The formation of Rib Mountain began some 1.5 to 2 billion years ago with the violent fusion through intense heat of sand into mammoth chunks of quartzite. Beginning 1.5 billion years ago, the surrounding plains started eroding away. The incredibly hard quartzite, however, resisted this erosion and, over the succeeding hundreds of millions of years, 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 at 1,924 feet above sea level and, at more than 700 feet above the surrounding plain, is the tallest mountain in Wisconsin.
Rib Mountain State Park 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 and, 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 1,600 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.
When the ski area opened on the slopes of Rib Mountain 1938, 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 in 1938 with six runs, a half-mile long t-bar powered by an 85 horsepower Ford V-8 motor with a standard truck transmission and a 20' by 60' temporary base chalet. The historic stone 10th Mountain Chalet was built a few years later in 1939 with funds raised by the Marathon Civic Corporation, an organization formed by the Chamber of Commerce for that purpose.
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 lift at Rib Mountain was the longest ski tow 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. Today, Mr. Oliva, and many members of his family, own and operate the locally well known and very popular Carmelo's Italian Restaurant, located at the base of the ski area.
In 1984, the State adopted a new Master Plan for the development of the ski area. This plan called for an expansion similar to (if anything somewhat more extensive than) 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, very little of the expansion occurred.
In 1998, the State began its search for a new ski area operator. The State's first request for proposals was on the basis that no expansion of the ski area would be permitted-no viable proposals were received. A national ski area consulting firm hired by a local civic organization came up with a new development plan that provided for an expansion consistent with the 1984 Master Plan. Granite Peak was selected based on its experience and its commitment to expand the ski area consistent with this development plan.
The first ski areas in the nation began in the 1930s with additional ski areas being added in the decades following World War II. By the 1960s and 1970s, skiing had matured and become a lifelong recreational passion for millions of Americans. The 1980s and 1990s were decades of major expansions at many ski areas around the country. Improvements included increases in the number of runs, the replacement of older chalets with full service base villages and the completion of on-mountain resorts. The resulting increase in customer expectations has led to a period of major consolidation in the ski industry.
Ski areas that invested in these improvements survived while those that did not went out of business. In the past 20 years, the number of ski areas has dropped from 835 to 400-some. The failure to invest in improvements has been particularly prevalent in the Midwest, resulting in skier visits declining more than 50% since 1980.
Granite Peak was selected to carry out the expansion envisioned by the 1984 Master Plan. When Granite Peak was selected, the ski area had 14 runs and the buildings and other infrastructure were outdated and deteriorating. Since 2000, Granite Peak has added 58 new runs for a total of 74 runs, installed seven new lifts, including a high-speed detachable six-place Poma Chairlift, restored the historic stone 10th Mountain Chalet to its original magnificence, built the new Sundance Chalet and Grill, added the new Stone Hearth Eatery, added Granite Ski and Sports and the Peak Performance Demos and Tuning Center, replaced the snowmaking system and installed 500+ new snowguns, and built a new ticket and ski school building.
Today, Granite Peak is essentially a new ski area-one that is not only larger but is also newer and more state-of-art than any other ski area in Wisconsin, Michigan or the surrounding region. The ski area is once again fulfilling the vision of the community and its founders more than 60 years earlier when (in 1937) they built one of the largest (6 runs) and most modern (reportedly with the longest ski lift in the country) ski areas in the nation.