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Bottineau Winter Park: 50 years of fun in the Turtle Mountains

Posted by Kylie Blanchard, Co-Editor 12/17/2019 8:48:26 AM

This year marked the 50th anniversary of Bottineau Winter Park (BWP), which started as a grassroots movement to promote recreation and tourism in the Bottineau community and surrounding region in north central North Dakota. Today, the park boasts ski/snowboard slopes, snowtubing runs, activity trails and year-round adaptive programming through the help of dedicated staff, volunteers and generous supporters. “Reaching 50 years is a big accomplishment due to the fact BWP is a nonprofit and is always dependent on good weather and people support,” says Cynthia Jelleberg, BWP board member. 

 

Building a Legacy

“The Bottineau Winter Park was developed in 1968-1969 by a local group of businessmen that wanted to create a ski and snowmobile resort that would provide recreation to the youth of our area and promote tourism,” says Bradley Knudson, general manager and park employee for 44 years. “The summer of 1968, they purchased 60 acres and, a few years later, added another 60 acres to the park. With great expectations these men cleared the trees and brush and built a small A-frame building to be the visitor center.” 

This work was completed in mid-December 1968, but no snow had fallen, so the group eagerly awaited natural snow. “BWP opened in late January with record crowds, but the fun only lasted a couple of weeks and Mother Nature melted what snow they had,” says Knudson. 

At the park’s grand opening on Feb. 9, 1969, Knudson says the only parking available for the large crowd was on the nearby frozen lake. The weight of the vehicles on the thick ice sheet caused water to seep to the surface and many had to quickly walk through a foot of water to retrieve their vehicles.

The first year, the park had four ski slopes, two with lighting and electric powered tow ropes. The rustic chalet provided warmth for park visitors and housed the rental shop, snack bar and office. The first season’s ski rope tow rates were $2 for adults and college students, $1 for high school students, $.50 for grades 1-8, and a season family pass was $25. Equipment rental, tow and instruction could also be purchased for $2.

“Soon after the season ended, plans were made to add a snowmaking system so the dependence on natural snow would not be a factor,” says Knudson. “This required additional funds and the group decided to turn the park and its lift system over to the City of Bottineau and create a nonprofit organization to oversee the venture and seek grants to help with rural development.” 

Knudson says nearly everything but the elevation of the park has changed in its 50 years. “We actually did raise the highest point on the property 20 feet. There was a T bar lift that occupied the highest point and when the park decided to construct a chair lift, we expanded the top of the hill to the south and raised its unloading area. It also allowed users to reach all six runs from one location.”

Today, eight ski/snowboard slopes, a pony run and bunny run, seven tubing lanes and a terrain park make up the park. Users are brought up the slopes with the help of a T-bar, two handle and rope tows, a triple chair lift and two magic carpet lifts. Activities at the park include skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, hiking, and mountain biking.

Milestones in the park’s improvement include the addition of a chair lift in 1999, the addition of snow tubing lanes, the building of Annie’s House in 2012, and the availability of four seasons adaptive programs. Annually, the park also hosts the North Dakota Special Olympics winter games and the Manitoba Alpine Races. 

 

Annie’s House and Adaptive Recreation Program

Annie’s House, a partnership between New York Says Thank You and BWP, has proved to be a major achievement for BWP. Built in 2012, the house honors Ann Nelson, a North Dakota native who lost her life in the Sept. 11 attacks while working in the World Trade Center towers. “Ann’s family found her bucket list on her computer and number seven was to buy a home in North Dakota,” says Rachael Buss, Anne Carlsen Center program coordinator for Annie’s House.

The New York Says Thank You organization, a nonprofit that does pay it forward projects in other states for those who helped New York City in the wake of 9/11, caught wind of this wish and helped to make Annie’s House a reality. “They built the home as a ski lodge to replace the original at Bottineau Winter Park and to start an adaptive recreation program for individuals and veterans with disabilities,” says Buss.

Annie’s House is 11,500 square feet and built on one level to accommodate the adaptive program participants. The adaptive programs started in 2012 with winter activities and now include skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and tubing, as well as year-round opportunities that include hiking, fishing and archery. After searching for a partner to deliver adaptive services at Annie’s House, the Anne Carlsen Center was chosen in 2013.

“We have 20 volunteers and serve about 500 individuals per year,” says Buss. “Opportunities for individuals with disabilities can sometimes be limited due to cost, accessibility and the training needed to use the equipment. Our volunteers are extremely passionate about donating their talents to those that participate,” continues Buss. “To date, no participant has had to pay to be a part of the program.”

Special events hosted in partnership between Annie’s House and BWP include military appreciation events, the Special Olympics North Dakota Winter Games, and a Remembering 9/11 event. Annie’s House is also used year-round for weddings, educational programs and meetings. “The supportive partnership between Bottineau Winter Park and Anne Carlsen Center also plays a huge role in the continued success of the adaptive program,” says Buss.

Both Jelleberg and board member Patti Brosseau say the presence of Annie’s House at BWP makes them realize how much the park has grown in 50 years. “It can be endless work, yet, the most rewarding because we know how BWP first began and how it has now expanded to year-round activities that are accessible for people, young and old, to enjoy!”

 

Celebrating 50 years

A 50th anniversary celebration weekend was held February 14-18, 2019, marking five decades, almost to the day, since the park’s grand opening. “We invited everyone who had a history at the park to celebrate,” says Knudson. “We have had nearly 50 board members be a part of BWP over the years.” 

Knudson says that Saturday was cold, with temps just above zero, but 200 people still came out to join in celebrating. Special 1969 pricing was offered to the first 50 people dressed in retro attire and a large history display was also set up for viewing. The rest of the weekend was filled with special events including night skiing, tubing and snowshoeing; socials and entertainment; outdoor fire spinning; Torch Ski Run; children’s activities; fireworks; ski races; Color Guard ceremony; and a military appreciation day with flag ceremony on skis.  

 

The Future

“What makes the park tick is the number of volunteers willing to help with projects and more, from the board of directors to employees who do the extra work,” says Knudson. 

He notes, as a nonprofit organization, the park also works to keep costs down for the public through donations and grants. “We try to get donations to help fund our lift system and operating systems, so we don’t have to charge it to the public. When I started here, lift tickets were $5.” 

Today at BWP, adults ski/snowboard on the weekends or holidays for $38, youth 13-17 for $30, children 6-12 for $20, and children 5 and under are free. Knudson notes these prices are still significantly cheaper than the major ski resorts. Group rates are also available as well as senior and military discounts. 

“BWP continues to grow through the years thanks to local and state supports, providing outdoor recreation and promoting tourism in the beautiful Turtle Mountains,” says Brosseau.

The park plans to upgrade its snow-making system in the near future, and plans are also in the works to install a heated patio around Annie’s House. This year, BWP was also chosen as the 2019 Turtle Mountain Soil Conservation District’s Achievement Winner.

With 16,000 individuals purchasing activity passes and many others visiting the park last season, Knudson says BWP is an important attraction in the region. Each winter, the park posts a tentative opening date for the day after Thanksgiving, but does open earlier if able, and sets a tentative closing date for after the third weekend in March. 

Bottineau Winter Park is located nine miles north and two miles west of Bottineau. For more information visit, www.skibwp.com, call 800-305-8079 or email skibwp@srt.com.

 

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