New Era at Hidden Valley
With the recent acquisition of Hidden Valley by Seven Springs, a new era is under way. As it turns out, they are quite appropriate as the owner of the resort, and are likely to make it much more successful.
George Parke founded Hidden Valley on his own property, then entered into a partnership with the Kettler Brothers organization to further develop the resort and add housing. However, Kettler’s finances came under stress, and the resort declined markedly under their management. Then it was purchased by the Buncher Organization, reversing the physical decline that was underway. More recently, Hidden Valley was acquired by Seven Springs Resort, an experienced and successful ski resort operator. They have brought their operational skills to bear at Hidden Valley.
This brief history of Hidden Valley puts it into perspective within western Pennsylvania ski resorts, and lets you see how the resort has developed.
The Modern Ski Age
Adolph Dupre started the Western Pennsylvania ski industry when he began to offer skiing near his home in the 1930s. The ski area that he started is now Seven Springs.
Hidden Valley dates from the 1958-59 ski season, when it first opened. George and Helen Parke, and Helen’s parents, Gordon and Gladys Craighead, owned the land where Hidden Valley Resort is located today. Their son, Hank Parke, said that they had no intention of starting a ski area when they purchased the land.
George Parke was employed by the Union Railroad at the time, but didn’t like his job, so he was looking for another job. Some friends suggested that his property got a lot of snow, and had good hills as well, so he could start a ski area. He took them up on the idea, and Hidden Valley was born.
The new ski area was geared toward beginners, and didn’t allow alcoholic beverages on the ski area. The local community liked the ski area. “It offers good skiing for all who love good clean fun,” a 1960 Daily American review of the resort said.
Hank Parke was quoted by The Washington Times
“In the early days, it was almost medieval,” Parke said. “The first rope tow at Hidden Valley was run off of a Ford tractor. The power takeoff had a wheel on it, there was a big belt, and that ran for the rope tow. I think that’s the one that Seven Springs worked, too.”
In 1960, Hidden Valley added a Poma lift, doubled the length of their slopes and increased the number of guest rooms. The first snowmaking system was installed at Seven Springs. Herman Dupre was a constant on the Seven Springs mountain when he was innovating the snow-guns in the ensuing decades, said Ski Patrol Director Dick Barron, who has been working at the resort in some capacity since the mid-1960s.
“He knew it was the thing you had to do,” Barron said. “You’d be skiing and see Herman toying with the guns, playing, elevating and adjusting it.” Snowmaking changed the ski industry.
“It extended the season,” Parke said. “The time between Christmas and New Year’s is critical in the ski business. If the ski area wasn’t open during that time, we refunded everybody’s room deposits. That’s a lot of money. When you’re open then, all the students are out of school. It’s phenomenally busy day after day after day.”
Hidden Valley and Seven Springs attracted different crowds then. “There were a ton of people from Somerset who skied Hidden Valley,” he said. “I really think Hidden Valley was Somerset’s ski area. I think that’s changed. But Seven Springs in the early years drew more people from out of the area. But I think that’s evened out.”
Seven Springs didn’t draw the number of people it does today, but it was still a special place for the people who came. “It was magical,” Barron said. “It was a place where people wanted to be. It wasn’t a big crowd. A busy day was 300 people. Everyone knew everyone.”
A number of other resorts popped up around Somerset County in the early days. Among them were Camp Soles, Plateau De Mount, White Mountain and Bear Rocks. Laurel Mountain was opened to the public around 1960. It was turned over to the state in 1964.
Grooming was done in a different way back then. Customers and staff would sidestep up the hill with their skis to pack the snow. “People wanted to ski,” Parke said. “We usually gave them the longest skis out of the rental shop possible because that would cover more square footage.”
Skiers were expected to fix any big holes, which were called sitzmarks, they made in the snow.
Tragedy struck Hidden Valley in November of 1969 when the ski lodge burned down. Flames from the fire shot 60 feet in the air. The fire cost the resort an estimated $350,000, according to reports at the time.
The Parke family and Hidden Valley customers continued skiing at Hidden Valley. “We are not defeated,” Helen Parke said at the time. “We will go on and ski this winter.” They started rebuilding within days. They operated out of a small building. People came to the resort on their days off to help rebuild the lodge.
