Nordic Valley’s winter has been a disaster. Here’s what happens next.

An arterial lift breaks, its historic lodge burns and neighbors worry development plans will change the mom-and-pop nature of one of Utah’s most affordable ski areas.

Eden • In the eerie quiet, the chirp echoed off gray paint-peeled walls and exposed wooden beams. Then it faded away. Maybe drifting out of the burned-out gashes in the ceiling and windows. Maybe drowning in the mounds of water-sodden ashes piled up alongside equally black barstools toppled onto the floor.

A few minutes later, the chirp sounded again, persistent.

The batteries in the smoke alarm of the Barn at Nordic Valley Resort, a 100-year-old structure that was destroyed in a fire on Jan. 15, needed replacing.

Yet rather than annoy Pascal Begin, who stands in the doorway five days later, peering into the wreckage, Nordic Valley’s general manager seems heartened by the alarm’s ceaseless song. The world had gone up in flames around the device. Yet it chirped on. And with just a little help, it could be back in operation, a few scorch marks the only trace of its troubles.

Just like Nordic Valley.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Extensive fire damage to the lodge at Nordic Valley Ski Resort in Weber County is pictured on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. The fire that broke out earlier in the week might render the historic building that housed the restaurant, ticket office and business offices a total loss.

The fire ripped out the guts of the resort. It destroyed not just its largest and most recognizable structure, but also its ticket office, cafeteria, bar, administrative offices and restrooms. And that was just the latest in a series of blows this season for one of Utah’s smallest and most quaint ski areas. One of its three aerial lifts, a crucial link between the other two, has been inoperable for almost a year. High winds have led to several power outages and the general lack of snow hasn’t favored the ski area with the lowest base elevation in the state.

Yet its heart still beats. Many of the Nordic Valley’s pass holders and neighbors — who in many ways see the ski area as an extension of their community — have rallied around the resort. They say they have faith it will not only survive these trials but build back better and stronger. Begin shares that sentiment.

“Nordic Valley,” he proclaimed, “is here to stay.”

Give them a hug

The first evidence that Nordic Valley could rise out of the flames emerged just four days after the fire, when season pass holders were invited back onto the lifts. The ski area opened to the public last Saturday, less than a week after the fire. Both day and night skiing were offered, but it was no pampered experience.

Guests had to buy their passes online since all the printers were destroyed and the ticket window now sits under a collapsed and charred red tin roof. They had to bring all their own equipment and they would find no snacks to buy nor cups of hot chocolate or even running water. The only place to shake off the winter chill was in their cars.

Still, Begin said he felt compelled to fire up the lifts as soon as possible after Weber County officials cleared their operation as a gesture to Nordic Valley’s loyal community.

“Give them a hug, is how I see it,” Begin said. “Because they’ve had it rough this year.”

Amanda Jenkins brought her three children — ages 10, 8 and 5 — to ski at Nordic Valley a day after it opened to pass holders. She said if anyone needs to be embraced, it’s the resort.

Jenkins lives in Vernal, but for the past three years, her family has spent a month living with her in-laws in Eden and skiing at Nordic Valley. She said she appreciates the mom-and-pop feel of the ski area, where kids 12 and younger ride for free, an adult lift ticket can cost as little as $9 and a season pass can be had for less than $200.

However, this season’s string of bad luck makes Jenkins concerned that it might all go away.

“I do worry about that,” she said, “because they already struggle, and it’s a small resort. But the community has rallied around them a lot.”

As far as the future of the 54-year-old Apollo lift, which has had myriad parts break since last season, Begin said he should know by March if it can be repaired or if it has to be replaced.

The Barn, meanwhile, was built in the 1920s as part of the Silver Bell Ranch. The cause of the fire, which was spotted by a snowcat driver just before 2 a.m., has not been released. Begin said so far no evidence of arson exists.

If Nordic Valley persists, it will look much different than it did since the first lifts went up in 1968. But that change was already coming, fire or not.

Change was always coming

Nordic Valley straddles two of the three small towns that make up the greater Ogden Valley — Eden, population 828, and Liberty, population 1,257. It also draws season pass holders from Ogden and other surrounding areas, though it’s not the region’s only option for skiing and snowboarding. Powder Mountain sits just 10 miles to the north and Snowbasin is 18 miles south.

