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Our Legendary History

Historic Photo of Skiers on Rib Mountain circa 1943

Started by a group of winter enthusiasts the history of skiing on Rib Mountain is rich in tradition and continues to develop into one of the Midwest's top ski areas.

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.

Our Historical Timeline

The passion of winter enthusiasts saw the opportunity to use this natural wonder in their backyard for fun, exercise, and business.  

The historical timeline of skiing on the side of Rib Mountain and at Granite Peak is below and we'll continue to add to it every year! 

The Early Years

1924 - THE VISION 

The Wausau Kiwanis Club donated a few acres of land to the State. The State subsequently acquired another 120 acres.

1936 & 1937 - THE STATE DEDICATES A PORTION OF THE PARK TO EXPLORE SKI OPERATIONS. 

The Kiwanis Club raised funds for the purchase of an additional 40 acres for the ski area in 1937.

WINTER 1937/1938 - SKIING BEGINS THE WINTER 

When the ski area opened on the slopes of Rib Mountain, 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 Rib Mountain Ski Area opened in 1937 with 160 acres. The ski area opened with six runs and a half-mile long lift powered by an 85 horsepower Ford V-8 motor with a standard truck transmission. The area also had a very small 20' by 60' base chalet for skiers to warm up in.

At the time, the new ski tow at Rib Mountain was the longest ski lift in the country.

A local businessman, Fred Pabst, operated the ski area from inception through 1947.

Fred was a pioneer in the ski industry. Renowned for his creation of J-Bars and T-bars, he owned and operated 17 different ski areas at one time! In 1969 he was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame. (Yes he is related to the famous Pabst family, his Grandfather was the founder of Pabst Brewing Co of PBR Fame!)

1938 - THE MARATHON COUNTY CIVIC CORPORATION

The Marathon County Civic Corporation, a 501 (c) non-profit created by the Chamber of Commerce.  The MCCC was “To operate exclusively for charitable, educational or recreational purposes and, in specific areas within the county and to handle all financial matters relating to, but not limited to the Rib Mountain State Park and Rib Mountain Winter Ski Area. The first function was to raise funds for a permanent ski lodge/chalet. Theatre tickets were sold for fundraising and in December 1938 the building construction began.

1939 - THE SKI CHALET / SHELTER OPENS 

The shelter house, probably the finest structure of its kind in the midwest states,” as described in the Wausau Daily Record Herald, hosted members of the Wausau Ski Club for the first official function of the lodge featuring a dance, fashion show, and exhibition of winter sports equipment. The building which cost $32,000 to complete still stands and is the “Historic Chalet.”

1940 - A HEAVY SNOWFALL YEAR

After a number of lackluster snow seasons, 1940 breaks through providing snow-covered slopes from November through March. Ski Trains are scheduled from Milwaulkee and Chicago through the season. A toboggan slide is also begun with water pipes installed to the top of the mountain in order to ice the slide over. “Snow Reporting” is started! Reports are dispatched are wired to Milwaulkee and Chicago and more by a local Camp Rib Mountain Youth.

1941 - 40 MORE ACRES EXPANDS THE SKI AREA TO THE WEST

Over the next two decades the Chamber, through the MCCC and the State, through the State Conservation Commission, and later the Department of Natural Resources, worked together to run the ski hill, finance projects, and develop it. The Chamber aggressively marketed the ski hill to Chicago, Milwaukee, and the surrounding towns in Wisconsin. Additional parcels were acquired by the State. 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.

New Technology Evolves

1954 - SNOWMAKING CHANGES THE INDUSTRY FOREVER 

Snowmaking equipment was invented in the Catskills of New York at Hunter Mountain. The new "machine-made" snow will take some time and years to perfect but it becomes one of the standards of ski operations across the country. 

1955 - NIGHT SKIING BEGINS AT RIB MOUNTAIN

Rib Mountain Winter Sports Area (as it was called then) becomes the first major Midwest Ski Area to offer night skiing!

28 large spotlights ranging from 500 to 1500 watts in capacity are mounted on seven poles on the lower open slopes. Night skiing is offered initially two nights a week and the tickets are $1 for adults and $.50 for those 17 & under!

1957 - SHELTER UPGRADES

The Shelter House receives a $93,000 upgrade providing indoor bathrooms, a ladies' lounge, and a large glassed-in sun porch providing unobstructed views of the ski area. The area is dedicated with a huge celebratory weekend in January of that winter season.

1958 - SNOWMAKING BEGINS ON RIB MOUNTAIN

By January of that year, snowmaking equipment begins to be used by Rib Mountain Ski Area. Equipment was still being understood and took quite some time to master the snowmaking skills.

1960 - 1963 NEW TRAILS 

A new trail built off to the west of the T-bar will extend from top to bottom and is named Duskey Bowl in honor of Joseph P. Duskey, a veteran local skier, providing the first good intermediate ski area at Rib Mountain.

