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LARAMIE - The owner of the Snowy Range Ski Area outside Laramie is asking people to support the business during hard times.

Rick Colling spoke to about 70 people Tuesday during a public hearing on the future of the Snowy Range Ski Area. The ski area has had financial difficulty since a fire destroyed the main lodge in 2003.

A bigger lodge was built, but business has been down, and Rick and Terri Colling report having $4.5 million in debt. The Collings have been trying for a year to find a buyer for the ski area.

Meanwhile, the ski area will open this year under the oversight of First National Bank.

Colling said the resort was underinsured when the fire happened. He blamed the fire on a faulty furnace installation but said he and his wife, Terri, took on additional debt rather than file suit.

"We made a tough decision," he said. "We decided to fight our own battles and not go down those roads."

They decided as well to improve the lodge to better fit skiers' needs.

"The old lodge did not work," he said. "We knew what the Snowy Range Ski Area needed."

However, record turnout before the fire - about 45,000 skiers a year - dropped to between 20,000 and 30,000 after the fire.

Colling asked the audience at the hearing to recognize the value of the ski area to the community and support the business. A study out of Colorado State University, he said, found that 80 percent of all money spent on a typical ski trip is spent not at the ski area, but in the surrounding community.

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"The biggest mistake we could make is to let this thing degrade and not support it," he said. "I hope that never happens. That would be a travesty."

First National Bank President Dan Furphy said the bank isn't interested in making money from the ski area and will try to keep lift ticket prices low. Tentatively, season tickets will cost $125 for adults and $99 for those under 18; day passes will cost $39 for adults and $29 for youth.

A community service day is planned at the ski area Dec. 7.

"We'll shine it up and make it look a little bit better this year," Furphy said.

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