Rappahannock Ski Area / Skyline / Big Devil

Washington, Virginia

The lodge at Rappahannock Ski Area, Virginia. Photo courtesy of John Timmons, CHSSnowmakers.com.

Located near Washington, Virginia, Rappahannock offered a vertical around 650 feet. Rappahannock closed down after the 1973-1974 season, unable to turn a profit. Rappahannock was originally called Skyline, and before that, Big Devil.

DCSki contacted John Timmons, one of the last employees on the payroll at Rappahannock. A 35-year veteran snowmaker, Timmons currently works for CHS Snowmakers, a Colorado-based company that makes snowmaking equipment. After working at Rappahannock, Timmons went on to work at areas such as Virginia’s Massanutten Resort, California’s Snow Summit Ski Area, Ohio’s Brandywine Ski Area, and many more. Timmons provided a great deal of information about Rappahannock.

According to Timmons, Rappahannock started as a private ski club by and for U.S. Senators and Congressmen and State Department employees, possibly during the 1950s, although the exact opening date is unknown. Steven Showalter, current General Manager of Virginia’s Massanutten Resort, notes that the area was first called Skyline Ski Area, and later renamed Big Devil before ultimately becoming Rappahannock.

Rappahannock had a vertical drop of 645-685 feet, with five lifts: a Pullman-Berry double chair on the lower half, east side; a Borvig double chair from the base to the summit on the west side; a Hall T-Bar; a Stadeli handle grip surface lift; and a rope tow. The area had 1 wide slope/bowl on the east side of the P-B lift; 1 winding trail on the west side of the P-B lift; 3-4 lower slopes/trails served by the surface lifts; 1 long, open slope running alongside the Borvig chair, and 1 long, winding, gladed trail through the woods east of the Borvig chair. This last trail was new in 1973.

Timmons was hired as the Snowmaking Supervisor and Pipeline Construction Manager in September, 1973, at the beginning of the resort’s final season. Rappahannock had four water pumps - two on the river to pump up to the snowmaking pond, and two at the pond pumphouse. A bank of Sullair diesel compressors provided a total of 6,000 CFM to drive the guns.

Watching snowmaking at Rappahannock. Photo courtesy of John Timmons, CHSSnowmakers.com.

Timmons believed that the original owners of the ski area were Tim and Diane Mueller, who currently own Okemo Mountain; however, in March, 2006, DCSki received confirmation that Tim and Diane had not owned a ski area prior to Okemo and had no involvement with Rappahannock.

Multiple people have indicated that Rappahannock was sold to Camelback in the early 70’s. Camelback continues to operate an area in the Poconos.

The 1973-1974 season was a rough one for Mid-Atlantic ski resorts, and Camelback announced that Rappahanock was going bankrupt around March 1, 1974.

This photo was taken in January, 1974, with about 60% of the terrain open on the center and right side of the resort.  This was the final season for Rappahannock.
A photo of Rappahannock Ski Area taken from an orchard across the valley. This photo was taken in January, 1974, with about 60% of the terrain open on the center and right side of the resort. This was the final season for Rappahannock. Photo courtesy of John Timmons, CHSSnowmakers.com.

During that final season, Timmons reports that there were a series of freeze-thaw cycles with rain that forced Rappahannock to completely cover the mountain 7 times with manmade snow, going from bare ground each time to 90% coverage.

“That season was the year of the infamous Arab oil boycott, which stopped most Americans from driving for recreation - not being able to buy gas every day,” Timmons adds. “Fuel was a nightmarish situation for Rappahannock also.”

Harry Ferrance was the Mountain Manager at the time Rappahannock announced bankruptcy. Timmons notes that he and Harry were the last two employees at Rappahannock. During the spring of 1974, they performed a complete inventory, right down to the last nut and bolt.

In early 2004, John Chandler posted some information about Rappahannock on the DCSki Message Forum:

A current property owner near the site of Rappahannock sent a note to DCSki with a link to a collection of photos from Rappahannock from a local photographer. The photographer, Dave Batchelder, shows some of his work from 1972-1974 on this web page. Scroll down to the section titled Skyline Ski Area (Rappahannock’s previous name).

