SI Vault
Bil Gilbert
February 21, 1966
The increase in ski resorts along the Mason-Dixon line, where blizzards come raging out of nozzles, is a boon to winter illusionists, many of whom hate to ski
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February 21, 1966

A No-snow Slope To Nonsport

The increase in ski resorts along the Mason-Dixon line, where blizzards come raging out of nozzles, is a boon to winter illusionists, many of whom hate to ski

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Even with all these innovations skiing was not, a decade ago, as easy and inviting as nonsportsmen would have liked. (The objectives of nonsport skiing are not kept secret. An announced goal of National Ski Week, a nine-day festival held from January 21 to January 30, was to "convince the general public that skiing is not only healthful and enjoyable, but also easy.") It is a hard fact that in such places as Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, it often gets cold enough to make a skier's nose drip all over his $500 shrewskin shirt as he dashes from parking lot to lodge. Since the drift of civilization is toward temperate climate, the biggest market for nonsports (or anything else) is found along the mild Atlantic seacoast, in the string of shopping plazas connected by cities that stretch from the Hudson to the James River. Obviously, it would be more convenient, lucrative and nonsporting to move skiing to these coastal people rather than to con them into coming to cold, windy places in the woods.

Unfortunately for the execution of this good idea, winters in the Atlantic megalopolis, except for an occasional blizzard, do not have much snow. From November to March, from Gibbsville to Mt. Vernon the weather consistently runs to mist, slush and mud. Now, ski illusionists had already done some wonderful things but, for the moment, selling lift tickets on mudbanks was beyond them. If a customer is going to pay hard cash to dress, to be equipped and to think of himself as a Viking for an hour or so, you have got to give him at least a little of that old cold white. Eventually, as with so many modern problems, a technological answer was found to this dilemma. A device was perfected that enabled large amounts of artificial snow to be made and dispensed just like Coal Tar Whipping Cream. Spray-It-From-A-Nozzle. No Refrigeration Needed. Easy—Safe—Good. Liberated from galling meteorological restrictions, the industry schussed past the frost line, creating something called southern skiing—a nonsport enterprise, which in terms of inspired legerdemain might be compared to P. T. Barnum's celebrated 25� nonattraction, "To the Egress."

The heart of the southern skiland is now located in the Potomac River basin—southern Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia. As of this writing there are said to be 23 ski resorts within a 200-mile radius of Washington. This figure is based upon a ski report issued by The Washington Post on Jan. 7, 1966. Significantly, in a Dec. 12, 1965 ski supplement of The Washington Star only 20 ski spots were listed for the same region. The discrepancy may be due to journalistic error, but there is a good chance that the modern newspaper is simply not geared to cover such a fast groundbreaking story as that of southern skiing. A new area a week (if both the Post and Star figures are accurate) is perhaps not a growth rate that can be sustained indefinitely, but it is indicative. Half a dozen new areas are being planned for the Potomac watershed, North Carolina already has ski resorts and prospects for more and even that subpolar state of Tennessee has one. Except perhaps for the dangers of rattlesnakes and sharp palmetto stubs, nothing now seems to bar skiing from the Gulf of Mexico.

Innovation is apparently more highly regarded than tradition in southern ski establishments, just as it is in motels and bowling alleys. Each year's crop of new lodges and lifts is bigger, gaudier, more illusionary than the last. An area that goes a season or two without retooling and refurbishing is regarded by competitors and customers as being hopelessly old-fashioned. For this reason, a place called Charnita, opened for the 1966 season, is (for this winter, at least) the ne plus ultra of southern skiing.

Charnita is located 10 miles south of Gettysburg, three miles on the Pennsylvania side of the Mason-Dixon line. It lies, culturally, at the intersection of the Apple Strudel and White Lightning belts. Meteorologically it is in the heart of the slush zone—average snowfall 33 inches, average December-through-March temperature 35�. Commercially it is an hour's drive from both Washington and Baltimore. The ski slope at Charnita is situated on a rise of ground identified by local usage as McKee's Hill, but which is now advertised as Mount Charnita. Mount Charnita towers, comparatively speaking, 606 feet above Toms Creek, which until last summer was a clear trout stream running through open pastures and old woodlots.

These days the most prominent building in the upper Toms Creek valley is the Charnita ski lodge, a long, many-gabled, orangish structure which gives one the momentary impression that Leif Ericson was commissioned to design a Howard Johnson mead hall. Though it may have its esthetic weak points, this Nordic-type building, rising up abruptly out of the rolling Pennsylvania pastureland, is unquestionably an eye-catcher, as a palm-thatched hut would be at the head of Stavanger Fiord. If further investigation is to be undertaken, the next thing one must see is also impressive—a 300-poundish real-estate wheeler-dealer from Baltimore, who is, in a manner of speaking, the Father of Charnita.

"You can call us a pioneer of supermarket recreation," suggests The Pioneer, with delicate emphasis on the regal pronoun.

There is no reason to deny the request. The ski area, as it turns out, is only one department—like the frozen-fish counter in an A & P—of the far larger, 2,000-acre Charnita complex. Along the banks of Toms Creek there is a golf course, over whose thin new turf golf carts are expected to churn come next summer (the fleet of carts was purchased before the fairways were sown). Above the course, on the creek, is an impoundment pond—spoken of as a lake—stocked with fish and boats for nonsportsmen. Between the lake and golf course are wedged a picnic shelter, pony ring, miniature golf course and a wishing well. Planned for the future are an "Olympic-size swimming pool" (it has been many a year since anyone built an old-fashioned, non-Olympic pool) and a hotel with a revolving dining room for the top of McKee's Hill—pardon, Mount Charnita. Also the entire valley is laced with newly bulldozed roads which, if they are still a little rutty, have signs identifying them as Fawn Trail, Valley View, Hill Top, etc. Off Fawn Trail and the other new thoroughfares there is space for a couple of thousand lots for parties desiring to build "secluded vacation or weekend hideaways."

"This has been on my mind for 10 years," says The Pioneer, indicating Charnita in the everything-from-the-shad-ow-of-that-big-old-chair-lift-to-the-pure-water-wishing-well-belongs-to-this-spread manner of a movie cattle baron. "The key to recreational development is offering something for the whole family, something for you, your wife, the children, teen-agers, even your elderly mother." (Now I know what to do with my elderly mother when she returns from the Peace Corps. We will go to the Charnita wishing well and then take a spin on the revolving dining room.)

And what, 10 years ago, interested The Pioneer in this sort of recreational speculation?

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