$n$ Tri-Cities couple in process of buying Ski Bluewood

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A Tri-Cities couple who met on the slopes are in the process of purchasing Ski Bluewood.

Mike and Kelly Stephenson of Kennewick are the managing partners of a newly formed limited liability company purchasing the Columbia County ski resort from retiring owners Stan and Nancy Goodell.

Mike Stephenson has been a ski instructor on the mountain, about 21 miles south of Dayton, for more than 15 years. He is currently the training director at the ski school.

The acquisition of the destination resort comes just in time, officials say. Though under the gun, the Stephensons and their partners will be able to open for the 2010-11 season -- a move area officials say is vital to the economic vitality of the community.

When the Goodell's announced their retirement plans at the end of April, it appeared the resort may be headed for closure. Economic development officials banded together to explore various options for keeping the mountain open. A private purchase was the most ideal, said Duane Wollmuth, executive director of the Southeast Washington Economic Development Association.

"It's the best of all news," Wollmuth said. "We've made it through some down years when there hasn't been a lot of snow and haven't had a lot of open days. The communities have survived, but obviously it has an economic hit on lodging, food establishments and the surrounding areas."

The Stephensons are in the thick of preparations for the upcoming season, including ski lift maintenance that normally would have started last spring. They're also getting their website refreshed, a move that will not only help inform customers but also resume sales of season passes.

They hope to develop the 1,500-acre property designated for recreation by the U.S. Forest Service as a year-round destination for activities.

"Ski Bluewood is a huge resource for this area and for families," Mike Stephenson said in a prepared statement.

"For many years this ski area has offered children and adults the opportunity to experience the outdoors and to learn and participate in the lifelong sports of skiing and snowboarding. Many great memories have been created for kids who came here with their families, with the local school programs or to participate in the race tam both as youngsters and college programs.

"We want to ensure that children will continue to have access to the mountain and that the community will still have this valuable resource."

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