High Country Ski Industry - 1960s Marked The Start

The High Country's first skier was apparently Boone attorney Wade Brown. In the late 1950s, the Boone Chamber of Commerce was looking at ways to extend the tourism season. In those days, the tourists left when the leaves fell and did not return until Memorial Day. The impact on the local economy was serious, and the Chamber wanted to solve that problem.

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Elsewhere in the South, people were planning and starting to open the first, almost experimental ski resorts. Skiing then was seen as something for New England or the Rockies, and the first Southern slopes took more than their share of skeptical kidding in the national press.

Skiing was also on the minds of people everywhere in the United States in 1960. That year, for the first time since 1932, the United States hosted the Winter Olympics. New from Squaw Valley, Calif., filled the newspapers and millions watched the exciting competitions on television.

High Country Ski Industry
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Appalachian Ski Mountain started alpine ski training for US Army Troops in the winter of 1969-70

Inspired by all this, Wade Brown, when the first heavy snow of 1960 fell, went to Miller Brothers army surplus and put down $2.50 for a pair of military skis, fashioned from Hickory. Gathering up a local photographer and his daughter Margaret (who recently retired as executive director of the Boone Chamber), he headed for the new golf course in town. After several tries, Mr. Brown managed to ski down a small hill near the golf shop.

The resulting pictures appeared in area newspapers, along with the promise of skiing in the mountains the next winter. Mr. Brown gladly handed over the whole idea to others, and put up his skis for good. He did serve on a Chamber committee with Alfred Adams and W.H. Gragg, which investigated the possibility of a ski resort.

The High Country did not have skiing in the winter of 1961, but construction on a resort in Blowing Rock began that year. The Blowing Rock Ski Lodge opened for the 1962-63 season. Skiing had come to the High Country.

The man behind this resort was M.E. Thalheimer, who bought the land for the resort from Grover Robbins. L.A. Reynolds Construction from Winston-Salem did the building work, and V.L. Moretz & Son Lumber Co. of Deep Gap provided the materials.

In spite of a strong initial response, Thalheimer had a tough time keeping his head above water. He gave up the management of the resort during the winter of 1965-66, but still the money problems continued. Finally, in 1968 the bank called the loans.

Grady Moretz and several others saved the resort by stepping in and paying off the loan. Under this new leadership, and with a new name - Appalachian Ski Mountain - the resort reopened for the 1968-69 season. There were no lifts, just a rope tow and regular, old wooden skis. The first double chairlift was added in 1969.

In 1968, another important event took place. Jim Cottrell put together what would become French-Swiss Ski College, the region's first school for skiing.

Meanwhile, there was more development afoot. In 1964, Grover and Harry Robbins opened a ski slope at Hound Ears Lodge and Club. The scene then shifted south to Avery County, where experiments in skiing in Banner Elk began in 1965. In 1966, work began on what is now Ski Hawksnest, which opened in the winter of 1966-67. Beech Mountain became the last of the Watauga County slopes to open in the 1960s when it started business in the winter of 1967-68. Just as the decade ended, on Dec. 29, 1969, Sugar Mountain, the last of the present four major resorts to start business, opened.

Much has happened in the ensuing decades, but the roots of the success of the modern skiing industry began with the pioneers of the 1960s.

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