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Downhill From Here

Downhill From Here      


When the snow builds 36-inch bases – or the temperature drops low enough long enough for gian machines to mist and crystallize water and spray man-made snow over 900-foot(at least in Duluth) Minnesota mountains – then upwards of one millions skiers per season pack cars and head north to the state’s two dozen downhill ski resorts.




3605 North Mountain Road

Wausau, Wis.

715-845-2846; www.skigranitepeak.com


Rising high above the city, Rib Mountain, the highest point in the Badger State, plays host to the Midwest’s newest and arguably largest ski area.  Granite Peak, which resembles a small New England ski area, sprawls across 400 acres of the north-facing mountain sporting a big 700-foot vertical drop and over 70 trails serviced by seven lifts including a new high-speed quad.


At night you would swear you were in Vermont with the lights of the ski trails shimmering high above the town; ribbons of light cascading down to the edge of the city, which sits at the base of the mountain.  One of the best night skiing venues in the heartland, it’s unique combination that you won’t find elsewhere around the Great Lakes.


Granite is actually the rebirth of the oldest ski area in the Midwest.  Established in 1937 – a year before Caberfae got its start in Cadillac, Mich. – it was one of the first ski areas in North America.  Stowe (Vt.) and Sun Valley (Idaho) were also just getting started.  It was a part of Rib Mountain State Park and originally operated by the state of Wisconsin.  They quickly turned it over to a private operator, but the small ski area never grew.  It languished as a 1960/70’s relic operating with about 20 runs, a couple of tired old chairlifts, and little snowmaking equipment until late last decade.


In stepped Charles Skinner, Jr., part owner of the family-owned, highly successful Lutsen Mountains in Minnesota’s Arrowhead.  He realized the potential of the sleeping giant and decided to awaken it.


Skinner has more than tripled the size of the ski area in just a few years.  It’s a legitimate Midwest destination area with terrain to challenge every ability level and enough variety to keep you interested for a few days of skiing.  Several of the runs stretch up to a mile in length, which you won’t find on the east side of Lake Michigan.


LODGING:  The city of Wausau offers all kinds of lodging options, restaurants, shopping, and cultural attractions.


SERVICES:  Eatery, grill, tavern, coffee bar, ski and sports store, demos and tuning center, rental shop, and learning center.  All the new buildings feature rough-cut lumber exteriors and rustic, knotty pine interiors in keeping with the original day lodge.  It gives the small, functional village an old-time feel.  The original chalet is a historic site.  Six tree ski glades, NASTAR racing on Saturdays and Sundays, cross country skiing nearby, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and snowshoeing.


SNOWBOARDING:  Snowboarding is allowed on all trails including two terrain parks and a halfpipe.




BY THE NUMBERS:                  Double chairs:  2

Year opened:  1937                   Surface lifts:  1

Avg. snowfall:  60 inches           Vertical drop:  700 ft

Total lifts:  6                              Longest run:  1.50 mi

High speed six chairs:  1           Skiable area:  265 acres

Triple chairs:  2                          Snow making:  265 acres