Kyle Eckerman snowboards off a jump at the popular Karen Street hill in Soldotna in 2004. The city of Soldotna has decided to keep the facility closed this winter.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
If it's broken, fix it.
That was the message emanating from the Soldotna City Council chambers Wednesday night resulting in a decision to keep the city's sole ski hill closed this year while a plan for improving the attraction is developed.
City Manager Tom Boedeker had asked the council whether he should renew the $16,000 ski hill liability insurance policy, which is set to expire Dec. 12. He said it costs the city an additional $14,000 to operate the hill.
Due to a lack of snow so far this season, the ski hill has not been opened by the Parks and Recreation Department.
On a 4-2 vote, a motion by Councilwoman Betty Obendorf not to renew the insurance this year was approved.
In making her motion, Obendorf said she would like the $16,000 to be held in an account for the expressed purpose of improving the ski hill to make it more "user friendly."
Currently the hill, at the foot of Karen Street, does not have any equipment for getting skiers to the top. They must hike up to ski down.
Obendorf said one possible improvement would be to install a rope tow.
Another suggestion bandied about during the city council meeting was to install snow-making equipment so operating the ski hill would not be dependent on unpredictable precipitation.
Boedeker said the ski hill is open an average of 30 days a season. Generally it is open one afternoon midweek, Friday afternoon and all day Saturday and Sunday, he said. Last year it was open only 18 days altogether.
Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael said, "In normal years, it takes about 24 inches (of snowfall) to cover the rocks and stuff ... to get everything set up."
One city employee customarily is on site during open hours, monitoring skiing conditions and skier safety. A warming hut is available for the worker. City employees also use a snow cat to groom the hill, and on occasion, have cut steps into the snow to assist skiers hiking up the hill.
Rather than spend money on insurance and pay to operate the hill this season, Obendorf said the Parks and Rec Advisory board members unanimously recommended not opening this year, and "felt the money could be used better elsewhere."
One resident providing testimony about the ski hill, Elizabeth Eskelin, said it has the potential to be a wonderful asset for the city, but not many people know it even exists.
"There isn't anything listed for the ski hill on the Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council Web site, there's nothing on the city Web site," she said. "Unfortunately, the only area where (a Soldotna Ski Hill) is listed is at Alaska Lost Ski Areas (Project) dot org."
The Internet listing refers to a city ski hill operated between 1955 and 1978 between the Sterling Highway and Ski Hill Road near the present-day site of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.
Resident Wes Stephl asked whether the hill in front of the water tower is city-owned.
"That is private property," said Boedeker. "If you're using that, you're trespassing."
Carmichael said his intent is to evaluate the cost of adding a rope tow versus abandoning the ski hill.
Following Obendorf's motion, Boedeker said he would look into transferring the money budgeted for insurance into an account for studying the feasibility of upgrading the hill.
Besides not having a means for getting skiers back up the hill, Boedeker said the middle section of the slope is too steep for beginners, and should possibly be tapered to make it more gradual in order to attract more youngsters.
"I want to see the ski hill work," Boedeker said after the meeting.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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