The area consists of 6 trails, Mis-Tree Run, Main Slope, a Racing Trail, Duskey Bowl, Lower Duskey and Birch Run. The area has a number of rope tows to the top and a T-Bar.

Carmie Oliva Era Begins

In 1964, local businessman, Carmie Oliva was recruited to operate the ski area. With the approval of the State, the MCCC leased the area from the State and then subleased it to a new, private corporation, Rib Mountain Lodge & Ski Corporation, owned by Carmelo Oliva. His tenure coincided with years of major growth in the ski industry, and skier visits increased.

1965 - A MAJOR SNOWMAKING SYSTEM INSTALLED

20,000 feet of underground pipe and 4,000 feet of above-ground distribution pipe is also installed. Two additional T-Bar lifts are added along with a short rope tow on the learning slope. New equipment is installed in the kitchen and a new rental building is erected. Unfortunately, the 1965-1966 winter sees only 35 days of skiing as a snowmaking pump fails most of the season and natural snowfall is minimal.

1969 - A NEW CHAIRLIFT IS APPROVED AND INSTALLED

The Double Chair will go to the top of Rib Mountain. In addition to the chairlift, Miss-Tree trail has been widened and a new tow rope was installed. The Historic Chalet also debuted a new “sun deck” which is still in use to this day. In total, the resort now has a chairlift, tow T-bar, and four rope tows for skiers.

1970 - RIB MOUNTAIN RECORDS OVER 50,000 VISITS!

The popularity of skiing is growing and the ski area 

1975 - CHRISTMAS SNOW OPENS SKI AREA 100% 

Six inches of snow drop a few days before Christmas enabling the ski resort to open 100% immediately. Carmelo Olivia stated to the Wausau Daily Herald, “It was one of the most comfortable openings in many years. There was snow, sunshine, and mild temperatures.”

1976 - ANOTHER NEW CHAIRLIFT

The new chair is located between Dusky and Birch Run.

1977 - LEASE IS EXTENDED & OLIVIA'S ROLE EXPANDED

The MCCC and Rib Mountain Lodge and Ski Corp. (Carmie Olivia's parent company), enter into a new lease agreement with the Department of Natural Resources, whereby they became joint lessees.

Decades of Challenges

1980 - 1984 - POOR SNOWFALL & LUCK 

Mild winters as well as a number of operational challenges put the ski area in financial trouble. 

1984 - THE RIB MOUNTAIN MASTER PLAN IS CREATED

Completed by Sno-Engineering, Inc. (SE-GROUP), a consulting firm that specializes in development of ski areas. The project was initiated and underwritten by the MCCC.

1985 - CARMELO OLIVIA ANNOUNCES HIS INTENTIONS TO RETIRE 

The operator of Rib Mountain Ski Corp. since 1964 announces his intentions to retire and begins the process to sell his lease arrangement to Neal Mix. Carmelo, passed away in 2008 and many members of his family, own and operate the locally well-known Rib Mountain Golf Course and the popular Italian restaurant located at the base of the ski area, appropriately named Carmelo's.  

1986 - NEAL MIX PURCHASES THE LEASE FOR $475K 

He immediately refurbishes the chairlifts, purchases $60,000 in rental equipment, and taps into the Rib Mountain Sanitary District for additional water for snowmaking purposes. Miracle Ski Trail is added to the ski area.

1988 - A NEW TRAIL IS DEBUTED 

Rauschl’s Revenge ski trail is opened up. $700,000 is invested into the ski hill by co-owners Neal and Mary Ann Mix.

FINANCIAL challenges return

1990s - FINANCIAL TROUBLES RETURN TO RIB MOUNTAIN

Over the next few years, the Mixes attempt to find financing to work on developing the Master Plan but are unsuccessful in raising the Capital necessary to continue upgrading and expanding the facility. Neal Mix put the ski area lease up for sale after numerous attempts to find capital for improvements. No potential buyers came to the rescue.

The next decade sees minimal improvements and advancement towards the 1984 Master Plan as intended due to financial troubles.

1997 - NEAL MIX TO ANNOUNCES HIS RETIREMENT 

Neal Mix, owner since 1986, announces that he and his wife will retire and do not intend to renew the lease to operate the ski area when the lease ends in 2000.

1998 - Rib Mountain Acquisition Co.

Led by the President of the Marathon County Civic Corporation, John Prange, he along with local and state representatives worked tirelessly with to ensure the ongoing existence of a ski area at Rib Mountain State Park.  An avid skier who was committed to the betterment of his community, John was instrumental in the process of securing the future of skiing on Rib Mountain

A new owner and a new era

APRIL 2000 - CHARLES SKINNER SIGNS 30 YEAR LEASE

Charles Skinner, of Duluth, Minnesota and co-owner of Lutsen Mountains in Minnesota, signs a 30-year lease with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to run the ski area in April of 2000.

