FORT RANSOM, N.D. — As a little boy, Bob Billing would go skiing at Fort Ransom's Bears Den Mountain, which was conveniently located next door to his grandparents' home, making pit stops for things like snacks and bathroom breaks a breeze.
The Bears Den closed several years ago when the family who owned it quit the business and no one could be found to take it on.
When it appeared this past fall that the property would be sold and turned into something other than a ski resort, Billing and his wife, Kara, joined with business partners Heidi and Mitch Hoenhause to buy it.
Mitch Hoenhause farms near Fort Ransom, a town about 85 miles southwest of Fargo. He said he learned to ski at the resort when he was 2 years old, and couldn't bear the thought of it going away.
The Hoenhauses' three children all learned to ski there, too, and the couple, along with the Billings, say they want to preserve the resort for the entire community to enjoy. "Everybody seems to be pretty excited about it," Kara Billing said.
The property came with about 30 acres of land and two large buildings — a ski lodge/lunch bar and a structure that serves primarily as a workshop. The buildings and the resort's ski lift, tow rope, and T-bar lift have all been out of service for several years.
Mitch Hoenhause said it will take some time to complete necessary improvements, meaning the new resort likely won't open to skiers and snowboarders this season. But they do hope to accommodate downhill tubing by some time in February.
"We've been testing it," Heidi Hoenhause said, referring to tubing runs she and her family have been taking after using vehicles to haul themselves to the top of what is actually the side of a gorge created by the Sheyenne River, which flows through nearby Fort Ransom State Park.
In addition to new owners, the resort is also getting a new name — Thrill Hills — which recognizes an early name used for the area when plans for a ski resort were first floated in the mid-1960s.
The Hoenhauses and Billings have already done some inside painting and other work in the ski lodge, including fixing up the kitchen and the lower level, where they plan to offer ski and snowboard rentals.
The new owners all have day jobs they say they don't plan to leave anytime soon. When the resort does open to the public, it will likely be on weekends, at least to start with.
However, the resort may not be solely a place for winter activities.
During the warm months other things are possible, according to Kara Billing. "Maybe concerts and mountain biking," she said.
As a financial shot in the arm, the new owners are looking to hold a fundraiser at the resort Friday, Jan. 31. The resort's new Facebook page can be found by searching for "Thrill Hills" on Facebook.
Despite its reputation for flatness, North Dakota has at least three other ski resorts, according to SkiCentral.com.
Two of them — Bottineau Winter Park near Bottineau and Frost Fire Park near Walhalla — are near the border of North Dakota and Canada, while another, Huff Hills Ski Area, is near Mandan along the western slope of the Missouri River.