During the Fall of 2005, Al Lebo sent DCSki a note with his recollections of the Skyline ski area:

However, subsequent readers point out that Rappahanock was not located near Route 50, so it is possible Al was confusing some of the details above with another lost ski area.

A patch from Skyline Ski Area. Image provided by Woody Bousquet.

Woody Bousquet found and purchased an old Skyline Ski Area brochure on eBay. He provides the following scans:

The front and back of a Skyline Ski Area brochure, from the 1965-1966 season. Image provided by Woody Bousquet.

The inside of the brochure. Image provided by Woody Bousquet.

An insert from the brochure, listing prices. Image provided by Woody Bousquet.
A ski patch from Big Devil. Photo provided by Woody Bousquet.
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Reader Comments

Tom Appleby
January 23, 2005
Please send me information on your chairlift i need data on lift construction
thank you
WrkgMan22@aol.com
JimK
March 25, 2005
This is a great little write-up on a place I visited once as a boy (believe during the Big Devil stage). Loved those Batchelder photos with folks in period garb.
Amazing local ski trivia that industry giants, the Muellers, got some of their early ski area management experience in our region.
DCSki Reader
October 3, 2005
Does anyone know the location and current status of property? I drove Route 211 to the Valley in the late '70s but haven't been back in years and can't recall any remnants.
Tom Jacobs
December 1, 2005
check out this link to an old brochure of Skyline Ski area

http://teachski.com/brochures/skylineva/skylineva.htm

(Comment originally posted in old Skyline profile on 2005-10-15, and moved to Rappahannock profile by Scott.)
ggnagy
December 1, 2005
Used two clues from the brochure (washington, VA and Rush River Inn) to find
http://www.terraserver-usa.com/image.aspx?T2&S11&Z17&X1855&Y10728&W3

Across the valley from the ski area is Big Devils Stairs falls and trail.

(Comment originally posted in old Skyline profile on 2005-10-17, and moved to Rappahannock profile by Scott.)
ggnagy
December 1, 2005
didn't notice til now. either insert an equal sign between each letter to number transition,

or just feed terraserver these coordinates:
Long: -78.21346
Lat: 38.73994

(Comment originally posted in old Skyline profile on 2005-10-17, and moved to Rappahannock profile by Scott.)
Clarissa Pinado
December 2, 2005
I'm 19 and have lived in Little Washington for much of my life. My grandfather bought the old ski lodge right after the Rappahanock Ski Area went bankrupt.Before that, my mother, my aunt, and uncles and grandparents used to ski there all the time.I lived in the lodge for about 12 years of my life and my grandparents recently sold it. All of our rooms still had numbers on the doors. The attic ceiling are things that skiers wrote in the early 70's. I climbed the mountain behind the house often and saw remnants of the chair lifts. A man has bought the ski lodge that was at the bottom of the ski "hill" and his progress in restoring it is uncertain.
Clarissa Pinado
December 2, 2005
I'm 19 and have lived in Little Washington for much of my life. My grandfather bought the old ski lodge right after the Rappahanock Ski Area went bankrupt.Before that, my mother, my aunt, and uncles and grandparents used to ski there all the time.I lived in the lodge for about 12 years of my life and my grandparents recently sold it. All of our rooms still had numbers on the doors. The attic ceiling are things that skiers wrote in the early 70's. I climbed the mountain behind the house often and saw remnants of the chair lifts. A man has bought the ski lodge that was at the bottom of the ski "hill" and his progress in restoring it is uncertain.
Tim Raymond
February 23, 2006
My dad was ski school director of Skyline Ski Area from 1963 - 1966. There were at least a couple of partime time ski instructors, one named JP (I think), and one named Sharon. We had moved down from Vermont so my dad could work at Skyline.

My mom ran the ski shop, my older brother and I would ski all day long.

