Dave Riley Isn’t Bored Anymore

March 16, 2017

Writer’s note for reading this article: If you know Dave, you’ll understand that is written just as he speaks .. loaded with his humble, wry humor.

Bill Merk bought a Tucker Snowcat and trailer to carry people up the mountain for skiing. A small building with a center fireplace and a gravel floor served as the lodge. It was also the place where the Tucker was stored so you cooked your hot dogs while sitting next to the Snowcat.

In 1962, this was another one of HoliMont’s options to get you to the top of the mountain for skiing.
In the mid 1960’s, the pickup was replaced when the area bought their first lift– a used Von Roll.

A little history

“I got heavily involved with the HoliMont Ski Club in 1980. I was running a manufacturing plant in Warren PA, and our chief engineer was a member of the club. My wife and I had sold our house in Michigan, had not bought a new house yet, and we were kind of bored. Our chief engineer said “Hey Dave! You used to ski in high school, come up to this place called HoliMont that I belong to!” He spent the day with my wife teaching her how to ski and dumped me with the Hill Committee, which was the governing committee for the mountain. I had a lot of experience that was transferable – maybe not..[chuckle]. I became part of the Hill Committee that day. Here I was, just in for a visit; my wife decides she loves skiing and here we are becoming members of the ski club. From 1980 to 2000, I was a very active member of the committee. We bought lifts, snowcats, ordered diesel fuel, did all types of stuff. In 2000 the President put his arm around me and with the retiring general manager took me to dinner with too much wine, and said “Dave we want you to manage the club, don’t think about the money..think about the quality of life.” And here I am, a GM of a ski club, after 27 years of running manufacturing plants.

What sold me on HoliMont was the sense of family. My wife and I had two children while we belonged here, a daughter in 1983 and a son in 1986. The club was a family place and comfortable. There was one time I was skiing in the master’s program, and my daughter had a fall in race training. While a patroller was attending to her, folks here chased me down until they found me — and I wasn’t GM at the time. HoliMont people know each other and become close friends. My daughter was taught by a coach here and ended up teaching that same coach’s daughter how to race years later.

In the continued development of the area, we educated ourselves, used statistics, and connected with other resorts for advice. Some of the first connections I had were with Jim Vanderkelen, founder of SMI, Whistler Resort, and a ski hill out of Detroit called Mt. Brighton.
This industry is unlike the manufacturing business. In manufacturing, you don’t help each other, you’re competitive. This is an industry that if someone has a problem, there’s someone else who will help out in any way they can. It’s a breath of fresh air.

We have eight lifts here, and I was involved in specifying and purchasing all of them except two Borvigs from the 1970’s and 1980’s. We installed the detach ourselves a few years ago. The lodge has also grown, and we’ve added 15-20 expansions or upgrades [to the original building] since 1980. There are nice tiles in the restrooms, marble countertops. It’s very rustic and doesn’t feel exclusive.

Like most ski resorts, we use real estate development to fund infrastructure.
Back in the 1960’s when Bill Merk was selling this club, he persuaded twelve or thirteen people to get it started. When you joined the club [in those early days], you automatically got a land lot to build a home on. Bill sold a season’s pass and a lot together for around $600 bucks. Looking at that same lot now, it will sell for about $160k. I have a friend here that’s one of the two original remaining members that still has his receipt from Bill Merk.”

$685.00 receipt written on the back of Bill’s Merk’s business card. This sum included a season’s pass a residential lot on the mountain to build on.

Greer Ski Slope operated around 1938 until the early 1940’s. An old Model A was anchored on a cement block so that the rear axle and wheel could serve to drive the rope tow.

“When we purchased the land where Greer Hill Ski Slope used to be, the chief engineer and I laid out the slope using the same line but wider than it was in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s a north facing slope and steep at 31 degrees.”

Rock ski obsolescence.
“Years ago you used to have two pairs of skis, You had skis for when the snow was good, but when the snow was bad, you had your rock skis. Nobody in this day in age even KNOWS what a rock ski is. That’s because we have the technology to make snow conditions very good all of the time. And those are the type of upgrades that you have to do because that is more and more what the marketplace is demanding.”

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