For 25 years, the lodge and ski runs of Mount Wawasee provided a warm and friendly gathering place for winter outdoor enthusiasts.
And it all started with a broken leg.
Angola native Loyal Wilson suffered the injury at a resort in his first time on the slopes. His broken leg laid him up for about a year and “I had too much time on my hands to dream,” he said.
He decided to start his own ski resort and, with two partners from South Bend, did some research. Finding the right location was “the hardest part,” he said.
The nearby available steep hills all faced south, but the partners wanted a north-facing slope to catch the sun in the winter.
They came upon “the best hill we could find,” the highest point in northern Indiana, located at 18646 CR 50, New Paris, and locally known as Buzzard Hill (named after a family, not the bird).
They augmented the state’s seventh-highest mountain by another 40 feet, bringing the elevation to 1,041 feet.
Within a year, Buzzard Hill sported a new lodge and Mount Wawasee opened for business in 1962.
The enterprise, the first ski hill in Indiana, was an immediate hit, with hundreds of revelers arriving daily from as far as Indianapolis and southern Indiana to ski the slopes, enjoy a pizza or hamburger and fries at the snack bar or gather around the indoor fire pit. The lodge also hosted dances upstairs.
Before long, the ski area caught the attention of the Chicago Tribune, which printed a glowing report on its Dec. 8, 1967, sports page:
“Mt. Wawasee Ski Lodge, near New Paris, has seven ski slopes, which can accommodate beginners and experts alike. The lodge has a beautiful ski shop and a full selection of rental equipment. Slopes are brightly illuminated for night skiing, and there are special rates for junior skiers. Facilities are available for snacks.”
In its heyday, the lodge employed a staff of 30 to 35, including several certified ski instructors.
Deb Patterson worked at Mount Wawasee in the late 1970s. “I started working there before I could drive,” she said.
She lived less than two miles away. “We could see it out of the picture window of our house.”
Patterson shared the feelings of many who worked and played there.
“Everyone who worked there was friends, almost like a family,” she said. “There were people who skied regularly so you got to know them.”
She recalled the busy weekends. “We had 200 to 300 pairs of ski boots to rent. Some weekends we had none left. Bus loads would arrive and the parking lot would be full, and down the hill people would park wherever they could. Ski clubs came from all over.”
And, like many others, Patterson was “sad to see it close” in 1987.
The lodge is in disrepair but redeemable. Some are not willing to let it go. One group launched a “Bring Mount Wawasee Back” Facebook page in early 2015.
The page has 496 likes and several people have offered suggestions for warm weather activities on the mountainside, including a slip and slide, mountain biking, zip line, motocross racing, disc golf and “concerts on the hill.”
Perhaps someday Mount Wawasee will rise again.