Logan County History: Valley High Ski Resort


By: Mary E. Mortimer

In 1958, John Shoots purchased 307 acres of farmland on County Road 5 south of Zanesfield. Roughly half of the farmland was a wooded hillside east of the Mad River. In previous years, a maple sugar camp had been located on the hillside. John Shoots and his son, Ralph, began surveying the area and researched how they could once again turn it into a profitable sugar camp.

In the spring of 1959, Fred McPeck, an avid skier, suggested they turn the hillside into a ski area and encouraged them to pursue the idea. John and Ralph took his advice and began visiting ski resorts in Michigan. At that time, Michigan had 94 ski areas and Ohio did not have any. The management at Boyne Mountain gave them a lot of encouragement and said, “We may have better weather, a longer season, it’s colder for making snow and we have more natural snow, but you have something that we do not…you have the people.” A study had indicated that there were millions of people within a two-hour drive of the Shoots farm from major Ohio cities and surrounding areas. With the hillside having northern exposure with lots of trees to protect the snow, and with the Mad River running through the property there was plenty of water for snowmaking, it seemed like the perfect area for a ski resort.

The next major obstacle was the cost and where to find the funds to make this dream a reality. In those days there were more skeptics than supporters. To learn more about the requirements for forming a corporation, Ralph took a course in corporate finance at Ohio State University. Ralph asked his professor, Dr. George S. Goodell for financial advice and persuaded him to visit their farm.

As time went on, they learned of another ski area being planned near Mansfield named Snow Trails. Through correspondence and additional trips to Michigan, they knew what needed to be done. Clearing trees for the main slope was the first priority. An adequate parking lot, a lodge facility, rope tows to transport the skiers to the top, some snow-making equipment, and ski rental equipment would also be needed.

Also, a pro shop to supply ski parkas, pants, boots, skis, etc., and a restaurant. As the township was dry, no liquor or beer could be sold. Landscape Architect, Royce Asher, of Sun Valley, Idaho was hired to oversee the slope construction. He had also designed the Boyne Mountain Run in Michigan. Asher later became the General Manager and started the first Ski School during the early years of operation.

They determined that selling stock through an Ohio Corporation would be the best choice of financing. Dr. Goodell and Ralph drew up the necessary paperwork to file with the division of Securities and Ohio Resorts, Inc. dba Valley High was born on September 28, 1961. Fred McPeck became a stockholder in Ohio Resorts, Inc., and served as Director, President, and later General Manager of Valley High for several years.

In early 1962, the Roscoe “Dutch” Connolly Construction Co. of Marysville was hired to begin clearing trees and developing the ski slope. He was the original builder of the Scioto Downs racetrack in Columbus. After clearing trees, a 2,000-foot ski run with a 300-foot vertical drop was constructed. This included clearing the hillside of rocks and stumps and seeding it to prevent erosion. The bottom of the ski area was cleared for the ski lodge and a 700-car parking lot. That summer the original 7,200 square foot lodge was built.

For snowmaking, 4-, 6-, 8- and 10-inch pipelines for air and water were installed. Holdren Brothers Welding Shop from West Liberty did all the welding of the pipe and fittings joints. Four large Ingersoll Rand Compressors, located in a service building north of the slopes, provided the air supply, each powered by a 150 HP electric motor.
Tow ropes were installed on both sides of the slope to advance skiers to the top. A double chair lift was built in the center of the ski area for advanced skiers. It was estimated that they could carry 3,000 skiers per hour with the Mad River chair lift.

Local electrician, Dwight “Sam” Walls did all the electrical installation for the compressors, lifts, lights, etc. He did most of his work at the ski area in the evenings and on weekends. He was on call 24 hours a day for maintenance or when anything went wrong electrically.

Ralph Shoots described opening day as, “Through a miracle of nature, we were able to open on time…December 15, 1962. We had a huge snowstorm 3 or 4 days prior to the opening day and were able to open without having to make snow. This was a blessing because the snow-making equipment was a few days away from being completed and ready to run. Even the chair lift lacked a few days from being in full operation. What an opening day we had! Lots of snow everywhere. We knew that besides the skiers we would have numerous spectators. We decided to charge $1 per car for spectators just to come and observe. The spectators were an unbelievable sight. There was a solid line of cars all day long, both days. Traffic was backed up at times on County Rd 5 for miles in either direction. All the principles of us worked in all phases from selling tickets to the rental department to lift operators, making snow, and maintenance.” The official grand opening was attended by over 1,000 people. Governor James Rhodes and State Representative Roger Cloud cut the ribbon on the Mad River Chair lift.

The restaurant was operated by the Frank Shively family of the Shivley’s Restaurant and Drive in Bellefontaine. The ski shop was run by Dick and Florence Adams, owners of Armstrong & Allen Furniture. This was the beginning of Adams Ski Shop. The Valley High Ski Patrol was formed at that time and was on duty to promote safe skiing during open hours.

A new 40 x 56-foot addition designed by Zanesfield architect, Walter H. Lautenbach, was added to the lodge in August 1963. The contemporary style, open beam construction was erected across the front of the ski lodge and included large window areas for viewing the ski slopes. A massive fireplace was built with native stone and had American Indian artifacts scattered throughout the masonry.

William Saxbe, former Ohio Attorney General and later United States Attorney General, from Mechanicsburg, and Tom Latham, owner of Latham’s Convalescent Home (now the Logan County Museum) become involved in many ways and as stockholders.

In 1966, Royce Asher sold the Royce Asher Ski School to Hans Dorn who had skied at Valley High every year since it opened. Don Spyker Jr. became a partner in the Hans Dorn Ski School and was also an instructor. At its peak, the Hans Dorn Ski School employed 45 ski instructors. For many years Dorn hosted ski trips to the western states, Canada, and Europe. Dorn and Spyker ran the ski school for over thirty years.

In 1968, the village of Valley Hi was incorporated with twenty-five residents. Their first official act was to approve the sale of liquor within the village. The ski resort then moved forward with their plans to construct a loft addition to the lodge where they could serve alcohol.

In 1975, John Shoots, and other investors, sold their stock to Charles P. Conrad who renamed the ski resort Mad River Mountain. Over the years Valley High/Mad River Mountain has grown to be the largest ski resort in Ohio. Now owned by Vail Resorts, it has expanded from the three original trails to sixteen.

A portion of the information in this article is from a letter written by Ralph Shoots in honor of the 40th anniversary of Valley High/Mad River Mountain in February 2002.

Visit the Logan County History Center to learn more interesting aspects of Logan County history. The History Center is open for tours Wednesday – Sunday from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.