Wisp – McHenry, MD

1.2 Wisp History

Sixty years ago, Wisp was a towering and treeless mound of earth known as Marsh Mountain, home to a herd of grazing cattle.  In the early 1950’s, Helmuth “Ace” Heise, his wife Evelyn, and several Garrett County businessmen dreamed of transforming the area into a four season vacationland. The dream has taken over 38 years of hard work, and often hard times, to come to fruition, but the Heise family has endured and continues to be one of the only families in America to have built and continuously own and operate a ski resort. The following is a chronology of the Heise family efforts to transform   the Marsh Mountain cow  pasture into  today’s  Wisp  Ski Resort:

1943: Having spent time vacationing in Garrett County, the Heise family purchases a collection of summer cabins along the shore of Deep Creek Lake known as Will O‟ the Wisp. (The name is derived from a light seen over marshy areas at night.)

1953: A ten unit motel is added to Will O‟ the Wisp which was modern for the times. Occupancy during the winter months however continues to be non-existent.

1954:  Several  Garrett  County  businessmen  including  Helmuth  Heise  and  his  wife Evelyn, form the Garrett County Promotion Council for the purpose of promoting the Deep Creek Lake area as a vacation spot. The idea of a ski area was born at this time in order to establish a winter activity to attract business.

Winter 1955/56:  Recreational Industries, Inc. is formed, offering the first winter of skiing. Marsh Mountain, a cow pasture owned by a local farmer, becomes a makeshift ski area. A one room hut with a potbellied stove is the lodge and ski equipment is rented out of the back of a pickup truck. One slope with a rope tow is opened on the area known as The Face.

Winter 1956/57: The Promotion Council pulls out of the ski venture leaving Helmuth

Heise and a few associates to pursue the enterprise. Wisp replaces Marsh Mountain as the name for the ski area. The first attempt at making snow is made using equipment which resembled lawn sprinklers emitting frozen pellets of water.

1958: Several trails are added to the area and a poma lift replaces the rope tow.

1959 thru 1965: Wisp is transformed over the years into a bustling ski resort. Trails are added, the lodge is expanded and additions are made to Will O‟ the Wisp.

1965: The first double chairlift is installed carrying skiers to the top of Marsh Mountain for the first time. A T-Bar is also added to a slope named Bobcat on top of the mountain.

1969: The first lights are added for night skiing.

1971: A 48 room motel named The Village Inn is constructed at the base of the slopes.

1971 thru 1979: Two more double chairlifts, additional trails bringing the total to 16 as well as more lights and snowmakers add to the continued expansion. The 16 unit motel at Will O‟ the Wisp is replaced by Garrett County’s first high rise condominium.

1979:  The existing air/water snowmaking system is changed over to a new airless system. The commitment to the new airless system proves to be so successful that Wisp eventually earns the reputation for having the most powerful, energy efficient snowmaking system in the world.

1981: An 18-hole golf course near the base of the ski slopes named The Village Green

opens for play.

1985/86: The Village Inn Motel is renovated and transformed into a Condo-Hotel and is renamed The Wisp Resort Hotel. The original McHenry House ski lodge is renovated and expanded.

1987/88: The East Ridge Trail and Lift system is added. The Villages of Wisp slopeside

Townhouse project is developed by The Rachuba-DeChairo Group.

1988/89: All food and beverage operations as well as all recreation is consolidated under the ownership and management of Recreational Industries. The Village Green golf operation is completely revamped and the name changed to The Golf Club at Wisp.

The 90’s: Throughout the early 1990’s, both the ski and golf operations have continued to grow in popularity. The ski resort has earned a reputation for consistent reliable snow conditions. The golf course has been named one of the top ten in Maryland and ranks as the fourth most challenging course in the state.

2001:  Deep Creek Mountain Resort Corporation purchases the Wisp.  Chair 5 is extended, Chair 4 is relocated and the Highline Trail is added. The tubing park is constructed. The ski area is able to access water out of Deep Creek Lake.

