By Tom McAuliffe
Dec. 17, 2012. By and large the ski weekend was anything but what you’d want it to be.
Beech Mountain Resort was ready for a second try at kicking off the “winter that isn’t” and managed a respectable showing on Saturday before an incessant rain made Sunday skiing impossible. Sugar Mountain, which has managed the most ski days of all the resorts in North Carolina following its Halloween opening with more than thirty days of operation, hung in to the bitter end of Sunday’s day session. The rescheduled Sugarfest was forced to cancel the second day of demo riding and its popular Rail Jam, but the show went on in the resort’s finest tradition in the lodge and on the ice rink while a brilliant fireworks show defied the weather.
The forecast was so dismal Appalachian Ski Mountain. declined to open the gates in spite of some good coverage over Big Appal, the resort’s core slope, as ski and board instructors of the French-Swiss Ski College hiked up the mountain for training runs even as the lifts remained silent.
But the Moretz family of App Ski Mountain found a “silver lining” in a meaningful gathering Saturday night in the Lodge that first entertained High Country’s skiers 50 years ago to the day on December 15, 1962. The guest of honor at the small, intimate dinner was Tony Krasovic. The 80-year-old Austrian national was the resort’s first ski school director and de facto mountain manager which debuted as the Blowing Rock Ski Lodge to great fanfare in the picturesque town long known as a summer retreat. It was his first return to the place that reshaped notions of winter recreation in Dixie forever.
Krasovic had been recruited to Blowing Rock a year earlier by Bill Thalheimer, whose vision for skiing in Blowing Rock was treated more as a curiosity than the groundbreaking endeavor it would prove to be. Thalheimer had met Krasovic at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado, where the Austrian was a world class ski instructor. His unlikely arrival in Blowing Rock showed that the impresario Thalheimer was serious about the Blowing Rock Ski Lodge.
“You know, as professional athletes in any sport grow older, you have to look ahead and for me it was a move from teaching to the management side,” Krasovic explained of his leaving the Broadmoor for the uncertainty of the Appalachian Mountains. “It was an exciting time but a little depressing because there were problems with the money. When I arrived in 1961 there was no lodge, no lifts, no snowmaking…just parking for 500 cars.”
But Thalheimer remained undeterred and Krasovic loyal to his commitment – as were the townspeople of Blowing Rock, who embraced the opportunity for employment and to take part in the pioneering venture.
“It was quite a task,” Krasovic remembered. “But we had the local people who wanted to work. They had to learn on the job and it was quite an experience.”
Krasovic didn’t know it, but he would be the head of snowmaking too, and the Larchmont snow guns were a far cry from today’s sophisticated equipment. The locals were impressed with the Austrian’s determination sighting the snowguns in the harshest winter conditions the mountains could throw at him. Although a year later than expected, the mountain was ready for skiers.
Thalheimer’s perseverance and grass roots publicity campaign brought out a large, if not curious, opening day crowd that sunny Saturday. Miss North Carolina was on hand for the ribbon cutting as local Ab Hayes hung the last T-Bar just 15 minutes before the first skiers would ride to the top. Jack Feimster and Butch Triplette handed out the rental equipment. Ann Buxton-Jones was in charge of hospitality and the Thalheimer children, the youngest of which was on crutches from a wrestling injury, were ordered by their father to remain “invisible.”
Amidst it all stood Krasovic, a living symbol of credibility for the new resort and southern alpine sports in general. In that remarkable inaugural season, the Blowing Rock Ski Lodge remained open without interruption from opening day through March 18, a fantastic accomplishment for the time, and a credible performance even by today’s standards.
“He had never even seen a ski area before,” Krasovic said of his boss. “But without Bill Thalheimer we may never have had skiing here. And fifty years later, look what the Moretz family has done. I’ve seen a lot
of ski areas in my lifetime and how this operation is run is really something special.”
And while the winter thus far has proven to be anything but what you’d want it to be, hope springs eternal in the local ski industry.
“What’s the first day of winter,” French-Swiss Ski College director Jim Cottrell asked rhetorically.
So until Dec. 21 arrives, no one here is breaking a sweat.