Pembina Gorge Foundation

Farmers & Merchants Bank  gifted $50,000 to help Fire Up Frost Fire!  Thank you Chalmer & Friends!

Our Mission

The mission of the Pembina Gorge Foundation is to preserve and enhance the experience of the Pembina Gorge while connecting people to positive, life changing experiences.  The Foundation develops and supports historical, cultural, education, natural, interpretive and recreational opportunities in the Gorge.  

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About Us

Pembina Gorge Foundation

The Pembina Gorge Foundation is a 501(c)3 North Dakota nonprofit corporation beginning January 2017.  It's business as known as Frost Fire Park.


Richard and Judith Johnson were the owners of "Frost Fire Ski Area & Amphitheater"  from 1976 - 2017.  They opened skiing the day after Christmas and added the annual Summer Theatre Musical in 1985.  For over 40 years, Dick and Judith provided outdoor recreation fun for thousands of people.  In March of 2016 Richard passed away.  Judith worked to keep Frost Fire going by forming a partnership with North Dakota Parks & Recreation while looking for a solution that would keep Frost Fire open to the public.  The Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks & Region with the Red River Regional Council gathered a small group of people to assist Judith in finding a solution that would ensure Frost Fire activities and access to the Pembina Gorge recreation and hospitality hub would continue.  This group formed the Pembina Gorge Foundation.   Frost Fire became the property of the Pembina Gorge Foundation on June 19th, 2017.  July 1st, David & Amy Jo Paukert led the summer theatre production titled "Smoke on the Mountain".  4,200 patrons attended the buffet and joined us in fellowship!

The board of directors determined that Frost Fire could be a near-sustainable business operation if the capital needs could be met by donors, grants, sponsors and partnerships.  The board quietly launched the "Fire Up Frost Fire" capital campaign phase I with a goal of raising $3.1 million that would fund the acquisition of Frost Fire Ski & Amphitheater,  major equipment maintenance, ski/snowboard fleet, snow-makers, groomer, people movers, theater equipment, and some small renovations, as well a $1 million endowment.  

Lead support & start-up funding in 2017/18 was declared and provided by:

  • Tim & Sandy Crary
  • Lyle & Margie Johnson
  • Choice Financial Bank
  • Red River Regional Council
  • North Central Planning Council 
  • The Governor's Fund
  • Walsh County JDA, 
  • Pembina County JDA,
  • Cavalier County JDA
  •  Grand Forks Workforce Fund
  • United Communications
  • Mostad Insurance
  • Anonymous

In the fall of 2017, it was learned the triple chair was not safe to operate and by spring of 2018 the Fire Up Frost Fire Capital Campaign Phase I grew to $4.5 million (not including endowment for scholarships) which included approximately $1.7 million to purchase and build the new Skytrac Quad chairlift, now known as "Lyle's Lift".   The tubing hill opened for the 2017/2018 season.  

During the 2018 season a few challenges emerged relating to grants awarded or sought and some requirements that couldn't be met without jeopardizing the strength of the Foundation.  As a new business operation, the Foundation didn't have the borrowing capacity or the cash flow from pledges that are required to provide cash to operate quickly.  Cavalier Rural Electric kindly assisted with a low-interest loan to help us with the down payment for the chairlift.  Fundraising for equipment continued and the board moved forward with lodge renovations to re-locate the bar service from downstairs to the main floor.  More renovations were made to accommodate a grill & lounge on the main floor, named & dedicated the Howatt Hangar in April of 2018, thanks to generous support provided by:

  • Van & Lisa Howatt
  • Nathan Howatt
  • Jensen A/C & Heating
  • Pat & Joan Chaput
  • Vern Gornowicz Family

The momentum continued to build in 2018  as more lead donors recognized the asset Frost Fire was to the region's young people and the economy.  Major gift commitments were made by:

  • Robert & Virginia Dunnigan,
  • Anonymous
  • Farmers & Merchants Bank
  • Langdon Implement
  • Kevin & Lori Roy
  • Anthony and Mauri Roy  
  • Anonymous match:  $50,000
  • Anonymous match:  $750,000 