In 2018, the ski area’s owners, the French-based Skyline Mountain Base, struck a deal with Mountain Capital Partners (MCP) to manage ski operations at Nordic Valley. MCP oversees several small- and medium-sized ski properties, including Brian Head Resort near Cedar City and its flagship Purgatory Resort just outside Durango, Colorado. Two years after taking over, MCP spearheaded the addition of the Nordic Express, a six-person, high-speed lift that accesses the area’s most challenging terrain. It also oversaw the creation of The Aid Room, a bar located — until Sunday — inside the Barn. For the most part, however, MCP has done little to alter the ski area’s down-home ambiance.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A fire that broke out on Monday, Jan. 15, inside the historic lodge at Nordic Valley Ski Resort in Weber County is pictured on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. Water and fire damage might render the barn built in the 1920’s a total loss.

“We don’t do things like the other guy does. And we’re very proud of that,” said Begin, who is in his second year as resort manager. “... We take a lot of pride in making sure that the community, the average Joe, can come out and ski.”

Yet neighbors have voiced concern that the affordability, as well as the pastoral character, of the area will change if a village development plan that has been in the works since at least 2021 moves forward.

Overseen by Nordic Valley Ventures — collectively Skyline Mountain Base and GWC Capital, a subsidiary of WW Clyde — village plans include the construction of 550 residences, a hotel and shops. The project would span 510 acres. But thanks in part to a stricter zoning law passed by Weber County late in 2022 at GWC’s request, just 61 of those acres will be developed. The rest, according to plans submitted to the county, will be left as open space.

At least one aspect of the village plan will be accelerated by the fire, said Rob Behunin, a division area manager at GWC.

Behunin said the destruction of the Barn — which he expects insurance adjusters to declare a complete loss — will expedite the construction of a new skier services lodge. Prior to the fire, developers had only formed an abstract vision of the building, he said. So even fast-tracked, the lodge likely won’t be complete in time for the 2024-25 season. In the interim, Behunin said he expects tent buildings to serve as placeholders.

Meanwhile, the broader development of the village will be placed “on the backburner,” Behunin said. This year, he said, has been set aside for “planning and reassessment.”

“Everything’s just consumed with ‘Let’s get the skiers taken care of. Let’s make sure that that happens,’” Behunin said. “That’s where the investment is going to happen. No question about it.”

The Nordic Valley vibe

Begin has a plan to bring back the old Nordic Valley “vibe” as soon as possible. It involves transforming the upper parking lot into a “trailer village” with food trucks, a temporary ticket office and a warming trailer encircling a giant fire pit.

The staff of about 250 seasonal workers and 10 full-time employees have been working tirelessly — and creatively, to bring the ski area back online, Begin said. Ticket office employees have been answering calls and emails from their homes. His food and beverage manager has kept busy lining up food trucks.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kierra Keller of Tahoe adjusts her ski bike before preparing for a biker cross event at Nordic Valley Ski Resort in Weber County on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. The resort’s main lodge, in background, burned earlier in the week placing the event in question. However, in an effort to keep things going despite numerous challenges, the resort pressed on with the event.

Begin estimates about 50 employees were employed in the Barn before the fire. The ski area doesn’t bring in foreign workers on seasonal visas, common at many resorts, so most of its workforce consists of young people living in the community. Begin said he has tried to reroute most of them into other jobs, but he has not been able to find positions for all of them on the mountain. A few have resorted to creating GoFundMe campaigns.

Again, the community stepped up to help. Begin said the two nearby resorts and some local businesses have offered jobs and other assistance to workers affected by the fire.

But they’re interested in rehoming more than Nordic Valley’s employees.

Behunin, who is also the chair of the soon-to-be nonprofit Nordic Valley Village Foundation, said he has received an outpouring of interest in relocating the Barn. As a result, Nordic Valley Ventures donated an acre of land to the foundation as the site for a community center that will be built as an homage to the original Barn. The land had already been earmarked as a park within the new village, and Behunin said the public will have input on its other amenities, such as an ice skating ribbon or an amphitheater.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Apollo lift at Nordic Valley Ski Resort in Weber County sits idle following complications with repairs on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. The winter season has been a disastrous one at the quaint ski area following a slow start to the season and a fire that might render their lodge a total loss.

“We want to preserve its uniqueness. We want to preserve its sort of small-town village environment,” Behunin said of the resort. “And we think by doing this, and putting this into the foundation, that will really help preserve the qualities that we enjoy about Nordic Valley.”

Jenkins said she’ll miss looking out at the Barn from her in-laws’ house. Nordic Valley won’t quite be the same without it. Still, not dissimilar to the smoke detector steadfastly chirping away inside it, she expects the resort and the community will persist through the changes.

“I bet they can pull through,” Jenkins said. “We’re a scrappy lot.”