At this time of year, when many Erie County residents are wary of lake-effect snow, Ryan Janes has a different thought: Bring it on.
His business, Wilderness Lodge, capitalizes on winter – which, love it or hate it, is part of our makeup here in Erie County (so you might as well embrace it).
Wilderness Lodge is known for cross-country skiing, but it offers so much more. It’s also a restaurant, specializing in farm-to-table; a ranch, contributing to what ultimately ends up on the table; a local music spot; a nine-room inn; and an event venue, now branching out into wedding planning.
Ryan’s entrepreneurial spirit is a family trait. His grandfather, Jim Janes, built the lodge on his own business idea.
As Ryan tells it, Jim Janes had started off wanting to run a dairy farm, but found the soil unsatisfactory. He did notice, however, that snow remained on his Venango Township property long after it had melted elsewhere. That was enough to spark the idea for a business that made use of Mother Nature’s gift.
Originally catering to snowmobilers, the business eventually found its niche with cross-country skiers – and became the first place in the tri-state area to offer cross-country skiing.
The lodge offers skiing and snow-shoeing for novices, experts and everyone in between. It also sponsors the Wilderness Wildcats youth Nordic ski program and hosts high school ski clubs, as well as offering skiing for groups from Special Olympics and the Sight Center of Northwest Pa.
Now, the lodge is ready to evolve again – into a full-service wedding venue that can keep the business going in the snow-free months.
It’s clear that Ryan is eager to make Wilderness a year-round asset for the region.
When I remarked that Wilderness Lodge might be the best-kept secret in Erie County, his response was prompt: “I don’t want to keep the secret anymore,” he said with a laugh.
About Wilderness Lodge: The business is still a family affair. Ryan Janes took over the lodge side from his grandmother, Nansi, 11 years ago. His father, Roger, runs the ski side. The resort boasts a network of 26 miles of trails in both Pennsylvania and New York, over 1,000 total acres – some owned by Wilderness Lodge, and others that the lodge uses thanks to agreements with what Ryan calls “amazingly gracious neighbors.” Those trails are regularly blanketed in snow thanks to the area’s microclimate, which is “a dead bullseye for lake-effect snow,” Ryan says. That snow – which is easily 200 inches a season – draws regulars from Erie County, as well as many from outside the area. “For Pittburgh and Cleveland folks, we are the first great snow they hit,” Ryan says.
Why Erie County: Of course, there’s that climate aspect that is so crucial to the business. But that climate is part of the broader appeal of Erie County, Ryan says. “Erie County has the absolute best that four seasons has to offer,” he says. “We live in a place that has beaches and skiing, and they’re not too distant. … Not too many places can claim that.”
Challenges of Erie County: Like any business, Wilderness Lodge would be bolstered by an improved overall economy in Erie County. Having more businesses come in with good-paying jobs would put more money in people’s pockets, therefore boosting business at Wilderness Lodge and other local venues.
Fun fact: You can ski from Wilderness Lodge to Peek’n Peak Resort in nearby Findley Lake, New York. Trails from Wilderness Lodge connect to the upper golf course at the Peak.