Skiing opens up the world
Skiing at Oglebay had humble beginnings back in 1939. It all started with two tracks on the hill above the Crispin Golf Course, one was designated for skiing, the other for sledding and tobogganing. These tracks welcomed winter sports to the park and with Oglebay’s tradition of hospitality, a log fire was set in the Pine Room to keep everyone warm with refreshments offered.
The Oglebay Ski Club (OSC) was organized in early 1940. The club raised money and purchased a ski-tow consisting of one thousand feet of rope that ran back and forth from the No. 9 green to the No. 4 hole powered by a tractor.
The popularity of winter sports was apparent from the start. By 1962, a wood and stone clubhouse was erected on the opposite side of Route 88. Built to support both, the Par-3 golf course, and the newly-reoriented ski slope on the north edge of the park which now featured a 385 foot drop. The idea of combining the ski area with the Par-3 golf course streamlined operations because the facility was designed to convert easily from a ski lodge to a golf shop with the change of the seasons.
The OSC assisted with the purchase of compressors that could manufacture enough snow for skiing in two days, provided the temperatures dipped below 28 degrees. The snow-making equipment and a 1,200 foot Pomalift (the first of three) cost approximately $30,000.
Several local families have multiple generations of ski enthusiasts who have enjoyed Oglebay’s slope. Bill Jones, Oglebay Foundation Board Member and former Wheeling Park Commissioner, remembers his father putting a snow suit on over his business suit to ski on his lunch break from running Stone & Thomas Department Store. It’s incredible to think that the Ohio Valley has a ski area within 15 minutes of downtown Wheeling.
Thanks to the sport, my family and I have experienced so much. Skiing opens up the world.
Paul Exley started skiing at Oglebay in 1956. The then three-year old skied with his family and remembers the rope-tow crossing Route 88 with the slopes going right into the Crispin Golf Course. “My mom and dad started skiing in their 40s and it became a family passion. As their youngest, I would ride between my mom’s skis. Their passion for the sport was so contagious that in addition to our entire family enjoying the sport, they started taking business associates out west on ski trips to Aspen and Vail.”
Once bitten by the ski-bug, Paul was hooked. “As children we had to attend church and Sunday school weekly… unless it snowed. I prayed for snow.” Growing up, during the season, he skied at Oglebay after school every chance he got. He went on to captain the WVU club team and was a competitive skier on the pro-circuit from 1975-1979. Measuring life by ski seasons, Paul says he’s in his 65th ski-season, and it all started at Oglebay. “Thanks to the sport, my family and I have experienced so much. Skiing opens up the world.”
Paul and his wife, Hali, raised their two daughters, Jessica and Christina, in their home near the park. Given their proximity to the slopes, Paul and Hali along with Paul’s parents, Ben and Bonnie, made sure that the girls learned to ski – and at very early ages. Jessica’s lessons started at 18 months!
One hiccup in the family’s Oglebay skiing saga is the period from 1997-2004. During this time, the park made the difficult decision to close the slope due to the increased costs in making snow, but there was no greater champion about the power of the sport and its importance in the community than Paul Exley.
In 2004, technology improvements made snow making more affordable. Thanks to the leadership and generosity of the Nutting family and a group of enthusiasts spearheaded by Paul and Hali, the Oglebay Foundation raised more than $1 million to bring skiing back to the park. Combined with a grant from the National Park Service Land & Water Fund, the park was able to purchase and install a triple chair lift, a modern snow- making system and make possible other improvements, including purchasing new rental equipment. The 1962 clubhouse was then named the Nutting Winter Sports Complex. With the slopes re-opening, Paul saw an opportunity to encourage interest in the sport by opening Alpine Skis & Boards, a local ski shop selling equipment from all the top brands.
Paul and Hali have made ongoing annual investments improving the skiing experience at Oglebay. “My dad always told me, ‘We need to give back to the community.’” The fire pit and patio outside the clubhouse was funded with a gift in 2006 and the pit was converted to gas a few years later.
In 2020, the couple donated money to make Oglebay NASTAR (NAtional STAndard Race) certified. Bringing NASTAR to Oglebay, means that not only can skiers of all ages perfect their racing strategy but also qualify to race nationally. Paul has been NASTAR racing for 40 years and believes that this added dimension will create a new dynamic in the park – keeping our little hill feeling fresh and relevant.
“I can’t tell you how many parents express their gratitude for the ski area. They can bring their kids up to Oglebay after school or on a blessed-snow day, drop them off knowing the kids will have a great time without any problems. Mom and dad can watch from the lodge or set a pickup time to collect them,” Paul said. Additionally, some of their older neighbors and friends shared that they don’t want to drive two-plus hours, fighting big crowds at the next closest ski area.
Along the way the Exley family grew. Jessica and her husband Joe Hoover have two sons, Brayden (7) and Easton (4). Christina and her husband, Kyle Perkinson have a son, Paul (3). Paul shared that skiing was a requirement to joining the family for both sons-in-law. As with so much of life, Paul and Hali love having the opportunity to teach their grandsons not just to ski, but to love the sport; everything comes full circle.
2020 was a tough year on many fronts, but Oglebay was a safe haven. The park saw an amazing influx of golf and tennis play, lots of people on the hiking trails, people just wanting to be outside. Skiing was no exception. “People who may have tried a sport in the past gravitated to those sports again last year,” Danny Ackerman, General Manager of Golf and Ski at Oglebay and Wheeling Parks observed.
Given the success of skiing in particular, the Wheeling Park Commission has made a commitment to invest in ski updates again this year. The park is continuing the momentum by focusing on: maintaining equipment; expanding and maximizing our snow making capabilities – growing the number of snow guns and increasing our electric capabilities, as well as maximizing water efficiency; training staff on best snow making practices to ensure an increased efficiency in snow making; investing in new rental equipment; and working on a 5-year plan to ensure the future of skiing at Oglebay.
Technology improvements and park investments still have to reckon with Mother Nature. All of these investments are changing the dynamic. The current snow making system will be enhanced with additional portable snow guns and hydrants allowing for better coverage on the main slope. These improvements will increase our snow capacity, especially during warmer periods.
The investment in local year-round recreational opportunities for the community is driving the decision. Paul Exley offered, “Wheeling is fortunate to have local skiing available. We have to invest in its future to make sure we can keep it going.”
The community continues to rally around skiing. The sport can do so much for so many people. Skiing is part of the Access to the Parks program, so cost is not an obstacle for any child in our community to participate. Skiing builds friendships, it fosters a love of the outdoors, it brings people together.
Paul and Hali Exley have made a five year commitment to investing in skiing at Oglebay. When asked about their investment, Paul offered, “I’m forever grateful to the sport and the community. That little ski area shaped my whole life. Of course I’m going to make sure that skiing is available for generations to come.”