Midwest Standbys Wilmot, Caberfae Turn 75 This Winter
It’s ironic that Granite Peak, which many consider a new resort having sprung up a little over a decade ago, turned 75 last season. It was built on the foundation of the old Rib Mountain ski area, which first opened in 1937. The Midwest was right in step with the East, Stowe opened in 1934, and the West with Sun Valley opening in 1936.
Driving north out of Chicago, Wilmot, located on the Wisconsin side of the Illinois border, is about the first rise you see in the landscape. Its unassuming vertical drop of 230 feet is offset by its stature with the million or so Chicagoland skiers that have skied here since it first opened in 1938. There were less than a handful of ski areas in the region at that time.
Helmut "Pepe" Teichner, considered the Dean of Midwest ski school directors, founded the ski school at Wilmot in that year and, over the next half-century, ihis ski school taught more than half-million Chicagolanders to ski. He died in 2001, but the Wilmot ski school is still going strong and hooking a whole new generation.
The ski area, located on an ancient glacial moraine, stretches for almost a mile along the ridge. Its eight chairlifts and six surface tows keep skiers and riders moving up and down the ridge. Typical of ski areas near large metropolitan areas, nightfall finds the parking lot full of cars and the lodge rocking with people. There's racing for all age levels and a busy après ski scene.
Weekends can be hectic, but Wilmot handles crowds well. The U.S. Air Bag Tour will be stopping by this weekend, Dec. 14-16.
Caberfae Peaks also opened in 1938. It was a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and local citizens. For the next 20 years, it was the place to ski in northern Michigan. As other newer, larger ski resorts opened across the region in the 1960s and 1970s, the Fae kind of languished for a number of years losing much of its early luster.
Along came current owners, the Meyer family of Cadillac who, in the 1980s, put the luster back into the resort. They more than doubled the vertical drop and the number of runs. Taking the ski hill from a little over a 200-foot vertical drop with just a few slopes to nearly a 500-foot drop, they created North and South Peaks.
Caberfae now has the highest lift-served elevation in the LP. With 35 runs spread across 200 acres, four chairlifts and two surface tows, it arguably offers some of the best skiing and riding in north-central Lower Michigan. You look out from the top of the ski hill over an unending National Forest that stretches all the way to Lake Michigan, 45 miles to the west. Sunsets can be spectacular.
Photo: Caberfae Resort