Paul Cline has been trying to hunt down information about a short lived ski area in his home town. We don’t know the exact name of the ski area, but Paul suggests calling it Mount Lebanon Golf and Ski for now. Paul contacted the local historical group, and Wally Workmaster, from the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon, provided him with the following information, and permission to post it to DCSki:
“Hi Paul - Considerable thanks for you inquiry sent to The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon’s web site address.
I’m a former president and current member of the Board of Trustees of The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon.
The ski slope in question operated for one year only, probably the winter of 1952-1953 or perhaps 1953-1954, on the site of a golf driving range located on the 23-acre property now occupied by the Bower Hill Apartments on Bower Hill Road, Mount Lebanon.
I wasn’t and am not a skier, but I personally observed the ski slope in operation on different occasions while driving past that location while I was home from college for Christmas vacation and the break between semesters in that winter.
My impression was that whoever operated the golf driving range during warmer periods of the year was trying to derive further income from the property through the ski slope operation. It obviously was not a long or difficult run and probably was best suited to beginners.
The same lighting fixtures used to illuminate the golf driving range appeared to be used to light the ski slope during evening hours. To the best of my recollection, there was only a single tow rope to assist skiers in regaining the top of the slope.
I very much doubt if there was anything as sophisticated as snow-making machinery; therefore, the operation was probably dependent upon natural snowfall.
A 1993 USGS topographic map of the location well after construction of the three apartment buildings now on the site shows a drop in elevation from 1,180 feet above sea level at the Bower Hill Road edge of the site to 1,060 or 1,040 feet above sea level at what probably were the practical and/or extreme possible limits for a ski slope, thus representing a drop of 120 to 140 feet in elevation; however, to achieve the maximum drop it would have been necessary for the slope to bend to the left toward the lower end of the downhill run. I have no idea how the slope was laid out at its lower end.
I don’t know precisely how much grading of the site was done when the apartment complex was constructed. It’s my impression that, with the exception of the access roads, parking areas, and the locations of the present structures, including swimming pools and one pool building, the site retains a good deal of its original general contours.
Prior to the golf driving range and the very brief use as a ski slope, the property had been farmland.
I must admit that what attracted my attention at the time was to suddenly see a winter facility of that kind, however briefly it operated, in Mount Lebanon. I was less concerned with particulars of the run or its mode of operation.
To my present knowledge, the Society does not have any photographs in its collection that shows the ski slope in operation;however, I’ll inquire for you. If, by chance, any photographs exist in the collection, I’ll be back in touch with you.
In early January 2008, Wallace F. Workmaster wrote the following fascinating story describing some of the history of the Mt. Lebanon Ski Center, which he generously provides for publication on DCSki:
An inquiry from local resident and avid skier Paul Cline in September, 2007, concerning a “lost resort” about which he had read in The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon’s membership brochure, led to the following additional information from Bud Stevenson, the original operator of the ski slope located on the present 23-acre site of the Bower Hill Apartments and Condominiums at 1150 - 1170 Bower Hill Road, during the early 1960’s, thanks to interview contacts provided by Frank Haller, Jack Haller, and M. A. Jackson. The recreational facilities discussed are well remembered by a number of older Mount Lebanon residents, but accurate details have been lacking until this point.
Bud Stevenson was a local resident with an idea in the early 1960’s. He was a ski instructor and member of the Ski Patrol at Seven Springs who worked for an advertising agency and was convinced that other residents of Mount Lebanon and the Pittsburgh area in general would welcome a short ski run on the site of the St. Clair Driving Range operated by Lou Fabian on part of a former farm on Bower Hill Road during warmer months of the year.
The property is shown in old plat books to have been owned by P. J. McArdle, thus confirming Bud’s memory; however, given the year of death involved, it’s uncertain if this land was a part of the estate of Pittsburgh City Councilman Peter J. McArdle (1874 - 1940), who perhaps was best known to Pittsburghers as the person for whom a roadway up the face of Mt. Washington, opened in 1928, had been named. It also may be that this owner was a descendant or other family member, perhaps an attorney, who may have shared that name or initials. The land for the ski slope had to be leased directly. Fabian’s lease only covered the months when his golf driving range was in operation.
