Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Snowy Range Ski Area Saved by First National Bank

LARAMIE, Wyo. - It was a tough choice. There was a lot of debate. But, in the end, board members with First National Bank of Wyoming turned to their conscience, not cold calculation, to make the decision. That decision proved fateful for Snowy Range Ski Area in Laramie.

Even before the economy went downhill, Snowy Range had run into problems.

The family-favorite had been around for decades, but was faltering at the beginning of last year.

By spring, it was apparent the owners couldn't pay the bills.

To Frosty Kepler, who gave skiing lessons at Snowy Range 40 years ago, the news hit hard.

"I just couldn't accept it," he said.

He knew that if Snowy Range fell, skiing would be lost to many Wyoming families and, perhaps, every high school in the state.

"I just thought it was time that someone step up and say, 'Gee, let's keep it going,'" he said.

But there were no willing buyers. Not one.

That's why First National Bank of Wyoming, which is based in Laramie, had such a difficult choice to make.

First National is the loan holder. The bank could either shut Snowy Range down or try to run the facility.

The latter option was - to say the least - unconventional, but the bank's board members just didn't want to see Snowy Range go.

"You have to support your local community," First National CEO Dan Furphy said while explaining why the bank decided to enter the ski business. "That's our role and that's more important than profits in the banking industry right now."

The board turned to one of its own members to try and make this investment work.

Kepler eagerly accepted the job.

"There were some people who didn't think we could do this," Kepler said.

Without the unexpected outpouring of support from the community, those doubters might have been right.

In the lead up to ski season, people from around the area started to volunteer their time to mop, sweep and spruce up the ski area.

"You don't really know what you miss until it's gone," Kepler said.

Not only did Kepler and his crew get Snowy Range open by Christmas, they also managed to turn a profit.

Season ticket sales increased threefold over the year before.

"By gosh, it was really worth it!" he exclaimed.

First National is so grateful for the community's support, the bank plans to throw a ski-for-free day some time in April.

(Copyright KUSA*TV, All Rights Reserved)

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