Frost Fire started as a dream and has become a special place.
Founders Richard “Dick” and Judith Johnson had a love for skiing and outdoor recreation and a vision of bringing people to the Pembina River Gorge; that led them to build a ski area and open it on December 26, 1976.
It became a destination.
“Dick and I always dreamed to see the Walhalla area improved and commercially developed in such a way that it provides an enhanced recreational and trade area. Our vision was for the establishment of an orderly development, planned and zoned in a fashion which would protect and preserve the pristine wonder and beauty of the Pembina Gorge.” – Judith Johnson
The Johnsons had a passion for the arts, opening Frost Fire Summer Theatre in 1985. Now the theater regularly welcomes 5,000 guests from around the region during each theater season.
At one time, Frost Fire offered ski guests the choice of a double chair or a triple chair lift; those options were replaced when the Pembina Gorge Foundation installed a new SkyTrac quad-chair lift in 2018. Frost Fire has remained home to skiers and welcomed snowboarders when the sport gained popularity.
Richard passed away in March 2016. Judith was the sole owner of Frost Fire when she sold the property to The Pembina Gorge Foundation in 2016.
The Foundation is grateful to the legacy left by the Johnsons and are honored to improve Frost Fire and keep moving it forward.
Geologists classify our area as originally part of the ocean, changed by massive interval upheavals and covered with ice a mile thick. It then was flooded by a lake, which covered the present city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with as much as 400-feet of water. Gradually the lake drained to the North, leaving rich fertile valleys and rolling hills with a heritage of wealth and beauty. A mammoth lake in western North Dakota flowed into the area with such force and violence that deep gorges were formed.
The beautiful Pembina River Gorge forms the impressive backdrop for Frost Fire Park year-round - by far one of the most beautiful areas in North Dakota.
Photo credit: David Paukert
The original lodge did not include the barn structure that is a part of the facility today. It was moved into place during the winter of 1988. Finding someone to move a massive structure like this down the narrow gravel hills up to frost Fire was a challenge.
A number of moving companies declined the job. But it only took one and with hesitation they took the job. One of the biggest challenges was getting across the narrow Vang Bridge located down the hill from Frost Fire. The other biggest concern was how to maneuver the barn so it wouldn’t run over the hauler when executing going down hill.
They made it happen and the barn has been a beautiful part of the lodge ever since.
The Victorian house at Frost Fire Park came from Crystal, N.D., where it was located at the east end of Appleton Avenue on the north side of the street. The house was built for a son of Albert Appleton (1850-1914) founder of Crystal, N.D.
The Johnsons moved it to Frost Fire in 1994 and renovated it. The house features ornate parquet floors and a Victorian tile fireplace. Its current location is alongside the Apple Meadows ski run.
Photo credit: David Paukert
Hattie’s Closet, a long-time gift shop at Frost Fire, actually began selling regional artisan crafts in 1990 in the lower level of the barn. Once the house was moved onto the property, Hatties’s Closet moved in 1992 to the little farmhouse located not far from the theater.
The farmhouse was moved in from rural Vang, N.D. It was originally owned by Hattie Rude, a nearby neighbor of Richard Johnson during his boyhood years on the farm. Its unique features include a number of kitchen built-ins, leaded glass windows, and embossed wainscotting.
Hattie’s Closet was operated by Nancy Eagleson, a long-time friend of Judith’s, and Britt Haslekaas, her son’s mother-in-law. They loved setting up shop and particularly enjoyed visiting with all the guests who came into the Hattie’s year after year. They continued running Hattie’s for more than 20 years. It was then taken over by a variety of operators who continue Britt and Nancy’s love for Hattie’s still today.
In the early years of Frost Fire Summer Theatre, cast member were responsible for their own lodging, some traveling back and forth to Walhalla for shows, or camping in the Walhalla Park. In 1990 the Johnsons provided over-night accommodations at local motels. It was clear that cast overnight accommodations were needed. So in 1992 Dick and Judith purchased the vacated old Catholic convent from Walhalla and had it moved onto the Frost Fire property.
Designed to prove a large variety of sleeping rooms, a main sitting area and bath facilities; it was a perfect dormitory for the casts. Over the years it was also used in the winter for ski patrol and other employees until 2015, when a water main break created extensive damage to the building. It is currently not being used. The Pembina Gorge Foundation is assessing the best plan for either renovation or removal of the property.
If anyone has an early photo of the convent, please let us know! We would love to see it. Send to email@example.com.