Southeast Skiing History
February 25, 2005
Reading Jim's article on the Homestead made me wonder exactly what the history of skiing in the Southeast is. I was always lead to believe that Dr. Brigham started it all with Beech, Sugar, and then Snowshoe but then learned that Appalachian in NC was actually older than any of those. Now Jim notes that Sepp Kober was actually around for Homestead in the 50's which predates all of those. Jim, what were some of the 18 other resorts Sepp work on?
What other resorts were around long ago? I think Wisp has been there for a pretty long time as well. Anywone have any southeast ski timelines?
Sometimes I hear Homestead mentioned as the first, and sometimes I hear Weiss Knob, a defunct area that Whitegrass now sits upon. I think both of those got started in the late 50's.
An account of the history of skiing in our region is of great interest to me. But with family and real job demands, I've never had the time to get into the subject they way it would take to do it justice. From southern PA south, Seven Springs is the oldest, dating back to winter activities in the '40s. The Homestead's ski operation began in '59, Quick guesstimate on others: Bryce, Liberty, Roundtop, Blue Knob, and Wisp all started in 60s. Others like Massanutten, Snowshoe, Wintergreen came in the 70s. Winterplace, Whitetail, and Hidden Valley started in 80s. I think Canaan started in the 60s and T-line in 70s? Don't know about Weiss. I believe a burst of NC areas were built in late '60/early '70s.
Sepp Kober is amazing. He rattled off a ton of history info in a short conversation. If I'm not mistaken, areas he had a hand in developing included Appalachian, Beech, Sugar, Bryce (he brought the Locher Bros, longtime Bryce Mtn managers, over from Europe in the 60s), Winterplace, and more. Apparently he was used as a consultant on where to cut trails and how to lay lifts, and other aspects of ski ops. He knows the founding Dupree family of Seven Springs. He was a founder/supporter of the Roanoke Ski club from around 1960. His son owns the successful "Freestyle" chain of sports stores in Central VA.
We need a retired DCSki reader or professional writer to crack open this subject.
Y'all- get a copy of Randy Johnson's Southern Snow. Probably the definitive (only?) history and guide to skiing in the southeast. Homestead was the first place to go all out for snowmaking, back in 59-60, so they are the founder of skiing as we know it in the south. Other places predated it- including a 2500 foot vertical run somewhere along the modern day Skyline Drive (legend has it)!
At the risk of getting slightly off-topic: as a child in the mid- or late-1960's I can recall camping at Kooser State Park (adjacent to Hidden Valley), and we hiked over to Hidden Valley. I distinctly remember seeing trails and lifts - this was probably somtime around 1967 or so.
And at 7 Springs, there used to be a sign of some sort at the bottom of the Alpine lift that said the lift was on the site of the original 7 Springs ropetow, which was powered by a car engine. I believe that the sign mentioned a year that was approximately 1936.
My estimates on resort start ups are very rough guesses. The Seven Springs website used to have a great history page that could verify the 1930s date.
It figures that an important topic like the region's ski history has already been done. You can tell I haven't done my homework. Wonder if that book covers as far north as southern Pennsylvania?
Just to add in some information... a several year old snow/winter magazine in the Hardy Co courthouse verifies that Timberline was started around `82 if I read it right with one lift (thunderdraft I think) and just one or two trails. Canaan predates it to somewhere in the early-mid 70's.
Pete Bryce and several other business partners founded Bryce resort in the 60's and had plans to build a ski resort in WV in the Mill Gap area in the 70's. Rumor has it that it would have been close to a 1000' vert drop, but financers backed out after Mr. Bryce had bought the land. Unfortunately the land was then sold into realtor lots of which was aimed primarily at DC'ers of that time. In recent years many of the DC'ers who moved up on that ridge are now leaving because of bad winter driving conditions and poor driveways to get to their properties.
Here is a fast list of the years resorts opened.
Seven Springs 1935
Laurel Mountain 1939
Hidden Valley 1956
Blue Knob 1963
All of this data came from my website which includes the opening dates of just about all the currently open eastern ski areas. to see more go to Ski Shots
I remember seeing a history of Seven Springs on the wall of the ski lodge once and on it they mentioned that they had the first powered lift outside of Vermont. When I saw this article it was hanging on the wall where the ski shop use to be located.
There is a great website that has some historic pics of eastern ski areas at http://www.teachski.com/
here are some of the more interesting pics there from local areas
Seven Springs Old pic of the Front Face
Homestead the homestead skimobile
The also have some pics of closed areas Marsh Mountain MD Mount Aire PA Mad River PA Bald knob WV
Thanks for the posts everyone.
