In 1996, Rick Bryan, serving as Chairman of the Oskaloosa Park Board, was scheduled to play in a Pro Am Golf outing but was rained out. With nothing on the schedule for the balance of the day, for reasons of curiosity, he decided to travel to rural Boone, Iowa to see what had ever became of the ski area that he knew had existed in earlier years. In addition to being the Plant Manager for a company in Oskaloosa, Rick was also President of Fun Valley Ski Area in Montezuma. Fun Valley was opened in the winter of 1970 by Rick’s parents Edwin and Kay and following Edwin’s death in 1992, Rick was elected President of that company. The Fun Valley Ski Area was truly a family operation with all seven kids and later the grand-kids helping in rental, grooming, snowmaking, lessons, retail, etc. not to mention having a concrete trowel or hammer and saw in hand when another expansion project was initiated.
Upon arrival at Boone, it was discovered the property previously occupied by the ski area known as Ski Valley had fallen in disrepair after years of being non operational. Impressed with the vertical of the trails, the large run-out at the bottom, the close proximity to highway 30 and the demographics, Rick decided to assemble a business plan for Fun Valley, Inc. to acquire the property. Loans were secured, the land was purchased and the construction of Seven Oaks began in the spring of 1997. The name Seven Oaks was created from a combination of seven siblings and the majestic oak trees that adorn the timber.
Rick’s son Joel had just graduated from UNI and was offered the opportunity to be the General Manager of the new ski area. Joel had spent every free moment at Fun Valley for years and had performed virtually every job at one time or another. His passion for the ski industry caused Joel to be an obvious first choice for the task of managing a new ski area.
A triple seat chair lift (made by CTEC) was acquired in Kentucky, disassembled, re-engineered, transported to Seven Oaks, assembled on site (named Cyclone) and tested. Approximately one mile of electrical and water lines were trenched in for snowmaking, new lights were installed, two rope tows were put in, the lodge was largely gutted and rebuilt, the maintenance shop was converted into a rental shop, snow guns were acquired as was a Prinoth snow cat for grooming and the rental shop was equipped with skis, boots, poles and snowboards.
Seven Oaks opened for its first season of skiing and snowboarding in winter of 1997-98. Advertising was aggressively pursued to let the region know that a new ski area existed but this first year of operation was greeted with El Nino, a natural phenomenon bringing unseasonably warm temps and a subsequent short season.
In the summer of 1998, Joel carved out the first mountain bike trail and a race was held. Ultimately, Seven Oaks hosted the first Iowa Games Mountain Bike race. No additional improvements were made during the summer of 98 but we all looked forward to a second season. A second season that would surely be better than the first, with colder temps, more snow and more customers due to continued advertising was eagerly anticipated. But that wasn’t the case. For season two, the winter of 1998-99 we were greeted with La Nina, the little sister of El Nino with similar weather patterns. Hence year two was pretty warm, had some rain and netted in another short ski season.
Now the bank was really nervous due to two ski areas having two meager back to back seasons. It was ultimately decided that Fun Valley should divest itself of Seven Oaks so following a lot of sleepless consideration, Rick and his wife Connie decided to purchase the assets of Seven Oaks as sole proprietors and rid themselves of all ownership in Fun Valley.
The acquisition was finalized in June 1999 with the objective for Seven Oaks to become a year round outdoor recreation resort.
- June 1999 – a golf driving range was opened. The range, while successful, was closed after four years in the spring of 2003.
- March 2000 – Seven Oaks hosted the first-in-Iowa WSA SnowCross.
- Summer 2001 – introduced full service canoe floats utilizing the scenic Des Moines River, hosted two outdoor concerts and built a snow tubing park.
- March 2002 – hosted first snowmobile drag race. The annual drags were discontinued four years later following the spring race in March 2005.
- Summer 2002 – first District 22 AMA Motocross race was held on site, hosted two more outdoor concerts, opened a tent camp ground, added full service kayak floats, added you-haul river tubes, acquired an adjoining 150 acres, and expanded the mountain bike trail. On Labor Day weekend Seven Oaks hosted the first in Iowa 24-Hour Mountain Bike Race in addition to the regular IORCA and IMBCS sanctioned races.
- Summer 2003 – Hosted two District 22 AMA Motocross races and a Loretta Lynn Regional Youth Qualifier which included more than 700 riders from 22 states and Canada.
