MANSFIELD ─ David Lawrence Carto liked to call himself a “snow farmer,” according to his eldest son, Duffy.
The local entrepreneur, who developed Snow Trails into a one-of-a-kind ski resort in north central Ohio, passed away on Easter Sunday following an extended illness. He was 90.
David was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana and moved to Mansfield with his family in 1942. He once served in the Counter-Intelligence Corps. in the Army and was stationed in Minnesota and Wisconsin. That's where he learned to ski.
Duffy said his father wore civilian clothes most of the time due to the service’s nature and used the Army-issue to make ski pants. The sport and its atmosphere appealed to David so much that he started the Mansfield Ski Club with friends after returning to the area.
The group of friends would ski in Knox County, Duffy said. They used their skis to sidestep up and down a hill to pack the snow, getting a few runs along the way.
“He (David) noted that a lot of people really liked it and it was a social activity. People would bring food and drink,” Duffy said. “He had seen how it worked in Wisconsin and Minnesota.”
In the summer of 1961, David joined investors from Columbus and put together the first commercial ski area in Ohio. Snow Trails opened in the winter of that year.
Duffy said his father was not the biggest investor but became the president of the corporation. He was able to handle disagreements within the group and eventually becoming Snow Trails’ sole owner.
David invented Ski Carnival in the first year of the season, Duffy said, which included the bikini ski race.
In Duffy’s eyes, his father was a risk-taker and the ski business was a “real gamble.” It requires plenty of capital investment, but it only brings the owner income in a very short period of time -- and depends heavily on the weather.
When Snow Trails opened in 1961, it was also the first snow area that entirely relied on human-made snowmaking. Duffy said that while Ohio has natural snow, it is not enough to create a pleasant skiing experience.
The ski resort’s snowmaking system has significantly improved over the past 60 years. Duffy said the first system took compressed air and water blown out through nozzles in cold weather to create the snow.
Now, the advanced system can work at a higher temperature and create more delicate crystals.
The weather is still essential in the process. That is why David nicknamed himself a “snow farmer.”
“Because just like farming, you have to rely on Mother Nature to help get what you need,” his son said.
Snow Trails now uses chair lifts and "moving carpets" to send skiers up to the hills to ski and tube.
Back in the 1960s, Duffy said there was a rope tow pulling people up to the top of the hill. The ski resort also developed different types of training programs. In 2020, it saw a historic record of visitation.
John Fernyak, local businessman and David’s long-time friend, said David was always looking for ways to improve Snow Trails. He converted a barn into a ski lodge and into what it is today, the best ski resort in Ohio that has numerous facilities.
“He realized the better it (facility) was, the more customers he could serve. And the more he could serve, the better he could build his business,” Fernyak said.
Duffy said his father liked to make people happy by providing them with skiing or other activities. That probably explains why he stayed in the risky business for decades.
Besides being a successful businessman, David was helpful and community-oriented, as his friends described. He served on multiple organizational boards, including Richland Carrousel Park and Richland County Foundation.
He was also inducted into the Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame at North Central State College in 2011.
Fernyak said people enjoyed David’s company because he was very friendly. He was very interested in doing as much as he could for other people in the community.
Both David and Duffy have taken substantial leadership roles in the community, Fernyak said. They have been supportive of many charities in Mansfield.
“I wish we had dozens and dozens of more people just like that,” he said.
Jeff Gorman, chairman and chief executive officer for Gorman-Rupp, said David knew the community very well and had its best interests in his heart. The duo worked on various community projects over the years.
With his knowledge, David knew what strategy would or would not work in the community, Gorman said. He was also able to translate that into practical and professional means that people could understand.
“It's always a shame to lose a community leader, especially one with Dave's stature and professionalism because they just don't come along that often,” Gorman said. “Dave will be missed, but he will be remembered.”