Buck Hill Ski Area’s history can be traced back to a blind date.
In 1954, a mutual friend set up Chuck Stone and his future wife, Nancy Campbell, because of their shared love of skiing. After a few months of dating, Stone asked Campbell over lunch: “Wouldn’t it be fun to own a ski area?”
It wasn’t a hypothetical question.
On Saturday, Buck Hill will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a party from 7 p.m. to midnight. Past and present racers are expected to share their favorite Buck Hill memories. Dancing and live music from Casablanca Orchestra will follow.
Nancy Stone, now 81 and still president of Buck Hill, will be there. Chuck Stone died in 1994, leaving Nancy and their children in charge of the ski hill affectionately known as “The Bump.”
“It started in such a simple way,” she said. “We just did what we had to do.”
For starters, Chuck Stone ran to the library to look up the highest point in the vicinity: It was Buck Hill. Then the couple persuaded the property owner to sign a 25-year lease so they could build on the land.
Friends helped clear the area by hand, carving out small runs with chain saws and dynamite. By December 1954, the mom-and-pop ski area opened to the public, charging $2 for a daily lift ticket.
A lot has changed since then, but skiers still glide down “The Bump.” Here are some of the highlights from the landmark’s history.
1954: Stone and Campbell begin Buck Hill Ski Area with $3,700. Glen Stanley, Stone’s high school ski coach and a member of the prestigious WWII 10th Mountain Division, becomes one of the founding partners. Stanley uses his carpentry expertise to help build a small ski chalet, which includes a lunch counter, repair shop and sales area.
They install a 1,000-foot rope tow powered by a Ford engine to get skiers up the hill. Stone spent many nights cooped up in the frigid tow house with little more than a space heater so he could restart the engine every half-hour to make sure it would work during the weekend rush.
1959: Buck Hill Inc. issues 100,000 additional shares of stock with the goal of raising funds for larger capital projects, such as the newly invented snow-making system. The previous two years had very little snowfall, which almost shut down operations, so ending the reliance on natural snow was critical.
1961: Several large renovations give Buck Hill a face-lift. A T-bar — Buck Hill’s first mechanical lift — is installed. The main chalet expands to include restrooms, additional rental equipment and a first-aid room. Snow-making equipment transforms “The Bump,” ensuring business can remain open all season no matter how much snow accumulates.
1965: Stone forms the present-day Buck Hill Ski Team to train local junior racers competing in the fledgling USSA Central Division Region 1 program. Skiing explodes across the nation, becoming one of the fastest-growing sports for all ages.
1969: Chuck and Nancy Stone send their daughters to a ski camp in Red Lodge, Mont., where they are coached by renowned Austrian skier Erich Sailor. The Stones persuade him to move to the Midwest and become director of the junior racing program. Under Sailor’s instruction, the team gains national attention by grooming nearly a dozen U.S. Ski Team members over the years, including Lindsey Vonn and Kristina Koznick.
1973: French legend and Olympic gold medalist Jean-Claude Killy wins the prestigious McDonald’s Cup giant slalom in the professional ski races at Buck Hill. The pro circuit begins to die off in the late 1970s.
1979: Gov. Al Quie dedicates the new Mountain Coaster, a summer attraction with a sprawling 1,600-foot-long track. The coaster fell flat as a revenue booster and was sold to a scrap yard after only a few seasons.
LATE 1980s: Buck Hill becomes one of the last ski areas to adopt snowboarding. The area adds equipment and special runs to accommodate boarders.
1992: Koznick, 17, becomes the youngest member of the U.S. Ski Team. Koznick, who began training at Buck Hill as a toddler, retired from international competition in 2006 with six World Cup victories in slalom. The Burnsville native later became an announcer for NBC Sports.
1994: Chuck Stone dies, leaving Nancy and their four children in charge of the company. Buck Hill added mountain-bike trails and a bike-rental system for the offseason. Thursday night races drew crowds throughout the summer months.
2001: Snow tubing is added to the list of amenities, expanding Buck Hill’s clientele. Another major capital investment is made with the creation of a full-service lodge.
2008: Vonn becomes the most successful downhill skier in U.S. history and the first American woman in 25 years to win the World Cup overall championship. Vonn took lessons from Sailor at Buck Hill until she moved to Vail, Col., at age 10. She later earned two medals — gold and bronze — at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Her success attracted more interest in the popular racing program at Buck Hill.
2015: More than 170,000 skiers come to Buck Hill each year. “The Bump,” which now boasts 16 runs and eight lifts, has developed a loyal adult league called Ski Challenge. After 46 years, Sailor continues developing novice talent and Olympian Tasha Nelson has joined the coaching staff.