As I recall the head of the Ski Patrol was a man named Batchelder, I don't recall his first name. He had at least one son that skied there, he was younger than my brother and I so we didn't ski too much together. The link provided is no longer active, too bad, I'd like to have seen the photographs.

There was a bunch of regulars that skied together, I wish I remembered people's names. I remember one man who owned a peach orchard but I don't recall his name. When I was about 11 I was skiing and someone came barrelling down the slope and ran me over giving me a skinned nose. The guy that ran me over started berating me for being in his way and the man who owned the peach orchard came charging over to stick up for me telling the other guy that the collision was his fault.

There was a local doctor and his family that used to ski there a lot also.

Thanks for this page, it has been GREAT reliving some of my long past youth.
Tim Raymond
February 23, 2006
My dad was ski school director of Skyline Ski Area from 1963 - 1966. There were at least a couple of partime time ski instructors, one named JP (I think), and one named Sharon. We had moved down from Vermont so my dad could work at Skyline.

My mom ran the ski shop, my older brother and I would ski all day long.

As I recall the head of the Ski Patrol was a man named Batchelder, I don't recall his first name. He had at least one son that skied there, he was younger than my brother and I so we didn't ski too much together. The link provided is no longer active, too bad, I'd like to have seen the photographs.

There was a bunch of regulars that skied together, I wish I remembered people's names. I remember one man who owned a peach orchard but I don't recall his name. When I was about 11 I was skiing and someone came barrelling down the slope and ran me over giving me a skinned nose. The guy that ran me over started berating me for being in his way and the man who owned the peach orchard came charging over to stick up for me telling the other guy that the collision was his fault.

There was a local doctor and his family that used to ski there a lot also.

Thanks for this page, it has been GREAT reliving some of my long past youth.
wayne
November 21, 2006
is this on public land? nat forest? nat park?
Walter Jaeger
March 9, 2007
My junior and senior in high school 1967-1968 (Albemarle Cty) I taught at Skyline Ski Area on the weekends and once for two weeks when the snow kept drifting the roads, keeping schools closed forever. The head of the ski school was a tall thin Austrian. I can't remember his name. The resort manager was a retired Colonel who had a son, Jeb, who was a terrific skier. Jeb went on to race travelig all over the US and South America.

For a kid just learning to teach, Skyline was a wonderful opportunity. Head skis were offered to instructors with their name engraved in the metal ski. I was so proud of those skis.

The main lodge had a large circular fireplace in the middle. I remember many evenings at the end of the day or on very cold days, just staring into the flames with our feel propped up on the ledge.

I still teach part time, currently at at Massanutten Resort
DCSki Reader
May 3, 2007
The first part is wrong and Al Lebo is right. This ski area was Skyline before it was Big(?) Devil, not the other way around. So fix that. I didn't know it was finally Rappahannock, but I have no reason to doubt that. I skied at Skyline and I used to know the name it changed to. (something) Devil, but Big Devil sounds wrong.

Great comments above. I skied at Skyline once circa 1970, but don't remember much about it.
Bob
December 14, 2007
Just on a whim I searched Rappahannock Ski Area and found this. I reacall going while a freshman and sophmore in HS in '73 and '74. It was close and for my abilites it was great. Had some wonderful times there and miss it.
DCSki Reader
February 27, 2008
The comments and details provided by "Al Lebo" seem very confused. The former ski area in Rappahannock County, VA was about 60 miles south of Rt. 50 and no where near Upperville, VA or Paris, VA. It was also a north/north-east facing slope (not a south facing slope).

The currently available USGS 7.5-minute Quad map that for the area (Quad map name is "Washington, VA") still shows a dashed line that denotes the location of one of the former ski lifts (and is labeled as such). See N38.7356, W78.2138 (NAD83). Note: the lift is long gone.

