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Some Old Midwest Standbys Turned 80 This Winter


Wilmot Mountain in the early days. (Wilmot/Facebook) 

Three of the Heartland’s oldest ski areas, Granite Peak and Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin, and Caberfae Peaks in Michigan, turned 80 this winter, and all are thriving well. 

Spring crowd enjoying a warm, sunny day in front of the historic 10th Mountain Division Chalet. (Granite Peak/Facebook)

Located in Rib Mountain State Park, Rib Mountain ski area was built by locals and operated by state and local authorities and then private operators. Improvements were slow to come and expansion rare. Rib languished as a small ski area with 15-20 runs and a few old outdated chairs until 1998 when Charles Skinner Jr., part owner of Lutsen Mountains, obtained a multi-year lease with the state to operate and expand what would become Granite Peak at Rib Mountain SP.

Granite Peak overlooks the city of Wausau at night. (Granite Peak/Facebook)

Today it offers over 70 trails, a 700-foot vertical drop, three high-speed chairlifts, and a variety of other lifts. The base facilities include the historic Tenth Mountain Chalet, the 10,000-square-foot Sundance Chalet and an outside patio area that features textured color-concrete, overhead heaters, an outdoor grill and seating for 400. It’s one of the Heartland’s largest ski areas. 

Sunset over Wilmot Mountain. (Wilmot/Facebook)

Driving north of Chicago, Wilmot, located on the Wisconsin/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 skiers that have skied here since it opened in 1938.

Helmut "Pepe" Teichner, considered the Dean of Midwest ski school directors, founded the ski school at Wilmot Mountain in that year, and over the next half-century taught more than half-million Chicagolanders to ski. He passed away in 2001. The Wilmot ski school, now under the tutelage of Vail Resorts, which purchased the ski area in 2015, is still going strong and teaching new generations the sport of skiing and snowboarding. 

The ski area stretches for almost a mile along the moraine, and with seven chairlifts, two surface conveyor lifts and progression terrain parks with double high speed rope tow, it handles large crowds well. 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.  

Caberfae Peaks overlooks the Manistee National Forest. (Caberfae)

Caberfae Peaks was a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and local citizens. Until the late 1950s it was the place to ski in northern Michigan. Newer, larger ski resorts opened across northern Michigan in the 1960s and 1970s, and Caberfae languished for a number of years losing much of its early luster. 

The historic Michigan state marker denoting Caberfae opened in 1938, the first ski area in the state. (Caberfae)

The Meyer family of Cadillac bought the area in the 1980s and brought the luster back, more than doubled the vertical drop and the number of runs. They took the ski hill from a little over a 200-foot vertical drop with few slopes to a near 500-foot drop with 35 runs spread across 200 acres, four chairlifts and two surface tows.

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