- Summer 2004 – hosted an outdoor Christian festival named “Jesusfest” that had terrific performers and limited attendees, hosted an AMA Area Qualifier, held two District 22 AMA Motocross races
- Summer 2005 – introduced full service tube floats, purchased two school buses for shuttling, and opened two paintball fields complete with rental markers and masks.
- Fall 2005 – built a 2,900 square feet lodge that included Coal Creek Lounge.
- Fall 2006 – initiated Friday-After-Five at Coal Creek Lounge, installed a complete media center in the lodge and as well as high speed wireless internet service.
- Fall 2007 – an outdoor concrete patio was constructed, hosted the fifth annual 24-Hour Mountain Bike Race with the new option of a 12-Hour Race, decided that this would be the last year for motocross races, doubled the size of the snowmaking pond, built a maintenance shop addition, and purchased the triple chair lift built from Fun Valley after they closed their ski business in the spring of 2007.
- Spring, Summer and Fall 2008 – Disassembled and reinstalled the Fun Valley triple chairlift (named Valley View) at Seven Oaks, and built another lodge addition for ticket and retail sales, restrooms, offices and a conference room.
- Summer 2009 – purchased new river tubes, complete with handles and built in can holders. built a new ski/snowboard trail named Elwood’s Hideout, and again enlarged the snowmaking pond
- Summer 2010 – built another ski trail named Carter’s Crossing, added a second surface lift rope tow in the Schoolyard, purchased a second snow cat, (PB260) and added helmets to the rental department. In May of 2010 Rick decided to retire from the factory life of 41 years. In late fall, the rental shop was refurbished.
- Summer 2011 – additional snow making pond (#2) was constructed
- Spring 2012 – Hosted the first Boonecrusher Adventure Race; Hosted 1st Gladiator Assault Challenge (GAC) mud run
- Spring, Summer and Fall 2013 – Hosted 2nd and final Boonecrusher Adventure Race; hosted 2nd GAC mud run; added more ski trail lights on Riblet chairlift; added high pressure, high volume steel snowmaking pipe with 4 additional hydrants and two transformers, additional 150hp snowmaking pump and new pump house;
- Winter 2013 – earliest ever opening on November 30
- Spring, Summer, Fall 2014 – CTEC chairlift was repainted; added 3,840 square feet to lodge with tables and chairs; expand steel snowmaking pipe on west side of Freeway with 3 hydrants; added a transformer under CTEC; rebuild CTEC motor and purchase new drive system; hosted 3rd GAC
- Winter 2014 – purchased 1 new SMI super pole cat and 1 new Areco snow guns;
- Spring, Summer, Fall 2015 – hosted 4th GAC; crushed asphalt added to entire parking lot; added state of the art tower detection on Riblet chairlift; new carpet in lodge;
- Winter 2015 – purchase BR350 snow cat and sold PB260 snow cat;
Spring, Summer, Fall 2016 – rewired, re-insulated and steel interior walls in shop; Drop Zone reshaped and widened; added more ski trail lights to CTEC; purchased more river tubes; build 3rd snowmaking pond; expand parking lot to west boundary; hosted 5th GAC
- Winter 2016 – purchased 4 used Areco snow guns
- Spring, Summer, Fall 2017 – purchased GAC company and held two (May and September) GAC mud runs
- Winter 2017 – purchased second BR350 snow cat; purchased 2 new Techno Alpin snow guns; and another SMI super pole cat snow gun
- Spring, Summer, Fall 2018 – held 8th GAC; reshape snow tubing hill; move snow tubing lift; expand steel snowmaking pipe with 6 hydrants and one transformer; reshape entrance to Abby’s Alley from the east;
- Winter 2018 – earliest opening day for ski and snowboard on November 11, 2018
- Spring, Summer, Fall 2019 – hosted our first Boone River Valley Festival Concert; hosted 9th GAC
- Winter 2019- another early opening date of November 16th. All the upgrades to the snow making system is paying off.
- Spring 2020- Covid-19 shuts down all operations which causes several weddings and paintball groups to postpone/cancel and GAC to postpone to September.
Seven Oaks would not be what it is without our year round staff of Mike Dahl, Brian Markins, Emma Peterson, Carol Bequette, Dee Willett, and Maria Fisk; in addition to our fantastic loyal seasonal staff who for the most part return year after year to take part in offering Iowa outdoor recreation. And our winter volunteer National Ski Patrollers are also a recognizable part of who we are.
A huge “Thank You” to all our customers/friends.