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The Mountain

History of the Ski Area

An Extraordinary Place

The formation of Rib Mountain began 2 billion years ago with the violent fusion through intense heat of sand into a single chunk of quartzite. Since then, the surrounding plains have slowly eroded away while the incredibly hard quartzite, resisting this erosion, remained and rose higher and higher over the surrounding area. Today, Rib Mountain, called a "monadnock" by geologists, is the second highest point in Wisconsin and, at 700 feet above the surrounding plain, is the tallest mountain in Wisconsin.

Rib Mountain State Park and Dedication of Land for Ski Area

The vision for a ski area began in 1924 when the Wausau Kiwanis Club donated a few acres of land to the State. The State subsequently acquired another 120 acres. In 1936, the State dedicated a portion of the Park for the creation of the ski area. The Kiwanis Club raised funds for the purchase of an additional 40 acres for the ski area in 1937. When the ski area opened in 1937, 160 acres of the 280 acre park were dedicated to ski area use. In 1941, the Wausau Chamber of Commerce procured another 40 acres for expansion of the ski area to the west. Additional parcels were acquired by the State over the next several decades-some of the land was dedicated for ski area use but most of the land was added to the general use portion of the Park. Today, Rib Mountain State Park encompasses more than 1,200 acres of which about 400 have been dedicated for use as a ski area and the remaining 800 acres are reserved for general park uses.

History of Ski Area

When the ski area opened on the slopes of Rib Mountain 1937, it was one of the first ski areas in North America. Stowe in Vermont had opened a few years earlier in 1934. Sun Valley in Idaho had become the nation's first ski area in the western states in 1936. The ski area opened with six runs, a half-mile long lift powered by an 85 horsepower Ford V-8 motor with a standard truck transmission and a 20' by 60' base chalet. The ski area had been created largely through the efforts of residents of the City of Wausau, then a thriving town of 25,000 people four and one-half miles from the ski area. The runs were built by hand by teams of workers standing almost shoulder to shoulder as they cut the trees, removed stumps and brush, and crushed the boulders with sledge hammers. A road was built to the base of the ski area and a parking lot cleared for 300 cars. At the time, the new ski tow at Rib Mountain was the longest ski lift in the country.

The ski area has a proud history of joint cooperation between the State, the local community and private ski area operators. A local businessman, Fred Pabst, operated the ski area from inception until 1947. From 1947, the State and a local civic organization jointly operated the ski area, an experience that convinced both the State and the community that the ski area would be best run by a private operator. In 1964, another local businessman, Carmie Oliva was recruited to operate the ski area. His tenure coincided with years of major growth in the ski industry, and skier visits increased.

1984 Master Plan

In 1984, the State adopted a new Master Plan for the development of the ski area. This plan called for an expansion similar to that being undertaken by Granite Peak. Two years later, the State entered into a long-term operating agreement with another local businessman that encouraged the new operator to expand the ski area as envisioned by the 1984 Master Plan. But for a variety of reasons, little of the expansion occurred.

Ski Area Improvements

Granite Peak was selected by the State of Wisconsin to carry out the expansion envisioned by the 1984 Master Plan. When Granite Peak was selected in 2000, the ski area had 14 runs and the buildings and other infrastructure needed to be updated. Over the past several years, Granite Peak has added 60 new runs for a total of 74 runs, installed seven new lifts, renovated the chalet and rental buildings, replaced the snowmaking system and built a new ticket building and new children’s center building. Today, Granite Peak is essentially a new ski area, and is realizing the potential envisioned by the Wausau community since the 1920s.