EVERY SATURDAY MORNING during winter, locals from Enterprise and Joseph line up by the T-bar at Ferguson Ridge, aka Fergi, to reap the snowy rewards deposited by midweek storms atop the 5,800-foot-high ridge. A mere eight miles from downtown Joseph on the northern cusp of the Wallowas, this little blip of a ski mountain may have just seven runs and 600 vertical feet, and it may be open only on weekends and holidays—but as one of Oregon’s two volunteer-operated ski hills, no other resort better embodies rural Oregon’s independent spirit. In exchange for lift tickets, local skiers clear brush, work the T-lift or run the rental shop—and those who don’t? Well, they simply pony up the $8 lift-ticket price like everyone else.
For their weekly date with fresh powder, locals have Gardner Locke to thank. The snow-obsessed local engineer purchased 280 acres on the ridge in 1983, and subsequently leased it to the Eagle Cap Ski Club for a whopping $1 a year. Since then, the club has built a small rental shop with picnic tables out front to serve as the cafeteria; carved out a humble half-pipe for the snowboarders as a nod to the Gen Y-ers; and added a used T-bar purchased from Schweitzer that now runs in conjunction with the rope tow. Other than that, little else has changed on the ridge, from where the top you can see all the way to Idaho and envision what American skiing was like in the 1930s, when ski lifts were built by farmers rather than Swiss engineers, and you’d never dream of heading out for a day at the hill without packing your own lunch.