Bonner Day: A valley man’s vision blinded by snow

Bonner Day

Bonner Day

The Shenandoah Valley, with its river and rich farm land, is not a place where you might expect a ski resort.

But one man’s vision has made skiing a reality in the valley for thousands of locals and visitors.

Old-timers at the ski slope like to say it all started in a hard scrabble area of pig farms. But the real story is more complicated. The story-book dream was only possible through a lot of planning, hard work and a constant search for investment capital.

It did not take a village. It took a man, a man who saw ski slopes where others only saw pig huts.

The resort stakes claim to be the nearest ski slope in Northern Virginia and its urban neighbors in Washington, D.C., and Richmond.

Pete Bryce, who died in 2005, is the founder of his namesake Bryce Resort. Born Paul Brice, he changed his name because he thought it sounded sexier. From the start he wanted to build and build big on the business he inherited…

Today Bryce resort consists of a number of ski slopes, a golf course, tubing run for summer and winter, a zip line, a climbing wall and a restaurant that compares favorably with competition in the valley.

Though it is most famous for its winter ski runs, it started as a summer resort, way back in 1909.

Pete Bryce’s grandfather converted a farm house into a summer vacation spot by adding a dining room and guest rooms. As guests fleeing the summer heat in Washington, D.C.,  and Richmond increased, a number of cottages were added. Most came to take advantage of the sulfur baths, an old Virginia custom dating back to George Washington.

It is interesting that valley residents not only can point to places where Washington slept, but also where he bathed.

During World War I, many families came to spend the entire summer. They would arrive at the Mount Jackson train station and be taken by horse-drawn coaches to the Bryce facility.

In the 1920s the press of increasing numbers of patrons supported a bowling alley and a dance hall. By the 1930s the Bryce facility accommodated 250 guests. The addition of indoor plumbing only added to the continued growth.

Pete’s grandfather died in 1940 and his father took over for the next 10 years. When it was turned over to the grandson Pete in 1950, the resort began its conversion.

Under Pete, guest accommodations were usually filled and there was a waiting list. When the idea of recreation began to change, Pete looked for new ways to make his business attractive. It was then that artificial snow came to his attention and he became an immediate ski enthusiast. To bring skiing to the Northern Virginia, he had to invest in a snowmaking system, ski lifts and a ski lodge. To raise capital he communicated his enthusiasm among guests who were willing to invest.

Following a hectic scramble of construction and financing, Bryce Ski Resort was completed. It opened in 1965 to an unseasonably warm winter, which almost immediately overwhelmed the snow production system. Bryce residents still recall with admiration Pete’s innovative response to the emergency. He contacted nearby turkey and chicken packing plants in search of excess ice. The ice was spread on the slopes and the operation was declared open for business. It was the only open ski resort in the Eastern United States on that warm Christmas day.

Like the typical golf resort that sold adjacent land plots for residences, Pete began selling lots for homes, condos and apartments. Bryce Resort was transformed into a nationally known ski resort. The resort gained a unique name when it advertised that guests could be flown from area airports to Bryce.

Today, if the weather is right or the snow blowers are turned on, skiing is available throughout the valley in less than an hour’s drive.

For me, the place has bitter sweet memories. I’m celebrating our honeymoon there in 2004 and the wife on the second day dislocated her shoulder on the ski slopes.

Bonner Day, who raises cattle in the valley, is married to a snow bunny. Email: bonner5@shentel.net.

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