A big time mountain in a state full of mostly small ski areas, Granite Peak features three high speed lifts serving 700 vertical feet of diverse terrain. As Wisconsin’s largest ski area, Granite serves both the local community of Wausau and regional visitors seeking a big mountain experience. Under a new vision developed by the Greater Wausau Prosperity Partnership and SE Group, the resort could see up to six new chairlifts, a gondola, 139 acres of new terrain, a second base area and year-round downhill mountain biking.
Like hundreds of other resorts in the United States, Granite Peak occupies public land leased to a private operator. In this case, development would be a partnership between Granite Peak owner Charles Skinner and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (Skinner also co-owns Lutsen Mountains, the Midwest’s largest ski area with an ambitious expansion playbook of its own in partnership with the US Forest Service.) The plan notes that unlike most ski areas in the Midwest, Granite Peak has significant access to capital to make transformational improvements.
SE Group developed four alternatives, the first of which is the usual no action option. Granite Peak would remain a winter-focused operation with skiing and seasonal chairlift rides. Under this scenario, the ski area would expect to see fewer winter visitors over time consistent with current trends. Downhill mountain biking could be added but would be limited to about 12,500 visits a year.
Alternative 2 adds a new ski lift east of the existing Cupid lift servicing five new low intermediate trails. The Blitzen triple would become a detachable quad and Santa would be realigned to better service novice terrain alongside a new lodge. Blitzen Express would service summer downhill biking and chairlift rides. This alternative would attract some additional summer visitors and likely keep skier visits neutral.
A more ambitious Alternative 3 includes all of the projects from Alternative 2 plus a westward expansion with parking, a day lodge, gondola, chairlift and three surface lifts. Two of the new lifts would serve beginner runs from the summit, a key differentiator from the Granite Peak of today where novices are limited to mid-mountain and below. Summer operations would live here and include a zip line plus mountain coaster. Winter could see a total of 121 new skiable acres and an estimated 136,000 additional annual visits.
Alternative 4 adds a third westward expansion lift plus a year-round mountain biking chair on the south side of the mountain (yes, a lift dedicated to fat bikes instead of skiers all winter). Total visitation in winter and summer could reach 744,000 with the most diverse recreational offerings in the region.
Not surprisingly, Granite Peak supports Alternative 4, which provides the most flexibility for expanded terrain and services. “This is exciting,” noted General Manager Greg Fisher in a blog post today. “Of course as an operator and outdoor enthusiast I want to go big and Option 4 is awesome. It gives us the most opportunity to utilize so much of the natural resources we have here within the park boundary.”
I personally have never had the chance to ski at Granite Peak but have hiked up and down to photograph the existing lifts. It really is unique in Wisconsin and I would love to see it grow. The State is accepting public comments here through July 14th if you’d like to weigh in.