2003:  The Lodge at the ski area is expanded and chairs 2 & 3 are made into triples with new midstations.

2005:  North Camp is opened, adding 10 new trails and 2 quad chairlifts.

2006:  The ASCI whitewater course opens on top of the mountain. A mountain coaster also opens adjacent to Chair 1.

1.3 The Wisp Organization

Wisp is a group of several related businesses. It will be helpful for you to know these businesses and how they interact to create a well-rounded resort.

Recreational Industries, Inc. (RI) is the company which owns and operates the ski area and ski rental as well as golf facilities of Wisp. All Food and Beverage outlets at Wisp are also under the wing of RI.

Will O’ the Wisp, Inc. (WOW) is the company which operates the condominiums and dining facilities on the shore of Deep Creek Lake, five miles south of the ski area.

The Wisp Resort Hotel is an independently incorporated condominium-hotel association managed by a company hired by the association’s board of directors.

The Villages of Wisp is a townhouse development managed by agents of the townhouse association. Ski slopes and lifts surrounding the complex are owned and operated by RI.

Rudy’s is a four season sporting goods shop which handles all retail goods as well as mountain bike and in-line skate rentals at Wisp.  Rudy’s was  a fixture at Wisp since its inception.

Willy Wisp Children’s Center is a Maryland licensed child care center owned and operated by RI. The center is in operation only during the winter season.

The Wisp Ski School is coordinated with Willy Wisp and the Adventure Center to provide instruction in skiing, snowboarding and shaped skis for all ages and ability.

The Wisp Ski Patrol is a blend of RI employee patrollers and volunteer patrollers. All aspects of emergency care to injured skiers as well as on-mountain ski safety are the responsibility of the Ski Patrol.

2.0 History of Wisp Ski Patrol

When the Wisp Ski Area opened in the late 1950‟s, ski clubs generally brought their own patrollers with them. As Wisp grew, the need for our own patrol was evident. George Kearns, Barney Dunbar, Bruce Anderson, and others worked with Helmuth Heise to establish the patrol.

A couple of years later, Bob Sincell, Harold Ashby, Sonny Winters, and Bill Savage joined the patrol, forming the nucleus for its leadership over the next several years. American Red Cross Advanced First Aid was required of all patrollers.

Valley’s and double ended Akjas with a stokes litter that was nearly as heavy as the patient. The first aid room was a corner of the old ski hut that had no heat, and there was no ambulance service.  At that time, with the use of “bear trap” bindings, lower leg fractures were common.

Meanwhile, outside of Baltimore, a patrol was established in 1963 by Jack Hawthorne at the Oregon Ridge Ski Area. Under Dick Guth, the patrol flourished but the ski area developed financial woes.  When it closed in 1967, Ed Ziegenfuss coordinated moving the ORMSP up to the Wisp to help weekend coverage.

With the opening of Chair 1, the patrol had a new first aid room located on the East side of the A-frame at the base of Chair 1.  The patrol acquired its first Cascade Toboggans and put in telephones on Beaver, Deer, and Possum. At this point, there were around 45 patrollers (10 Wisp, 35 ORMSP). There were approximately 70 reported ski injuries in 1970.

By the late 70‟s, the patrol had grown to 70 members and brought on paid patrollers to cover weekdays. The first aid room was moved to the other side of the A- frame where the general offices are now located. The yellow card for recertification was installed and the first radios were purchased.

The Wisp was certified as a senior test hill and the patrol developed comprehensive training programs, copied by patrols in both Western PA. and the Southern Appalachian Region.

In 1987, the two patrols were merged into one patrol. Winter Emergency Care became the required first aid course for patrollers.

In 1990, with the expansion of the A-frame, the patrol was moved to its present quarters. The Peak building was also constructed at the top of Chair 1.

By 2008 the patrol has grown to 90 members, and handled over 500 incidents annually. Many of our patrollers have been tapped for regional positions.