As the calendar flips to display December, the weather inevitably turns to the cold of winter. One of the first thoughts most have is to envision snow, which is followed, for many, by the prospect of skiing.
Sussex County has a rich history of New Jersey skiing and ski areas. We have the tallest mountain in the state at High Point, and the Hamburg Mountains’ undulating peaks, dense forests, and wildlife management area. These mountains provide large expanses of land suitable for building a good-sized ski slope.
Nearby Craigmeur Ski Area, founded in 1937, and the Snow Bowl in Jefferson fostered forebears for the building of Great Gorge Ski Area in McAfee in 1965 by the Kurlander, Fitzgerald, and Baker families. Also in the 1960s, nearby property became the Vernon Valley Ski area. At one point there were three contiguous places: Great Gorge South, Great Gorge North, and Vernon Valley. Around the corner of Vernon, on an easterly mountain just off where the steep Break Neck Road leads to Highland Lakes, was another area known as Hidden Valley Ski Area.
Local sports notables Donna Weinbrecht and Jamie Kurlander learned to ski and practiced here on the Sussex County slopes. Weinbrecht won the first gold medal in what was the first Olympic mogul section within the freestyle skiing competition during the 1992 Olympics. Jamie Kurlander was highly competitive in the woman’s downhill, was a member of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team, and competed in the FIS World Ski Championships in the late 1970s.
The ski areas helped promote the intense building in Vernon Township: the Playboy Club was built, Action Park thrilled risk takers, and a brewery was constructed. There was even talk of having a “Snow Train” bring an eager ski and skating public from New York City, and stopping in Vernon to unload the enthusiastic masses. Recreation and beautiful views helped to bring new county residents to Vernon and surrounding areas.
Over the centuries, people have come to Sussex County to farm, to mine, or to harvest ice or trees or wildlife. During the twenty or so years of the latter part of the 20th century, recreational opportunities drew an influx of people to our county. The ski areas’ existence certainly helped bring people here. Nestled in the same couple of miles of mountains and views, the Appalachian Hotel, Minerals Hotel and condos, Black Creek, and Crystal Springs Resort, along with golf and other resort activities, continued the trend.