At the time of purchase, Garnet Hill consisted of just the main lodge, guest rooms with shared baths. The Heims added the porch, balconies, two buildings with seven more rooms, and private baths. There were only 12 km of ski trails. After skiing up (UP!) to the lodge with Jane Castaneda from her home down on Schoolhouse Road, George developed the Trapper Trail. From there many trails were added, and eventually 50 km of beautifully groomed trails await the lucky cross-country skiing guests.
On Feb. 29, 1980. George’s oldest son discovered that there was no water at the lodge. Thinking that it was a pump problem, the Heims were shocked to discover that the problem was far more serious: the ski shop, with all its equipment and inventory, had burned to the ground.
With his typical optimism, George recounts all the good that resulted from that misfortune: the overwhelming generosity of humanity. A party of lodge guests from Syracuse was generous with time and labor and donations, Barton Mines staff helped with rewiring, and local folks all pitched in. A group called Virginia Appalachian Outfitters was visiting to attend the Olympics. One of their group, Jim Stewart, drove all the way back to Virginia to get equipment necessary for the re-opening of the lodge. The misfortune was an unforgettable lesson in bringing people together to help one another.
It is no surprise that George still socializes with many of his guests from 30 years ago.
Garnet Hill Lodge became a favorite for cross-country skiers for many reasons: its excellent kitchen, its friendly relaxed atmosphere, and its shuttle system. The luxury of skiing down and riding a van back up encouraged skiers to ski out farther onto the trail system.
Over the years about 500 people worked for George at the lodge. Some of the early staffers included Mary Jane Freebern (37 years at the lodge), her daughter Nancy, Dick Carlson (30 years), Larry Wilke, Chet Prouty, Fran, Dale and Chris Monthony, and Karen Smith. Later joining the staff were foreign students from Holland, France, Spain, Ireland, Poland, Australia, Byelorussia, Ghana, Tanzania, Costa Rica and Argentina. Many have stayed permanently in the area.