At a time when most ski areas around the country are looking for profits, Bogus Basin isn't. It can't. By law, the only thing it can make is snow and good ski runs.

The northern Idaho area is one of only a few nonprofit ski areas in the country. Some say, with a little reservation, it is the largest nonprofit area in the world. Nonprofit ski areas, however, are as rare as large diamonds.But Bogus Basin is one of them, which is one reason that outside Idaho the ski area is about as well known as the metric system. If it were less known among the country's skiers, it would be listed as missing.

All this despite the fact that by size and numbers, it places well among the 50 biggest ski areas in the United States . . . six lifts, four rope tows, 46 runs, and 1,800 vertical feet of open, challenging terrain spread over 2,600 acres.

And all this at what must be the lowest cost per hour of skiing anywhere in the country. For $20, adults can slide into a double chair at 10 a.m. and not get out until 10 p.m., with a bonus of an extra hour in the morning on holidays and weekends. Skiers under 11 or over 65 pay just $15, pre-schoolers pay $7, and those who don't mind holding onto a rope tow can ski free.

The area got its start back in the late 1930s, when a Boise local built a J-bar in a basin 16 miles northeast of town, an area that was best known for a prospector caught making bogus gold from iron pyrite (fool's gold).

In 1941, Jack Simplot, the Idaho potato king, bought the struggling ski area and lift for $10,000, then agreed to lease it to a newly formed group called the Bogus Basin Recreation Association for 10 years at $1,000 a year. At the end of the 10 years he sold it to the nonprofit ski group for the total sum of $1.

There were 50 members of the association then and 50 now, most taught and trained on Bogus Basin slopes, which has formed some strong personal ties.

Being a nonprofit area, its objective is simple enough . . .

"To provide recreational opportunities to the public. And if we do make a profit," explained Mowbray Brown, the area's marketing director, "it all goes back into the area for improvements. And if we don't, we scale back for the next year."

The nonprofit status has meant other differences, too.

"Ties with the community, for example, are very strong. People buy a season pass ($260 for an adult and even less if purchased during pre-season sales) and think of themselves as owners. They tell us when things aren't right, or if there's something they want. A couple of times, too, we've had bad years and had businesses in the community step forward with financial help to bail us out. It's not just a ski area, it's a part of the community."

Understandably, skiing has become very popular in Boise and surrounding communities, especially with school-age skiers. This year, for example, more than 6,000 students will go through special school/ski area programs that range from racing to introductory sessions that offer skis, pass and a two-hour lesson for $15.

And there are other programs, nightly . . . from "Mogul Mice" for kids 3 to 5, to "Snowboard Night" and "Telemark Night," to "Prime Time Night" for skiers 65 and over. "Of course, we don't check for ID on this one. But it's popular. We've gotten up to 60 skiers out," said Brown.

But because of the nonprofit status, and attention away from advertising, especially national advertising, about the only ones enjoying the Bogus Basin slopes are locals. Brown said about 90 percent of the business there is local traffic. Which means that to insure improvements can be made, locals must be talked into skiing more.

So, the goal is to get the locals to add one more day to their skiing calendar. And with profits out of the picture, the area concentrates on the skiing part . . . "And it's working," said Brown.