Mountain Magic

Julie Bryce shares the story of how, 50 years ago, she and her husband, Pete, transformed Bryce Mountain Resort from a summer-only retreat into a four-season destination.

Photos Courtesy of the Bryce Family

“Ski Bryce—Total Fun!” was the slogan first used in 1965 to entice families to ski at what was then the newly transformed Bryce Mountain Resort: 400 pristine acres, first opened in 1909 in the lush Allegheny Mountains.

In 2015, the Basye retreat celebrated its 50th anniversary of welcoming visitors year-round. During that time, the resort has grown to comprise six ski slopes and lifts, a lake and beach, airstrip, golf course and a mountain bike trail, offering adventure sports like tubing, ziplining, bungee jumping, grass skiing and rock climbing.

But 87-year-old Julie Bryce, who with her husband, Pete, established the resort we know today, can tell you the way that it once was, her memories as fresh as the day she first arrived with the Girl Scouts in the summer of 1939.

Julie would return with friends from Washington, D.C., for several more seasons to work and wait tables at the rustic lodge, but after the others moved on, Julie kept coming. In the early ’40s she met Pete Bryce, who had come from Chicago to vacation at the resort owned by his family. The pair discovered they both loved the mountains, and a few seasons later, each other. They married in 1947 and began running the resort.

By the early 1960s, people from all over the area started encouraging Pete and Julie to open a four-season resort. The couple liked the idea. Pete realized opening ski slopes would mean skiers would need a place to stay, and wisely speculated that, due to its proximity to the Washington area, Bryce Mountain would offer the perfect weekend retreat. But the land required surveying and heavy clearing. Endless switchback roads and hairpin turns were needed to reach the 2,776 lots (all of which Pete would later sell himself). Plus, he wanted power lines out of sight to keep the land pristine and make it more appealing to buyers. This all added to the cost, and slowed progress. But with faith in what Bryce could become, combined with Pete’s vision and salesmanship and Julie’s gracious hospitality and strong work ethic, they overcame these obstacles to create the member-owned community where the couple would raise their four children.

Pete passed away in 2005. But his legacy lives on, as do Julie’s stories from when they—and Bryce Resort—were still very young.

Pete’s grandfather, William Brice, originally owned the resort. In the early 1900s, after he saw an opportunity to catch the overflow of guests from Orkney Springs Resort, he opened Bryce’s Hillside Cottages and Mineral Baths. It was eventually handed down to Pete.  

When I first met Pete, it wasn’t love at first sight. Pete was always picking on us girls, playing tricks, thinking he was so smart because he was from the big city. He forgot that we were from a big city, too, born and raised in D.C. He finally got the message after we sent him on a snipe hunt.

Pete’s step-grandmother, Martha, was a Basye, and had the town named after her family. When she married Pete’s grandfather, a Brice from Pennsylvania, they changed the “i” to a “y” to keep the family’s surname separate from the business. Pete’s grandfather used to say, “It looks better that way in print.” So that was that. The dual spelling has caused a bit of confusion over the years. But around this area, Pete and I have always been known as Bryce.

In the early days, the resort was more like a camp, really, with rustic hillside cottages and a dining hall. Most of the food was grown on the premises. People would stay for a month at a time to escape the city heat and take the waters. The springs in this area were said to be healing, especially the black sulphur one right here in Basye.

At first, we weren’t sure if the project was feasible. So we consulted a friend, a former Olympic skier, who was then winter sports manager at the Homestead. Every day he walked all over the area. Several weeks later, he finally announced that he’d found the right location for the slopes.

Opening day of ski season the first year almost didn’t happen. As it drew closer, the weather got warmer, and hopes for natural snow grew dim. But Pete had an idea. He called a Harrisonburg ice company that had huge holding areas full of chipped ice where plastic-wrapped turkeys were stored before shipping. The owner assured Pete the ice wasn’t contaminated, and told him he could have as much as he wanted for free. When the ice arrived, there was just enough to cover the bunny slopes, but at least the beginners and youngsters could ski.

One of my favorite things was driving the Woody station wagon we called “Old Faithful.” I loved that car, even when the brakes failed once when I was going down a steep hill. I tried to use the handbrake, but it came off in my hand. Somehow I made it all the way down to the bottom where the car finally bumped to a stop against a tree in front of the post office. There was no one in town who could fix the brakes. I said, how would I be able to meet the school bus to pick up the kids? The postmistress said, “Honey, if it was me, I’d just go right on back the way I came. It’s all uphill. You won’t need no brakes.” And that’s just what I did. BryceResort.com

This article was originally published Feb. 24, 2016.

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