Does anyone else find it odd that Dr. Brigham would start 2 resorts so close together within 2 years? I wonder if he had a falling out with some partners or something on Beech or if he just HAD to have more vertical.
I could see myself listening to stories from Sepp for days. I just love this kinda stuff. I almost bought that book on the early years of Snowshoe by Brigham once when I was at the shoe but it was like 30 bucks or something. I guess the endless free info on the net has spoiled me.
Judging by the awe inspiring feeling of hiking to the top of a large hill I could only imagine what it was like to hike a mountain, look over it with a vision, make it happen, and then make that first run down your mountain. Can you imagine that very first run down Cupp or Extrovert after years of planning?
Outstanding post shearer. I notice you have the start-up dates for many other areas as well on your website. Where did you get the starting date info?
Awesome post Shearer.
Somewhere in my house I have a pamphlet that I picked up at 7 Springs that provided quite a bit of info on the history. There is some cool stuff in it - including the fact that when Adolph and Helen purchased the original plot of land, the deed described it as "that piece of land that contains seven springs", or something to that effect. I'll see if I can find the pamphlet this weekend.
"Mill Gap" is actually a locals name for Thorn Bottom Road/Trout Run Road areas. This is south/southwest of Wardensville and almost due east of Lost River. The planned ski resort would have been larger than Pete Bryce's "Bryce Resort" and because this cramped valley area in the mountains hold cold air so well, it would have been a respectible MA skiing place. But like I mentioned, the financer backed out, Pete sold the land to developers and now there is a ton of DC'ers living there since the 70's... along with a gay lodge.
Here is a topo map of the general area of where this would have been. The base elevation of the valley is around 1400' with summits of 2200'. Can't say that'd be bad for Hardy County... an 800' vert.http://www.terraserver-usa.com/image.asp...t+river%7cwv%7c
I got most of the dates from onthesnow.com but I also got some from resorts that post thier histories online. For instance onthesnow gave laurels opening date in the 50's but that was only when they became public, they really opened in the 30's I found this in an old article about the resort.
Weiss Knob, WV operated as a lift served area from 1959-1967. It lay fallow for a few years before Chip Chase opened Whitegrass Touring Center on the site in 1979. Weiss Knob's lift line is still there but the lift is gone. Now called the "Open Slope" the old lift line is about 600 vertical feet from the summit of Roundtop to the WG base. There is a flat spot about 1/3 way up with a rest shack, that I helped build, and a rusting cog wheel from the old lift. Beyond Roundtop there is another 500 vertical to the Bald Knob summit. The Open slope narrows steadily towards the top of Roundtop with a tree in the middle and it can be quite a challenge to make turns with good rhythm on tele skis from the top. The actual Weiss Knob is a couple miles away near the top of Canaan Valley's lifts.
Brad or others, question for ya. I haven't mastered that Terra Server website, but it's pretty awesome. I got the following map from it of the Hot Springs/Homestead, VA area. http://www.terraserver-usa.com/image.asp...springs%7cva%7c
I think the ski area is about one mile east of the town of Hot Springs along the squiggly line to the right of "Hot Springs" towards the number 1070 and in the vicinity of what is marked as Brushy Mtn. Can you tell how high that mtn/ridge is from this topo map? My guess from visiting the area was 4000', but not sure from reading this map if that is correct. Resort literature said base of ski slopes was at 2500' and with a 700' vertical rise, that would put top of slopes at 3200'. There looked to be several hundred more vertical feet of mtn above top of chairlift.
Here's an aerial photo I grabbed from same website. http://www.terraserver-usa.com/image.asp...springs%7cva%7c
Ski area is clearly the runway looking thing in left center of photo, summit of slopes is to the right. Exposure of slopes is northwest. You can see long upper ridgeline beyond the end of slopes going from upper right to lower left in photo. The huge resort building complex is the scrambled mess of stuff about an inch or two to the left of the base of the slopes. Surrounding golf holes are also clearly visible. I think if you click on photo it will blow up and you'll see resort building structures even more clearly. Pretty neat.
A wise man told me that the land above the lift was donated to the Nature Conservancy or some similar group. It isn't available. Maybe Roger Z can verify this story.
ps. looking at that top that mountain gets a lot steeper as you go up. That's a 60%+ grade between 3200 and 3400'.
There's a scenic road that runs along the summit of the ridge and I think that Nature Conservancy got the land from Homestead, like Murph said. It's always a sad thing to see a southern ski area CEDE THE HIGHEST 800 FEET OF ELEVATION for future use for whatever reason. Shows, I think, that Homestead is not too serious about skiing. Of course, the top 300 feet of vertical at Wintergreen are a subdivision and a golf course... what is it with this VA ski areas???