Also, the ski area was still very much in operation in '73 and not "abandoned" (as evidenced by the Batchelder photos). It is possible that it was called "Big Devil" after skyline since "Big Devil Stairs" is a prominent gorge just north of the old ski area in what is now Shenandoah National Park (see USGS quad map).
kevin
May 19, 2008
The base to summit borvig was relocated by Camelback after the area shut down. It is still in operation today at Camelback as the Glen lift.
own old mt. run ski
January 31, 2009
Found old SKYLINE SKI AREA WASHINGTON, VA. flag/banner about 30" long at a local flea market a few weeks ago. Pretty cool. If anybody has anything about, or knows about MOUNTAIN RUN SKI, please post on that site. Thanks
Mike
February 18, 2009
There are three ski lifts from the Rappahannock Ski Area still in operation at Camelback. The Glen lift is a Borvig Double that is used primarily now to service the newly revamped Terrain Park, the Sunbowl I lift, another Borvig double, that services beginner terrain and the Coolmoor II lift, one of the last survivng Pullman-Berry lifts, that sevices the other beginner terrain.
Mike
February 18, 2009
Correction on my above response. The Sunbowl I lift is NOT from the Rappahannock Ski Area. Sorry, don't know what I was thinking.
teachski.com
March 31, 2009
Hi,
I have the same brochure Woody contributed and a couple other papers that were inserts with it when I purchased it off eBay. Unfortunately I do not have any postcards. The pictures you have linked to are great. I love teh old B&W ski area pictures.
rick
September 26, 2009
wow reading the post a lot of fond memories wayne and myself rick worked at the ski area 73-74 we were the guys from annapolis,md.that lived down the road at rush river lodge that pat powell managed drove vans and had a beagle dog named wesel.working at the ski area and the people were great,some of the things i rember were the guy that worked at the orchard,he'de come to the lodge twice a wk. to take a shower because he didn't have any running water in his cabin,humpy smoot stopping by showing his take after a night of coon hunting,richard tupper always had a bag of huge sandwiches always asked if i wanted one,richard had his own way things schould opperate,when lunch time came he'de tell the skiers it was lunch time and shut the lift down at 12:30 everybody would come back from lunch and he'de start the lift,problem solved he didn't need anybody to replace him for lunch,this worked pretty good for a wile until someone noticed the lift not running and confronted him eating in the cafateria.does anyone know about these people? ski instructers jody something and diana beburg,rush river lodge? thanks rick
Raymond
February 21, 2011
The ski area in Washington, Va. was open in
the early 70's. A friend of mine Larry and myself worked there as part of the maintenance
crew.
rick
September 6, 2011
raymond do you still live in the area? if so is the rush river lodge still their? rick
David
November 25, 2012
I remember the three rope tows on the main slope - before the T-bar was installed. The tows were all at angles to each other, and you had to take a strong tug at the top of your ride up to give you momentum to get to the next rope. There you gave a jump turn to align yourself, and with luck and good timing, grab the next rope ( which may have been running at a different speed) and ride on up the second tow. Same process at the third tow, which , as I remember was very steep at the top! Tows run by "drivers" in old truck cabs, (rope around the rear drive wheel) their foot on the accelerator!
John Baumgardner
January 18, 2013
I worked @ the Skyline Ski area (in the ski rental shop) on weekends in 1967-1968. I was 15 at the time. Col. McNear was a part owner and had recently purchased the property.
As I recall, the resort property was purchased in 1962. The original owners were also the ones that developed the Blue Knob Ski resort near Claysburg Pa.
My father use to rabbit hunt on this same property in the 1950's.
From 1957-1964 we had abundant snowfall, and when the Skyline Ski area was being developed, my father said he felt that it would require little snowmaking. At that time, the north slopes of the Blue Ridge (with a few exception)remained snow covered all winter long.
Jack Debergh owned a large apple and peach farm near the resort, which was located about 5-miles west of Washington Virginia in Harris Hollow. Mr. Debergh skied there often, and his daughter was on the Ski patrol.
When the blizzard of 1966 hit, we had 55 mph winds with 12-foot drifts in places. A fair number of skiers were stranded at the Ski area for a number of days, and were very disappointed that Sking was prohibited, since an injury could not get a response from the local resue squad.

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