In 2019, after several attempts of seeking funding from the state, regional legislators got involved and helped to secure grant funding through the 2018/2019 legislative session.  The Pembina Gorge Foundation was awarded a $750,000 North Dakota Gorge Preservation Grant match.  This was instrumental for the opening of 

Crary Mountain for the 2019 ski season.  Thank you to the many legislators and State leaders that helped secure this funding - including, but not limited to:

  • Senator Curt Kreun 
  • Senator Ray Holmberg,
  • Representative David Monson 
  • Senator Janne Myrdal 

More than 250 donors have helped since the first conversations.  Many people contributed monies, in-kind gifts or thousands of volunteer hours in a team effort to ensure Frost Fire is available for the next generation.  Founding donors (those that said yes and led to the purchase of Frost Fire and establishing of the Pembina Gorge Foundation included lead gift commitments, major gifts and gifts of all sizes.  Each hour and dollar donated has made this project a success to date.  

Our hearts are grateful for all of the Friends of Frost Fire.  Each volunteer, donor, patron, sponsor and ambassador have played a significant role in the preservation of Frost Fire Ski & Amphitheater.  Thank you, your support is such a big deal.  This is a legacy project that has the potential to not only changes lives positively, but also have a positive economic benefit for the region.  Thanks for jumping on the band wagon with us!

Campaign Update

Thanks to many generous volunteers and donors we are less than $300,000.00 from meeting our Fire Up Frost Fire Capital Campaign Phase I goal.  The good news, all gifts and pledges are matched by an anonymous donor. 

Our first Giving Hearts Day was February 13th 2020.  We were excited to kick it off with a $25,000 match from Larry Petri, Langdon.  Larry's gift helped us leverage over $75,000.  Larry wants all youth in our region to have a chance at a better path and he knows the Frost Fire Park team is focused on enriching the lives of the regions youth and will provide the place, the people, and the activities that support building kids with character and good health, while inspiring them to be their best self and seize opportunities. 


The Pembina Gorge Foundation preserves and enhances the experience of the Pembina Gorge while connecting people to positive, life changing experiences. The Foundation develops and supports historical, cultural, education, natural, interpretive and recreational opportunities in the Gorge.   

It is our great passion to introduce the youth in our area to the wonder that is the Pembina Gorge. We believe that a love for nature enhances and enriches young lives.  With your help, we are creating a world class recreation and leisure destination that will provide positive life experiences for all who live in or visit the Gorge! 

The Foundation can accept gifts of cash, stocks, IRA's, commodities, real estate and other real (appreciated) property.  Ask us about the ND 40% tax credit for gifts to endowments.  Our endowment is held at the Fargo-Moorhead Community Foundation, which does qualify for the ND Endowment Tax Credit.  For more information on giving or the campaign, please email or call 701.317.6729.

The 2017 and 2018 990 is available upon request. 

Board Of Directors

The Pembina Gorge Foundation Board of Directors includes:

  • Jeff Mostad, Chair 
  • Patrick Chaput, Vice-Chair 
  • Elsie Magnus, Sec/Treas. 
  • Sandy Crary 
  • Frank White 
  • Dustin Gorder 
  • Randy Bata 
  • Van Howatt, Executive Board Officer  
  • Evan Anderson, Executive Board Officer 
  • Dawn Keeley, Ex-Officio 
  • Justin Robinson, Ex-Officio 
  • Jared Matzke, Ex-Officio 

Sponsor Highlight


A Heart-felt Thank You to Lyle & Margie Johnson

Lyle's Lift is named after Lyle (& Margie) Johnson in gratitude and deep appreciation for what they have done and continue to do to support and Fire-Up Frost Fire!  It's been a "heavy lift" and Lyle has often been the advocate and the adviser, leading the team and the community to do the right thing.  Not only that, the generosity extended has been tremendous and has carried a big portion of the heavy load during the times it was too much to bear for this grass-roots group.  Thank you, Lyle & Margie!  You make us proud.