear Management (which owns Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin) and California investment partners TBI and Radar. After putting its first big condo development on the market in 2008 right before the market crashed, plans stalled. Over the next four years they got approval to put in a new Bear Valley Lodge, but have now decided to sell. After a potential sale fell through last fall, Troyer met with the community about creating the co-op alternative.

The Grizzly Chair, servicing steep bowls and chutes, is an original Riblet double from the late 1960s. Still going strong. PHOTO: MATT HANSEN

The Grizzly Chair, servicing steep bowls and chutes, is an original Riblet double from the late 1960s. Still going strong. PHOTO: MATT HANSEN

The resort, which is the closest major ski area to the Bay Area, currently has about 3,000 season ticket holders and sees 120,000 skier days per season. Many longtime guests also relish its lift-accessed backcountry terrain.

Here’s how it will work. California residents or businesses can buy one share each for $2,500, which gives shareholders the right to vote, member benefits, and a say in how the mountain and village are operated. This amount can be paid up-front or over 36 months at $70/month with a $100 initial payment. Owners can also sell their shares back to the cooperative. An additional $300 annual fee can be applied to owners’ season-pass purchase (which also costs $300), and also gives owners free skier days for friends and family, discounts on services and merchandise, and the potential for dividends.

“We involved the local community from the beginning,” says Wallenfells, adding that the co-op’s bylaws have a cap of 4,000 members. “Our goal is to make this a sustainable operation, not a large profit-making machine.”

Wallenfells and other co-op organizers feel there are enough passionate fans of Bear Valley that they’ll be able to achieve the membership goal. If the co-op doesn’t end up buying the resort, owners will get refunded their investment. “We thought that 4,000 members was a comfortable enough number to get enough capital to make the purchase, overcome some of the resort’s deferred maintenance needs, and have reserves for future development,” he says.

The day lodge and parking area are a mid-mountain, with all the beginner and intermediate terrain at the upper elevations. To get to the good stuff, you ski down from the parking lot in this photo to a zone called Snow Valley and Grizzly Bowl. The terrain in the background is out of bounds, but accessible via the resort’s “soft” boundaries. PHOTO: Matt Hansen

The day lodge and parking area are a mid-mountain, with all the beginner and intermediate terrain at the upper elevations. To get to the good stuff, you ski down from the parking lot in this photo to a zone called Snow Valley and Grizzly Bowl. The terrain in the background is out of bounds, but accessible via the resort’s “soft” boundaries. PHOTO: Matt Hansen

And a co-op program is the perfect ownership solution, he adds. “Just like Mad River, Bear Valley has a good pool of devoted skiers and riders who are very passionate about the mountain,” he says. “A lot of people have been skiing here for more than 20 years. They understand it, know what makes it unique, and aren’t going to try and turn it into something else.”

“And the best thing is that the collective owners will get to decide its future,” he adds. “Every owner has a vote at the table and all decisions can be decided by the people who use it most. With a lot of other ownership structures, potential profits are often destined for someplace else.”

For more information, click-over to the Bear Valley Mountain Cooperative’s website.

Add a comment

  • Brifle

    Dying ski mountains are a travesty. Great job keeping it alive. My question is..if taking a note from mad river, are snowboarders allowed?

    • CalSki

      Why are you so angry? Take a shot of tequila, settle down my downhill friend!

    • Private Club $ members only $

      Foul mouthed snowboarder! Ware is the soap! One bad apple ruins the bunch!
      How about a Hike or Skin It If You Can mountain with no lifts. Low Operation Cost! Maybe a small club membership fee. It would be interesting to see what percent would be Ski, Snowboard or Telemarketer….

  • East Cost Skiier.

    Ski mountain! Not Snowboard mountain! That’s what makes Mad River the best. No snow board moguls. No stoned boarders strait lining threw family groups. Or side slipping all the snow off the steep trails. I know not all snowboards are bad. But a lot of them ruin the fun and experience. I got hit from behind by one last year at Stowe who just took off after!!! Punk! He probably would have killed a kid or senior.

    • framing god

      As I am good enough at both skiing and Snowboarding to comment on this from an objective prospective and I frequently ski with a six year old I will tell you that there has been more close calls with my son almost being hit from skiers especially racer type kids. With the skis these days there are just as many punks on skis as snowboards.

      So for mho :
      Better for steep hardpack = skis
      Better for tight trees = skis
      Better for deep powder with a consistent fall line = snowboards
      Better for intermediate cruising = board
      Better for the park = toss up
      Better for mountains with long traverses = skis
      More comfortable boots. = board

    • I ride snowboards

      That is one of the dumbest comments I have read…. How does a comment like this even relate to this article? This article is about saving a ski area, not about ski/snowboarder segregation. I bet you a racist too.

    • ephman

      MRG is unique and getting more unique with this rule. Its very hard to sustainably operate a mountain without welcoming all possible revenue streams. As a BV skier and involved in the coop effort I can tell you that rule will not happen here as it would not be supported by the membership. 30-40% of the reveune comes from boarders…my son included. There are plenty of misbehaved skiers to match the misbehaved boarders. And out here I see more gray haired boarders out with their kids learning new things and having fun. I have skied MRG many times before it turned coop and there is much more to like than no boarders. Similarly Bear Valley is a special place with wide open runs…great views…access to tremendous side and back country terrain sometimes via snowcat for old guys like me….tree skiing into a quaint village of snowbound homes…and a laid back lifestyle that reflects the clientele that prefer this to the white knuckle drives that unexpectedly turn a nice family weekend into 8 hours each way on the road, ski in ski out Starbucks, and all the crowds and traffic jams that Tahoe offers even once you are there. Bear Valley, like MRG, is a jewel, as it has a real identity that deserves and will be preserved and improved by this effort.

    • Mad River Fascist

      you know maybe we are being some of the biggest dbags in the ski industry by not allowing someone with 1 board to ride a mountain. We should probably change our ways so that the entire world doesnt think were a bunch of fascist dbags. Im going to continue living my fascist life now.

    • J

      Wow. Such stupidity in this comment. Learn how to share and get over yourself.

  • http://www.collaboros.com Pete Farmer

    One of the challenges facing Bear is whether it will continue to get adequate snowfall. With a base elevation of 6500 feet, an 8500 foot summit, and average snowfall of 360 inches, and limited snowmaking capacity, it’s in a much more marginal position than Kirkwood (which is no farther away) or Tahoe area mountains.

    • CalSki

      Climate challenges are industry wide and climate change does not occur in 1 or 2 seasons. 2 years ago we skied well into June. IMHO, I think Tahoe resorts have moe to worry about than Bear with lodge at 7750′

  • CalSki

    Slow down there skipper, hold your row. Relax, have fun, enjoy the mountains. I don’t care of you ride a snow shovel, all are welcome at Bear Valley. It’s “Pure Mountain Fun” a.k.a. “The Friendliest Mountain in The West”. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?

  • G. from arnold

    OK, so let’s say the coop buys it. Then what? This place needs millions of dollars in new investments. New lifts, facilities and village if it wants to stay viable. Where are they going to get that money from?

  • X BV

    I think that bear valley has been dying and it should be put out if its slow death, the co op is a bad idea and will go under i a few yrs, G from arnold is corect ! its the 2end home owners that act like they own the town

  • Dave

    I am a Bear Valley cabin owner. I think it would be better if a large company came in and invested money in the lifts AND the village. Bear Valley needs an update which will require a big long term investment. Make Bear Valley a year-round destination.

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