SUMMER 2000 - GRANITE PEAK IS BORN

Skinner renames the ski area “Granite Peak” in hopes to attract more attention and notoriety. Skinner and the DNR agree to immediate upgrades in turn to $8 million over 3 years, including new additional runs on both the east and west side of the current ski area, new chairlifts, new snowmaking equipment, new rentals, new buildings, technological improvements, and ticketing.

2001-2002 THE SKI AREA EXPANDS TO THE EAST

30 additional ski trails are cut on the East Side of the resort doubling the size of Granite Peak in one summer.

Two new high-speed, detachable lifts, are installed and open for the season. The Comet 6-pack and Cupid Quad take lift rides from 8 minutes down to 3 to the top.

2002-2003 EXPANDING WEST / NEW BASE AREA CHALET

21 New Trails & Dasher Quad open in the West. The resort also opens up the Sundance Chalet. Additional seating, food cafeteria, and outdoor seating areas open to the public. The Sundance Chalet is also used in the summer for wedding receptions, corporate events, and more. Along with the additional runs, more snowmaking is added across the resort.

2004 - FALL SCENIC CHAIRLIFT RIDES BEGIN

Granite Peak operates its Comet 6-person chairlift in the fall for the first time offering up scenic chairlift rides during the autumn foliage.  A pre-season tradition that continues today.

2005 - 2006 - OVER 100K VISITORS 

In the winter of 2005/2006 Granite Peak closes for the ski season after attracting over 100,000 visitors for the first time ever.

THE MASTER PLAN IS REVISITED

2015 - $50 MILLION EXPANSION PLAN IS PROPOSED

Charles Skinner, proposes a $50 million expansion that includes 150 additional acres. This leads to years of discussion with the DNR and revitalization of the State Park Master Plan.

WINTER 2020 - COVID-19 PANDEMIC 

The entire ski industry like many businesses and organizations close their doors.  By March 20 all ski area operators are closed across the country.   

FALL 2020 - GREATER WAUSAU PROSPERITY PARTNERSHIP

The GWPP is established with help of the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses for the further development of the region. It begins assisting in garnering the resources, funding and tools for economic development projects. These include the redevelopment of the Wausau Mall into green space, retail, and more. The GWPP hires SE Group (the same group from 1984's master plan) to do a Recreation Needs Assessment Study of the Rib Mountain State Park and Granite Peak Ski Area.

2021 - SE GROUP DELIVERS FINDINGS OF NEEDS ASSESSMENT 

Rib Mountain State Park asks for input on four options for recreation expansion including new ski trails, mountain bike trails, and public access points. The options range from minimal changes to large-scale options including a lift on the south side of Rib Mountain that would allow for mountain biking year-round.

SUMMER 2021 - OVER FOUR MILLION IN CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT

The upgrades will improve snowmaking across the resort, replacing old technological snowmaking sticks with improved SMI Grizzlies that can make snow at high temperatures more efficiently. The resort continues to upgrade lighting, switching from fluorescent light to LED. The Historic Deck is also getting a facelift with new furniture, heating elements, and additional seating.

2022 - SISTER RESORTS LAUNCH MIDWEST FAMILY SKI RESORTS

Charles Skinner's oldest daughter Charlotte joins the team and Lutsen Mountains Resort becomes 100% owned by the Skinner Family.  Later that year the Midwest Family Ski Resorts ownership group is formed. Big Snow Resort, (Blackjack & Indianhead Mountains) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is purchased. The resort is rebranded Snowriver Mountain Resort the fall of 2022.

DECEMBER 2022 - DNR ANNOUNCES APPROVED MASTER PLAN 

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) approves a new Master Plan that includes an expansion of ski terrain to the East and the West along with additional activities such as mountain biking, a multi-purpose trail that circles the park, along with additional community access points and more. The additional ski terrain includes adding four trails to the east, four to the west with each area also receiving it's own dedicated high speed lift for access. New parking and entrances to ski area are also included. Over the next few years Granite Peak management along with local community and the DNR will work together to create a management timeline for the additional activities. More to come and stay tuned! Visit our expansion page for more details.

WINTER 2023 - 85 YEARS OF SKIING ON RIB MOUNTAIN 

Granite Peak Ski Area celebrates 85 years of skiing on Rib Mountain with various events over the course of the season including a formal and charitable Gala at the Hilton Garden Inn in February 2023.  The event is attended by over 150 guests and raises slightly over $10,000 that is donated to the Granite Peak Ski Patrol Education Fund.  

SPRING 2023 - THE LEGENDARY SEASON PASS IS OFFERED

The newly formed trio of resorts offer a new season pass portfolio that offers skiing and riding at three of the largest ski resorts in the Midwest. Season passholders will be able to ski and ride at the resort of their choice during the 23-24 ski season.  

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT FOR GRANITE PEAK!