Hidden Valley Ski Resort is a legendary ski resort located in San Diego, California. Now 80 years old, it continues to thrive in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, San Diego’s own San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
The resort is most famous for its huge green fireplace, which was built in the 1960s after the restaurant closed. Since then, it has become somewhat of an icon, pictured on T-shirts and posters around the world. A more traditional attraction at the resort is the Scenic Railway, a vintage train that travels around the mountain delivering passengers to the top of the hill and back again. The train ride is still a part of the resort’s fun, offering a different perspective of the surrounding areas and delivering a blast from the past for guests.
But who owns Hidden Valley? As it turns out, the question isn’t as easy to answer as it seems. In order to understand who exactly is running the resort, it’s important to first look at its history.
A Brief History Of Hidden Valley
The roots of Hidden Valley go back to the Roaring 20s, when it first opened as a ski resort. Located in the San Bernardino National Forest, it boasted a ski run that was 15 miles long and featured the biggest snowflake-shaped snowman in Southern California. Back then, it was called Bear Valley Ski Resort.
After two years of construction, the ski resort was officially opened on New Year’s Day in 1927. That year, it reportedly hosted the nation’s top skiers, including three-time Olympic gold medallist George Sjostrand.
In the decades that followed, it would become one of the most popular ski resorts in Southern California, drawing millions of tourists each year. Its peak season is from October to April, and during that time, it is typically jammed with busloads of ski enthusiasts, mostly from San Diego and Southern California. Its popularity put it on a collision course with other resorts, resulting in a series of lawsuits.
The Beginnings Of San Diego Zoo Safari Park
While Bear Valley was becoming a popular resort, its counterpart in San Diego County was hitting its stride. Located in the heavily populated suburb of San Diego, Del Mar Park opened in 1924 and became the first public zoo in the country. The park was built on a cliffside overlooking the Pacific Ocean and featured exhibits like the California Coast and a large collection of animals from around the world. It would continue to expand, culminating in the construction of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 1966.
The Birth Of The Green Fireplace
It was at the San Diego Zoo that the idea for the fireplace originates. In the 1960s, after the park closed at nightfall, some of the animals that were still there would huddle around the fireplace, keeping each other warm. It was in this context that park officials decided to build a similar fireplace for the tourists, which was then named the Green Fireplace. Its size and scope made it the largest of its kind in existence, featuring a snowflake design, 60 feet in diameter and made entirely out of stone.
The park would go on to build other iconic pieces of architecture, such as the Elephant Fountain and the Giraffe Feeding Station. A series of violent storms in the mid-70s destroyed many of the zoo’s structures, but not the fireplaces, making them a symbol of the resort’s resilience. As it stands today, the Green Fireplace remains one of the most photographed landmarks at the resort.
The Rise Of Rocco And Roberto
In 1968, John Grubbs bought the Bear Valley Ski Resort for $1.3 million. That same year, he merged the resort with the San Diego Zoo and became the owner of both properties. As a result of the merger, a group of investors bought a controlling interest in Bear Valley and renamed it Hidden Valley. Their goal was to re-establish the resort’s original magic by investing heavily in the infrastructure and developing the next generation of high-end amenities.
In order to raise money for this cause, Grubbs decided to sell a majority interest in the resort to the community for $5.5 million. One of the buyers was Frank Ricci, an Italian immigrant who had worked as an architect in Northern California. Ricci had always dreamed of building his own European-style village on a mountain. After purchasing a majority interest in Hidden Valley, he set out to do just that.
The Development Of La Noche Más Larga
In 1972, Ricci began building the village that would become Hidden Valley. The centerpiece of the development was the 500-room Overmountain Resort. Although it would never officially open its doors, the resort was used for ski training during the summer months and served as a shelter for homeless people in the winter. Its proximity to San Diego and its excellent skiing made it a prime location for vacationers.
In order to provide more luxurious accommodations for guests, Ricci poured money into expanding the infrastructure at Hidden Valley. He built a large swimming pool, a tennis court, a golf course, paved roads and parking lots, all of which are still in use today. Additionally, he developed the area’s first commercial airport, which provides a steady stream of luxury to the resort. It also helps to bring in revenue during the off-season, when most other resorts are dark and closed.
The Expanding Empire
In 1979, Grubbs purchased the remaining interest in Hidden Valley from Ricci and began investing heavily in the property, building two more commercial airports and an inter-city transit system, as well as expanded the resort’s golf course and commercialized the mountain’s zip code, 92001.
Grubbs’ empire would keep growing, culminating in the purchase of neighboring Sunnyside Ski Resort in 1985. The following year, he purchased Lake Hennessey and formed the Lake Hennessey Corporation, which he used to develop the region’s largest real estate project, Mountain Ranch.
In 2002, the Lake Hennessey Corporation was renamed the Hennessey Group. Today, the company owns five ski resorts across the country, including Hidden Valley and Sunnyside. This alone makes it one of the biggest real estate development and ownership groups in the country. The company also owns several retail stores and a winery. In 2018, Forbes valued the Hennessey Group at an estimated $17.9 billion.
Who Is Running This Thing Now?
After 83 years of dormancy, Hidden Valley Ski Resort finally reopened in 2005. Since then, it has evolved into one of the largest and most popular ski resorts in North America. In 2018, it reportedly attracted over 2.73 million guests and featured over 180 snowmakers, making for the perfect powder day.
The resort’s newest attraction is the Bambina, a chairlift that allows for easier access to the backcountry. Climbing to the top of the seven-story lift gives you a bird’s-eye view of the entire mountain and its spectacular, winding roads. From there, you can ski down, hitting several iconic spots along the way. Bambina is named after the Bambina Hut, a European structure that was transplanted to the U.S. back in the 1920s and is the centerpiece of the resort’s Historic District.
In addition to expanding the infrastructure and developing new attractions, the Hennessey Group has also worked to protect and preserve the beauty of the area, planting thousands of native trees and shrubs around the resort.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the resort, you can start with these articles:
The Legacy Of San Diego’s First Ski Resort
Bear Valley Ski Resort
The San Diego Zoo first opened its doors in 1924 and became the first public zoo in the country. Since then, it has become one of the most popular zoos in Southern California, drawing millions of tourists each year. Its peak season is from October to April, and during that time, it is typically jammed with busloads of ski enthusiasts, mostly from San Diego and Southern California. Its popularity put it on a collision course with other resorts, resulting in a series of lawsuits.
In 1927, Bear Valley became one of the first ski resorts in Southern California, drawing a crowd of famous and fashionable people. Since then, it has become one of the most popular ski resorts in North America, with the Bambina chairlift allowing for easier access to the backcountry.