WENATCHEE — When top executives at Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort recently stepped outside their office to gaze northeast, they saw a snow-laden landscape, a tree-covered mountain and — in the distance between two low ridges — the future.
Owner Larry Scrivanich and General Manager Josh Jorgensen pointed and traced where the road, the houses, the condos, the lifts will be for what they hope will become the Village at Mission Ridge — a development that’s part real estate, part ski expansion and, at least for these guys, a full-time business necessity.
With 480 housing units on 188 acres, the new development is “our opportunity to grow and improve,” said Scrivanich, who’s owned Mission Ridge since 2003. “It will allow us to finance and update equipment, provide access to more terrain and compete shoulder-to-shoulder with other ski areas — Stevens Pass, Snoqualmie and Crystal Mountain.”
Said Jorgensen, “We’ve got chairlifts out there that are five decades old. Every season, we keep them running and, for right now, that works. But we can’t do that forever. The Village is an opportunity to transform the resort.”
Now celebrating 50 years in operation, Mission Ridge opened in 1966 with chairlifts No. 1 and No. 2 and two tows. Over the years, the resort has added another two lifts, a midway cafe, lights for night skiing, office buildings and Hampton Lodge, ski school and equipment rentals and — key to the facility’s success — snowmaking equipment and the experts to run it. The resort now has 280 employees during the winter season.
Year to year, incremental improvements have kept most skiers and snowboarders — particularly the locals — satisfied and returning each season, said Scrivanich. But the perennial problem of cash flow vs. much-needed updates has reached a “critical” point for attracting new skiers and increasing seasonal revenues.
Northwest ski areas already lag dramatically in revenues per skier visit when compared to the rest of the country, said Scrivanich. And because of outdated equipment and crowded amenities, Mission Ridge’s pricing trails even further behind other resorts in the region.
For instance, Mission Ridge’s one-day adult lift tickets are priced at $59. But the same ticket at Stevens Pass is $67, at the Summit at Snoqualmie $70 and at Crystal Mountain $74. Admittedly, said Mission Ridge managers, these aren’t straight-across comparisons due to location (proximity to urban areas) and available amenities (auto-load chairlifts, restaurants, hotels and other creature comforts), but the inequities continue to chew away at Mission Ridge’s bottom line.
“We know our lower prices make some skiers happy,” said Jorgensen, “but with additional money (from the new Village) for capital improvements across the resort — well, both the resort and skiers benefit. We think it’s a win-win.”
On top of pricing issues, said Jorgensen, any ski operation has a huge upfront investment to ready a facility for the winter season — whether it’s a good snow year or a terrible one.
“Every year, it’s a gamble,” he said. “We invest in making sure everything runs perfectly — the chairlifts, the snowmaking equipment, the rental gear, the grooming machinery. We make sure the food services are stocked and ready and the staff is up to strength.”
And after all that money and effort is invested, said Jorgensen, “then we wait for snow. Sometimes the snow won’t quit, but sometimes it’s a long, long wait.”
Jorgensen and Scrivanich said they believe development of the Village will not only increase revenues — possibly raising annual skier visits to 120,000 from the current average of 100,000 — but provide a more balanced income across the year for resort maintenance and upgrades.
Wished-for improvements at the current facilities, all tied to revenues produced from the new Village, could include grading the Ridge’s two-tier parking lot into a single level, adding night lights to Chair 1 and the Mimi run, adding snowmaking equipment to Chair 3 runs and building a fifth chairlift on Windy Ridge.
The Village got its start in 2014 when Scrivanich purchased 770 acres adjacent to Mission Ridge’s current permit area, roughly a 2,000-acre rectangle managed in partnership with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In August, the resort unveiled tentative plans for a 188-acre basin in the southwest corner of the newly purchased parcel. A 20-year development plan called for five phases of build-out occurring every four years or sooner.
Plans for a much larger development — up to 1,700 housing units — were discussed in the 1980s, said Scrivanich, but nothing ever emerged from them.
The first phase of the new Village, possibly set to start construction in summer of 2018, could include up to 15 single-family homes, 50 condo units, a lodge-hotel, new roadway and parking lot, new ski runs and lifts. Subsequent phases would increase the number of single-family homes and condos until it hit a total of 400 units.
“We already have a waiting list of people wanting property,” said Scrivanich. “And it’s growing.”
So far, concerns over the development have come mostly from the Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association. The group has questioned whether development in the basin will affect nearby elk habitat and their migration corridor.
Mission Ridge managers said the development should have little to no effect on wildlife. Mapping of the area shows the Village to be west of critical areas and separated from elk habitat “by a pretty solid buffer,” said Jorgensen.
As yet, resort managers have only a map of how the development will unfold, and no artist’s conception of what home, condos or a new lodge might look like. “We’ve been talking to a Leavenworth architectural firm, and they’re excited about the whole idea,” said Scrivanich. “Excited about how this is a rare opportunity to design a mountain village from scratch.”
The basin’s topography also presents interesting challenges, said Scrivanich. “This isn’t rocket science. There are knobs and hills and ridges that will determine how the development is designed. The houses go here, the runs go there, the lifts run along this line. The mountain tells you what you can and cannot do. We won’t force something that’s not going to work.”
Added Jorgensen, “I’m hoping people keep in mind that we’re not real estate guys, we’re ski guys. This new development is all about improving facilities and to make Mission Ridge viable in the long term. We want to make it the best facility possible, but not sacrifice any of the elements that skiers have come to love over the last 50 years.”