Beaver • Engulfed in controversy for much of the eight years it was closed, the old Elk Meadows ski area reopened Wednesday as Eagle Point Utah's 14th active resort.
Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty and one of his marketing organization's bloggers, Thomas Cooke, were given the honors of taking the first lift ride, gliding up the two-seat Skyline chairlift as light snow fell on the 1,200-acre resort in the Tushar Mountains, 18 miles east of Beaver.
"It was an honor to be part of the reawakening of something that has been dormant for eight years," Rafferty said. "It's just fun to welcome another resort into our quiver. More variety will help southern Utah."
Situated almost evenly between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, Eagle Point will primarily target customers from southern Nevada and Southern California, said Shane Gadbaw, one of three Wall Street financiers who purchased the resort in December 2009 out of bankruptcy.
Gadbaw, who celebrated his 36th birthday with the resort's opening to a sparse crowd, is CEO of XE Capital. It is a hedge fund that initially invested in the grandiose plans of Mount Holly Partners LLC to transform the sleepy little ski area into a $3.5 billion development, with a private ski area and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.
But it didn't take long for Gadbaw and his partners from XE Capital, Joe Clough and Terry Leighton, to determine that Mount Holly's divisive proposal – which sparked objections from numerous residents who were concerned about its exclusive nature and the impact on local water resources – wasn't working.
So even though they had never been in the ski business before and hadn't given it much thought, the trio set out to bring the resort back to life.
The financiers paid off all the debts left by their predecessors.
Gadbaw's father came to Beaver last summer and supervised the remodeling of Canyonside Lodge, construction of The Lookout warming cabin on a ridge offering views of the Tushar Mountains, and the many other fix-up projects necessary after eight years of being idle.
They brought in seasoned resort people to help them get past their inexperience. Steve Bills, a fixture at Snowbird's ski school for decades and a well-known instructor, was hired to build the snow-sports program. Jodi Holmgren was hired to handle public relations, a job she did last winter at Snowbasin, above Ogden.
The all-important responsibility for preparing food was placed in the hands of Craig Haslebacher, who beat out Bobby Flay in an "Iron Chef" competition in January.
The new owners also set out to mend fences with Beaver residents.
A job fair recruited many local people to fill the 135 jobs at the resort.
Area contractors were retained to do much of the work during the summer and fall. Package deals were organized with Beaver hotels to provide accommodations for out-of-town visitors.
Entreaties were made to Beaver schools to arrange lesson programs for students.
"They seem to be taking a more practical, down-to-earth approach to the resort, so there is a lot of positive feedback," said Phil Jolley, who owns Beaver's Best Western Paradise Inn and also dabbles in ranching and real estate.
"There's still a lot of pessimism about whether they'll succeed because so many people have tried it. So people are fairly skeptical," Jolley added. "But it seems to me these guys are probably the best shot this resort has seen in a long time."
Carol McCulley, who led the Save Beaver County Committee that strenuously objected to the Mount Holly Partners' plan, said she still has concerns about the possibility of a golf course on the property.
"We're watching and waiting and looking for things in black and white, which we haven't seen yet," she said. "But the ski resort being public is good. We want to see it succeed for the good of Beaver County and employment."
Job prospects were important to Beaver Mayor Mark Yardley, who wielded oversize scissors Wednesday to cut a ribbon, symbolically confirming the resort's open status.
"It's extremely touching to see some Beaver folks with jobs up here," he said, noting that he was going to check out lessons for his children before returning to town. "We're just excited to have a place to ski, the jobs and the chance to have people visit our community."
Snowboarder Brady Fox, 37, of Provo, was one of those visitors.
He has had a condo in the area for eight years and spent many summer afternoons on a mountain bike, checking out the idle ski lifts.
"I've just been daydreaming about the day they're turned on," Fox said, proud of being at a resort on its first day of operation.
That's the kind of response part-owner Clough was hoping to hear.
"We want to take the time to build a loyal customer base," he said. "We want people to come back next season."
Where • 18 miles east of Beaver, which is 202 miles from Salt Lake City and 244 miles from Las Vegas.
How much • $45 for an adult day pass.
Dining • The Outpost Grill, part of Canyonside Lodge, offers lunch and dinner menus. A quick-service menu of house-made meals also is available upstairs in the Skyline Lodge.
Lodging • Some units are available in on-mountain private condominiums and log chalets. A variety of rooms is also available in downtown Beaver.
Lifts • Three, comparable in size to Beaver Mountain, above Logan.