Hidden Valley Ski Area, located near the Gate City of St. Louis, is the only ski area within hours of this huge Midwest metropolitan area. It's long been appreciated and valued by St. Louis skiers and riders. Granted it's not big, but it has a decent 282-foot vertical drop for this area of the Heartland. Over the length of a season it will have somewhere between 62,000 and 72,000 skier visits a season, depending on the weather. It serves a purpose for the snow-starved folk of Missouri and lower Illinois.

That almost came to a halt earlier this year when GM Bill Brandes went to the Wildwood City Council to seek an OK to pave a parking lot, add some snow tubing lanes and a new, larger maintenance building. That was when he felt like he had run into remnants of the old Missouri Raider, Jesse James and his gang.

"I've never run into local politics like this. They wanted us to pay them $250,000 or give them two acres of our land for the improvements," said Brandes. "It was like a bunch of clowns trying to extort money or something. I was shocked, and so was my owner Tim Boyd."

The Valley is part of a lineup of Heartland and New England ski areas owned by the entrepreneur Boyd. This was his first ski area, and still means a lot to him, according to Brandes.

"If we wouldn't go along with that request they were going to limit our hours of operation so that we could conduct no activities on property between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. That would have shut down our snowmaking operation, because in Missouri those are the prime hours for us to make snow with limited cold weather," he lamented. "It was an unbelievable response. We were blind sided."

Hidden Valley has withdrawn its request for the improvements from the city council, which will allow them to continue to operate as usual for at least this season, according to the GM. "We don't know what next year will bring, but this season we will be open as usual with our midnight skiing on weekends."

Local skiers and riders have rallied around the ski area and started a Save Hidden Valley Web site savehv.com. They have rallies and a blog, and it looks like lots of support. The interesting thing is that this little town was incorporated in 1995, well after the ski area was started. You realize how this small Midwest ski area has been a positive force in the lives of a lot of people in that area when you read the blogs.