Early March found me in the new hometown of the owners of Mount Snow, Vermont. The once mighty American Ski Company has been selling assets faster than the Mid Atlantic loses snow in a hard rain. Peak Resorts recently purchased both Mount Snow, VT and Attitash, NH. Over the last couple of years Peak Resorts has been purchasing small- to mid-rise ski areas across the country. They now own ski areas in Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and now Vermont. Mount Snow will be by far the biggest feather in their cap so far.
Peak Resorts hails from that bastion of great skiing: St, Louis, Missouri. Yes, home of the World Champion Cardinals is also home to the latest skiing conglomerate. Thus I was eager to ski their hometown hill. Hidden Valley Ski Resort (the Missouri one, not the Pennslyvania one) is where this growing company began. A quick Google search found five ski areas named Hidden Valley. You would think such an aggressive company could find a better or at least more unique name, but alas no.
St. Louis, Missouri is known as a river city, not a ski city. The only hill that normally comes to mind is the famous silver arch downtown (which would be a cool run). Surprisingly, heading west on I-44 about 20 miles out of the city the terrain suddenly becomes hilly. These are the beginnings of the Ozark Mountains. Not much compared to the Rockies or even the Appalachians, but mountains none the less. The Hidden Valley Ski Resort is located in these hills just off I-44 in the upscale suburb of Eureka, Mo. The narrow and twisting roads leading to the ski resort are lined with $1 million-plus homes. In fact the resort itself is actually part of the Hidden Valley Golf Course.
For the original home of the Peak Resort chain, the base area is very non descript. The lodge and rental shop are clean and functional but lacking any real flavor - probably due to the fact that they also serve as the pro shop and 19th hole for the golf course during the summer. The roads leading in to the ski area are so small and twisty that I am sure the traffic must be a bear on a busy day. The base area did have one nice feature rare to most ski areas - a very nice clean paved parking lot. I was able to change from my stocking feet into my ski boots standing next to my rental car without hoping around.
The hills in this area are short but steep, thus so is the ski area. The resort’s 310 foot vertical drop translates into only 20 skiable acres and a long run of 1,800 feet. I have skied shorter hills that seem bigger. This is not however for lack of trying. The trail map claims 15 named runs. This translates into about 7 unique ways down.
Interestingly the hill also has two distinct faces. The main face boasted some wide cruisers and most the beginner areas were accessed off two sturdy triple chairs. The bottom of these runs taper out beyond the lift house, becoming fairways and sand traps. The main lodge area is located not at the top or bottom but off to one side of the trail map. Venturing over summit was the back face. Here was the more advanced terrain, including Ice Man’s Ridge, a fast speed run. It was kind of like Angel Drop at Whitetail. It even had that long flat bottom runout to the lift. This trail was shared by “The Outlaw” - a terrain run with several serious features. This back face area was accessed by a newer quad running up the spine.
An additional 3 trails had been cut into the hills opposing this back area. Apparently they were cut two years ago as a Phase Two expansion of the ski area. However, the opening of these trails has been held up by a permit delay. The addition of these trails would greatly upgrade the trail map.
My visit unfortunately came on the heels of a powerful late season rain storm. As a result the snow was looking tired. The coverage was still adequate but most of the trails were loose granular with that “freshly rained on” feel. The groomers had been out so the runs were smooth, just not fast. Also there was a front moving through and 30 mph winds were whipping leaves out of the woods and across the trails, and also playing havoc with the chairs. I found out later they had to close early due to the 50 mph gusts they were receiving! It surely was the coldest 40 degree day I have ever skied.
Overall my impressions of the ski area were similar to those of the ski areas in North Carolina. On a very good day places like North Carolina’s Sugar Mountain and Ski Beach rock and are on par with anything on the East Coast. Hidden Valley seems to have the same potential. The weather patterns in this area can leave 12 inches of snow overnight. I am sure on those days this place could rock as well. However, I missed one of those days, and was left imagining the potential.
It seems hard to imagine a company that started out operating a ski area on half a golf course now owns one the top resorts in Vermont. But they do. It will be interesting to see how this company does managing a resort with a total acreage and total vertical drop equal to the rest of the chain combined. I guess from humble beginnings great things grow.
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.
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