Granite Peak — Shooting for the StarsFebruary 21, 2022
When one considers the impact of an enterprise on a region, context matters greatly.
Take Granite Peak Ski Area, part of Rib Mountain State Park. Next year, it will celebrate its 85th Anniversary.
From humble beginnings in the Great Depression, Granite Peak has grown into the largest ski area in Wisconsin and one of the largest in the Midwest.
With its lofty vertical drop, more than 50 runs, varied terrain, multiple lifts and advanced snowmaking capabilities, it’s a ski mecca for anyone within a five-hour drive of Wausau.
Along with those who visit from the Midwest, people from all over the United States come to Granite Peak to ski.
And it’s not just for access to one quick day of skiing and snowboarding.
“The average stay for daily lift ticket holders is 2.7 days,” said Greg Fisher, general manager of Granite Peak. “That means most people who come here from outside Wausau are staying over at least two nights,” he added.
Thanks in part to the pandemic and people staying closer to home for vacations, last year was a record-breaking year for Granite Peak with 225,000 skier visits - over 53,300 being unique visitors with 83% from outside of Wausau. This year is shaping up as another smashing season with over 110,000 visits so far and more than 29,000 unique visitors.
That’s saying a lot for a ski hill with modest roots. In the mid-1990s, the hill consisted of just 12 runs and three lifts.
“Owner Charles Skinner’s vision is clear,” said Fisher. “He wants to provide the best possible experience, the best snow, the best runs, the most fun. When he took over in the 1990s, Granite Peak was old and tired. Now it’s a modern ski area with features that rival our friends out West.”
The proposed enhancements of the Rib Mountain State Park Recreation Needs Assessment includes the addition of several new sections of runs and terrain suited to beginner and intermediate skiers. One reason for this — and something that illustrates Granite Peak’s positive impact on the region — is the growing popularity of its youth and beginning skier programs. This year the program offered three time periods, and all three sold out.
Granite Peak delivers a complete family-friendly experience while catering to all ages and every skill level. Instructors strive to turn beginners into lifelong skiers and boarders. Attendees enjoy it so much that about 25% invest in season passes, indicating that parents appreciate the value of their kids spending time on the slopes.
Some kids like the environment so much that Granite Peak is their first place of employment, while others go on to be ski patrol volunteers. Currently, the Peak offers over 350 seasonal jobs.
Having worked in leadership positions in the ski industry for 22 years, Fisher’s experience includes turns in Vermont, New Hampshire, and even Ohio, where his wife, Mary, grew up. They actually met at Mt. Snow in Vermont.
Prior to taking the reins at Granite Peak two years ago, he was vice president of marketing for Peaks Resorts before its acquisition by Vail Resorts. “I started looking elsewhere and stumbled on Granite Peak and Charles Skinner.” Fisher was impressed with the mountain and with Skinner’s vision and determination.
“Over the years, the mountain has obviously gone through many changes,” said Fisher. “To maintain market share and desirability, you need to reinvest and grow with demand, which is what we’re aiming for with our year-round vision for Granite Peak. We want to make it attractive in all seasons.”
The proposed alternatives also include options to expand hiking and biking trails at Rib Mountain State Park. Granite Peak Ski Area’s vision for the future includes more events like the IronBull Adventure Race series, an upcoming Total Archery Challenge and, possibly, a festival-style experience for cyclists and mountain bikers centered on Granite Peak.
When it comes to the proposed enhancements to Granite Peak included in the Rib Mountain State Park Recreation Needs Assessment, “It’s important to let people know that our vision expands access to the mountain for people of all interests and abilities, including those who simply enjoy being out and about in a beautiful natural setting,” said Fisher.
And a beautiful setting it is. Here’s what visitors are saying:
“Wow, what a place. Granite Peak is the type of ski resort that you end up having a few favorite runs instead of just the regular one or two. Many of the runs are challenging—especially the first few times you hit them— but are absolutely awesome once you get the lay of the land.” -Ryan M., Chicago, IL
“This ski resort has the card as your lift ticket that gets scanned before you get onto the lifts. I have never seen that before and I will tell you it's very simple. You can put it in one of your jacket pockets, or even better, if your gloves have pockets that would be the easiest.” -Alma K., Chicago, IL
“The runs were groomed to perfection. There is a great mix of runs for various skill levels and a lot of diversity of terrain. The facilities are excellent. We were there midweek and there were virtually no lift lines. The prices of the lift tickets were very reasonable for such a beautiful ski area. We will certainly be back in the future.” -Brad J., New Richmond, WI
“Learned to ski here 45 years ago and enjoyed it just as much for my reunion this January. For Wisconsin skiing, it's as good as it gets.” -Korey M., Chicago, IL
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