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Jul 01st
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Skiing Granite Peak in Wisconsin: Wide trails and a N.J. native

petermccabe021512_optBY BOB WILLIAMS

WAUSAU, Wisc. – Residents of this mid-size Wisconsin city always had a penchant for skiing.

70 years ago, in fact, they looked at a 700-ft-high mountain here on the outskirts of town -- and they envisioned a ski area. So they cleared six runs by hand, installed the country’s longest ski lift, and built the stone chalet from granite quarried nearby.

Today, what has evolved as the Granite Peak ski area, is pride of the fleet, so to speak, of Wisconsin’s 30 ski resorts. Nestled here in Rib Mountain State Park -- in a state hardly know for its mountains -- Granite Peak is Wisconsin’s largest ski area, with 74 runs, five terrain parks for snowboarding and 65 acres of tree skiing. Its 700-ft-vertical drop is the state’s highest, and the long, wide slopes and trails are popular with skiers and snowboarders.

“We attract a lot of recreational skiers not only from Wisconsin but from Illinois as well because we’re only a four-hour drive from Chicago,” says Vicki Baumann, who has been the operations manager here at Granite Peak for the past 26 years. “Most ski areas usually have to create a village or town to provide lodging and dining and everything else that goes along with skiing. But we’re lucky because we’re located right here in the city of Wausau.”

Granite Peak sits only a few miles from the center of Wausau. According to Baumann, the ski resort attracts as many as 3,800 skiers on a typical Saturday or Sunday.

“We’re so popular, I believe, because of the improvements that have been going on here in the past 10 years,” Baumann explains. “Our owner, Charles Skinner, invested $20 million over the past decade. When he bought Granite Peak, we were a small ski area, and he basically created a whole new ski area.”granitepeak021612_opt

From 2001 to 2003, for instance, Skinner carved out 50 new runs and six new glade skiing areas, added the Cupid and Blitzen chairlifts and built a new rental and ski shop;

in 2004 he added a new six-person high-speed chairlift and remodeled the historic stone chalet; in 2008 he constructed a massive outdoor heated patio, complete with fire pit and grill area; and in 2010 he added a beginner terrain park. Over the past decade Skinner increased snowmaking each season.

A visitor pulling into the Granite Peak parking lot today sees a ski resort that looks practically brand new.

According to Baumann, Skinner also owns and operates Lutsen Mt. Ski Resort on Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota.

“We continue to attract a lot of families, and we even draw many skiers who don’t ski that often, so we’ve introduced special programs with them in mind,” Baumann explains.

Mid-week and night skiing programs offer special reduced rates, with the Wednesday special offering a lift ticket and ski equipment rental for only $15. “A lot of people ski only a few times a season, and because of this they don’t invest in their own skis, boots and poles. So we offer a little something for everyone.”granite2peak021612_opt

Many skiers and riders who leave Granite Peak after a day of hard skiing and snowboarding head for après-ski relaxation just minutes away. Those who visit the Great Dane Pub on Sherman St. will most likely come upon New Jersey native Pete McCabe – the restaurant’s brewer.

“We’re as close as you can get to Granite Peak without actually being on the mountain,” said McCabe. "Because of our proximity, we do see a lot of skiers coming through here."

The 29-year-old McCabe was born in Morristown, raised in Hohokus and graduated Dwight Englewood High School. His mother and brother still live in Hohokus. He came to the Great Dane Pub 11 years ago after graduating from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and has been a brewer here for the past three years.

“I usually have 13 different brands on tap on any single day,” said McCabe. "People around here like their beer, and skiers and snowboarders are no different.”

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