Feeder Hill Highlights: Little Ski Hill, ID // Ski Stories
Here at Skiessentials.com, we've had the pleasure of speaking with countless customers whose home mountain is a small ski area. Despite not necessarily being the biggest, steepest, or snowiest place to ski, these feeder hills play a crucial role in both the economy of skiing as well as their local communities. Over the past few years, we’ve written about this topic in our Chairlift Chat blog, and this year we’re looking to dive a little deeper with a series that we’re calling, “Feeder Hill Highlights.”
In our second installment of the series (you can view the first here), we caught up with Colby Nielsen over at Little Ski Hill (LSH) in McCall, Idaho. Located about 100 miles North of Boise, and in the middle of the Payette National Forest, Little Ski Hill is the perfect example of a small ski area that plays a vital role in both its local community and the ski industry. As you’ll hear from Colby, LSH strives to engage local kids in winter sports in a multitude of ways. Whether its hosting competitions in the terrain park, fostering creativity behind the lens, or teaching life skills to high school ski instructors, Little Ski Hill is proof that a ski area’s importance isn’t always measured in vertical feet. So with that, we highly encourage you to read on and discover with Little Ski Hill is all about!
TRAILS: 5 LIFTS: 1 T-Bar
AVERAGE SNOWFALL: 180"
NIGHT SKIING: Yes
RACE TEAM: Yes
TERRAIN PARK: Yes
Matt McGinnis: Let’s start with some background info. Can you tell us about the history of Little Ski Hill?
Colby Nielsen: The hill was opened in 1937 by Warren Brown who owned the saw mill in town. He enlisted the help of Alf and Corey Engen to open the hill. It was built to attract visitors to McCall during the winter months and to provide a winter recreation opportunity for locals. There has been a ski bus running from the schools to the hill for nearly the hill’s entire existence. It has been the training ground for 7 Olympians. Currently the after school program has close to 150 participants who get on the ski bus after school from three surrounding communities. This 7 week program offers affordable access to skiing and snowboarding. The ski bus continues to operate after the program ends until spring break.
What role does Little Ski Hill play in the McCall community?
The primary role for LSH is teaching our area kids to enjoy winter sports.
What’s one unique thing about Little Ski Hill?
The after school program. More specifically, how it has developed into a full circle program. A student will learn to ski here, then continue on to become an instructor. My favorite part about the program is our middle and high school instructors. First, I am always amazed at how many of them want to be involved. And secondly, I’m excited that these kids learn so many important professional lessons and see that they can mix business and pleasure when it comes to shredding. For many kids, this is their first job. They learn leadership skills, they learn responsibility, decision making, situational awareness skills. Several of the instructors pursue a level 1 PSIA certificate by the time they are done with high school. I’m happy that we are able to provide these kids with real life professional skills that they can carry on with them throughout life.
Have there been any notable skiers or snowboarders that grew up skiing at Little Ski Hill?
Yup, we've fostered six winter olympians in Alpine and Nordic skiing and one that ended up being a summer Olympian. Many former LSH riders are still involved professionally in the ski industry one way or another.
When I was growing up and skiing at my local ski hill, I always had a friend or two who were decent skiers/snowboarders, but they often preferred to be behind a lens, capturing the on hill antics. I’m guessing this is something that you’ve noticed as well as Little Ski Hill offers a multimedia club. Could you tell me more about that?
I enjoy photography, and liked taking photos of my friends riding when I was younger. I felt this would be a good program that would provide learning a skill, as well as encouragement to pursue an alternative professional path.
I grew up on this hill and Brundage. I was a ski racer and I liked photography. The one thing I felt was missing was encouragement to pursue passions, and being introduced to some of the other options out there in the world.
"Ultimately we want to teach kids how to create professional finished product. It’s still a learning process for all involved."
Are there any end-goals or highlight events of the multimedia club?
As with our after school program instructors, this program is geared toward middle and high school students. Ultimately we want to teach kids how to create professional finished product. It’s still a learning process for all involved.
Does Little Ski Hill hosts any annual events?
We have a Heritage Night each year that has a torch light parade and fireworks. There's four park events each year ending with the big air and a banked slalom event. We also have Friday Night Dinners with meals provided by local restaurants each Friday. Lastly, we have a town League ski racing series each winter.
Yeah, the town league races are something that comes up frequently in the Skiessentials office. Over here on the east, a ton of ski areas offer what we refer to as a "beer league" race series where adults can enter and compete. Does the Town League get competitive or is it mostly for fun?
We probably have the most laid back town league. It’s all about fun. It gets a little competitive, hopefully we’ll have a few more teams this season. Generally there are about 5-6 teams. We are trying to get more businesses to put teams together. We started racing duals a couple times last year. That was fun, and it definitely added to the competitive level, as well as the smack talking level.
The park events are interesting too. Having worked on a terrain park staff at a small ski area in the past, I know that these events aren’t exactly cash cows, so what drives you to put on these events?
It’s just like everything else we do, we do it to get kids stoked out on shredding. Comps just bring out a little motivation to try harder, accept getting beaten by your little brother, and being happy for the prize you get.
We’ve narrowed down to 4 events. We have become extremely efficient in park building and snow farming. Having two slope styles allows us to refresh the park mid winter with small changes throughout the season to keep the kids happy.
Being in Idaho, there are some pretty significant ski areas and backcountry zones to access. Heck, Brundage Mountain is right up the road from you and their vertical drop is four times the size of Little Ski Hill. Can you tell us what it is about Little Ski Hill that allows it to draw a community of skiers, despite being one of the smaller ski areas in the state?
We are a ski hill, nothing more, nothing less. My goal is to make it operate as efficiently as possible while providing the best ski hill experience. Some bigger ski areas have lost sight of what makes skiing so great and have tried to supplement by adding “mountain resort” to their name. When they realize there is something missing, they try to re-create a culture that seems to be a bit contrived.
Our culture is skiing as a part of life. We have a real family here, and a real atmosphere of support, fun, and skiing.
What’s your favorite part about Little Ski Hill?
My favorite part is providing a facility where kids are free to explore, grow, and have a place that is truly theirs.
In your estimation, what’s the overall goal of a place like Little Ski Hill?
To be the best ski hill ever.
Big thanks to Colby for taking the time to chat with us about Little Ski Hill! To learn more about LHS, visit their website here, check them out on Facebook and Instagram. You can also check out their park-specific Facebook page and Instagram page!