Bud previously had discussed his idea with his wife and with Jean Lamb, a teacher at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind. Ms. Lamb, in particular, felt that sight-impaired children who naturally have a remarkable sense of balance would benefit from the outdoor experience afforded by a short, straight ski run without intervening physical obstacles. They could be transported to and from the site by bus.
Because the proposed commercial ski slope was a non-conforming use under Mt. Lebanon’s zoning restrictions, agreement not only had to be reached with Lou Fabian for use of the night lighting fixtures originally erected for the golf driving range, but also with the McArdle interest as owner of the property, and the Mount Lebanon Board of Commissioners, which readily granted a variance.
Bud named his new business the Mt. Lebanon Ski Center.
The 600-foot long rope tow, with a large pulley and counterweight to provide tension, was powered by a Model 8N Ford tractor. A trailer from the Dick Corporation was used for ski rentals. The same off-street parking beyond the curb of Bower Hill Road which was used by the golf driving range at other times of the year served the Mt. Lebanon Ski Center. Operation was begun in 1961 and continued for three seasons.
A 1993 USGS topographic map prepared well after the construction of the present three apartment and condominium buildings on the site shows a present drop in elevation from 1,180 feet above sea level at the side of Bower Hill Road to 1,040 or 1,060 feet above sea level at what probably were the extreme practical or possible limits for a ski slope, thus representing a drop of 120 to 140 feet in elevation; however, to achieve the maximum drop a turn to the left would have been necessary at the bottom end of the slope. The original intent appears to have been for a straight descent.
Without consulting older USGS topographic maps, it’s not possible to determine what precise changes in contours were made when the present three residential buildings, access roads, parking facilities, two swimming pools, a pool building, and tennis courts were constructed, although the impression is that the site retains something of the general slope it may have exhibited when it originally was farmland.
Others who helped in the establishment and operation of the ski slope in Mount Lebanon included: Phil Dupre, a part-owner of Seven Springs; a Mr. Brady who operated the ski rental shop in the trailer; and Irwin and Madeline Fuchs, certified ski instructors, who left Seven Springs and operated a ski school at the Mount Lebanon slope. Bud Stevenson and his wife were the overall operators of the facility.
Gracie’s, a roadside establishment on the opposite site of Bower Hill Road demolished a few years ago to make way for a more modern commercial development, sold hot chocolate and other refreshments to skiers in need of restoring warmth after an hour or two on the slope.
There’s no record that any of the students from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind took advantage of the refreshments offered at Gracie’s, but they certainly enjoyed and benefited from the unique outdoor experience that the Mt. Lebanon Ski Center afforded, as did thousands of other residents of Mt. Lebanon and the Pittsburgh area. It proved to be an excellent place for novices and more experienced skiers to try out new skills or equipment. Bud recalls that some people who had been skeptical of his proposal were amazed by its success.
The Mt. Lebanon Ski Center depended upon naturally occurring snow which proved somewhat problematic. While Bud says that the best natural snow for skiing occurs during late March or early April, it was not an altogether reliable source. Vigorous objections from a resident of the subdivision in Scott Township which adjoins the lower end of the ski slope site to possible noise that might have been generated by artificial snowmaking equipment prevented local governmental approval of its purchase and use.
Bud very kindly has temporarily loaned what appears to be the only surviving copy of a “Ski Mt. Lebanon” poster advertising the local ski center to be photocopied for the collections of The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon. After a digital color image has been made by Photography Committee Chairman Kent S. Miller, the original poster will be returned to hang in Bud’s recreation room, a vivid reminder of a now-vanished part of Mount Lebanon’s past.
Unfortunately, no surviving photographs of the Mt. Lebanon Ski Center and its slope or tow presently are known to exist, although they may be in someone’s photo album or an old shoebox. Anyone who thinks they might have one may contact Wally Workmaster at 412-278-2272 to make arrangements for it to be examined. Photographs of the St. Clair Driving Range on the same Bower Hill Road location during warmer months also are being sought for photographic copying.
Pending discovery of an actual photograph of the scene, it’s not unduly difficult to envision a well-illuminated slope, with its rope tow, and the crowds of ski enthusiasts who once could be found skimming over glistening snow at the Mt. Lebanon Ski Center on a cold winter night.