In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Seven Springs received a number of expansions and renovations. A new lodge replaced the old one in 1979. They added the Giant Steps Slope, which was 4,860 feet long, in 1983. They added the 4,880-foot long Gunnar Slope in 1984. And there was an exponential growth in the number of ski lifts at the area during that time.
The ‘70s brought with it improvements in grooming technology. Jeff Coulter, executive director of administration at Seven Springs, was a groomer then. “We didn’t groom the whole mountain,” Coulter said. “We had to go downhill because the machines weren’t powerful enough to go uphill. It took all night.”
Laurel Mountain closed in 1989, and has been reopened and closed at various times since then. There are plans to reopen the resort, which will be operated by Seven Springs.
The shift from the ‘80s to the ‘90s brought with it the snowboarding revolution. Back then there were connotations of snowboarders as “smokers and knuckle-draggers,” said Craig Rosman, owner of Route 31 Bike, Board and Ski in Somerset. “We used to practice snowboarding on the closed slopes at Hidden Valley illegally in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,” Rosman said. “I also remember there was more of a camaraderie of people hanging out and staying longer.”
Beginning in the early ‘90s, the resorts began permitting snowboarders to use the slopes. The snowboard lifestyle disseminated into the skiing culture. Nowadays, the jumps and features are used as frequently by skiers as they are by snowboarders.
The Kettler Era
There have been a number of ownership changes in the local ski industry in the past 35 years. George Parke sold Hidden Valley to Kettler Brothers Inc. in 1983. The Dupres sold Seven Springs to the Nutting family, which also owns the Pittsburgh Pirates, in 2006. The Kettler family sold Hidden Valley to the Buncher Co. in 2007. And the Nutting family bought Hidden Valley in 2013.
Throughout the history, the story of the mountain is really the stories of the people who came and worked there. There are countless stories families throughout the region have because the ski industry set up shop here. “I’ve talked to people over the years,” Parke said. “And they tell me, ‘You don’t realize how much of an integral part of life this was when our kids were growing up.’”
For years, Hidden Valley declined while it was owned by Kettler Brothers.
The Buncher Era
Happily. in 2007 ago the resort was acquired by the Buncher Group, a privately owned Pittsburgh company, who had ambitions plans for the resort. They immediately improved the skiing dramatically, with the addition of more than a hundred new high-tech snowmakers. New lifts were installed to eliminate lift lines, even on the busiest holiday weekends. The lodge was refurbished, and competent management was brought to food service and the ski shop.
Many ski trails were made wider and the side-to-side slope was reduced to make them more pleasant to ski. There’s a real lodge at the base of the North Side instead of a ramshackle trailer. The tubing center has been expanded, and now there’s an ice rink and an ice tubing slide as well.
Hidden Valley Resort received desparately needed improvements during the Buncher era, and we can be grateful for the competence and integrity that they brought to Hidden Valley.
Because you’ve visited this site, you can receive a 20% discount from the rate in effect at the time you visit. Just visit the discount page on this site that explains how to claim your discount. You’ll also see how to obtain discounts on a lot of other offerings in the Laurel Mountain area.
Seven Springs Ownership
In 2013, Mr. Nutting acquired Hidden Valley for $7.5 million in October of 2013 from the Buncher organization, who had acquired the resort from Kettler in 2007 for $12.4 million.
The agreement covers Hidden Valley’s 1,200 acres, including 28 slopes and trails for skiing and snowboarding and an 18-hole golf course. So what does this acquisition mean for the employees, homeowners and guests at the respective resorts?
Mr. Nutting and Buncher president Tom Balestrieri had a private meeting with Hidden Valley employees Tuesday. A spokeswoman said Mr. Nutting “greeted them, welcomed them and expressed his excitement for this new chapter.” He also met with Seven Springs’ directors and managers.
Mr. Balestrieri thanked the employees for helping Buncher’s Resort and Hospitality Group rescue and revitalize a rundown resort. Buncher bought Hidden Valley for $12.4 million on Aug. 31, 2007 — the asking price had been $36 million — and then went about performing long overdue maintenance, including new roofs on almost all the major buildings.
Skiers and snowboarders have used social media to praise Hidden Valley’s snowmaking system, especially its ability to recover its terrain after warm weather events.
Today, the many improvements the Buncher group made are being very competently managed by the Seven Springs organization, that clearly knows how to run a ski resort. The many improvements made are being put to good use.
This is based primarily on an excellent article from the Washington Times, Storied history of western Pennsylvania skiing