News Roundup: Conquer the Mountain

News Roundup: Doubles Save the Day

Charles Skinner to Acquire Michigan’s Big Snow

The owner of the largest ski resorts in Minnesota and Wisconsin will expand his portfolio to include one of the biggest ski areas in Michigan. Located in the Upper Peninsula, Big Snow Resort’s Blackjack and Indianhead mountains together feature more than a dozen lifts across 1,000 acres of land. Wisconsin developer Art Dumke has owned the mountains since 2014.

There’s no word yet whether Lutsen Mountains, Granite Peak and Big Snow will be combined onto a single pass product but that seems likely. “We are thrilled that these two historical, Upper Michigan ski areas, known for their prodigious powder snow, will be joining our legendary family of resorts in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” said Charles Skinner in a press release. “The current owner and his excellent staff have done a terrific job honoring the legacy of Indianhead and Blackjack and combining them into the largest ski area in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We intend to build upon this work by investing in new lifts, snowmaking, and base area infrastructure at Big Snow.” Specific plans for investments at Big Snow will be announced later this summer. The two mountains currently feel like museums with most lifts and buildings dating back to the 1960s and ’70s.

Skinner also announced construction of a Leitner-Poma six place chairlift at Lutsen Mountains for the 2023-24 season. The second such lift there will run alongside Bridge chair, a 1972 Riblet double on Eagle Mountain.

The Big Snow sale is expected to close by the end of July, subject to financing and due diligence completion.

News Roundup: First Load Test

Granite Peak Expansion Options Unveiled

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.

News Roundup: On the Map

Last summer, we examined the names of our trails and lifts, and recognized that the name “Eskimo” is considered derogatory and offensive by many. Through research we learned people in many parts of the Arctic consider Eskimo a derogatory term because it was widely used by racist, non-native colonizers. Many people also thought it meant eater of raw meat, which connoted barbarism and violence. Brands with longer histories than Winter Park’s have also decided to abandon the term. The iconic Eskimo Pie dropped the name in 2020, and the Edmonton Canadian football team announced it would no longer use the name as well.

Winter Park is a place for all people to Venture Out, to escape and retreat, to transform and trailblaze. Winter Park is an inclusive place and that’s why we moved to change the name of the Eskimo Express Lift to the Explorer Express Lift. The name “Explorer” more accurately represents our resort, our brand, our team, and our guests.

News Roundup: That Was Fast

  • After just three weeks being open, the Disney Skyliner flies its one millionth guest.
  • The new Park City trail map shows exactly where Over and Out goes.
  • Poma inaugurates a lift full of superlatives in South Korea: the longest span between towers (4,000 feet) and tallest concrete tower (492 feet) for a monocable gondola.
  • The Boston Seaport Gondola project is officially dead.
  • Timberline Four Seasons Resort is scheduled to be auctioned November 19th.
  • Aspen Skiing Company will try again for approval of the Ajax Pandora expansion.
  • With an expansion coming, a dispute arises between Idaho and Montana over how much of Lookout Pass Ski Area each can lay claim to.
  • The Forest Service approves Timberline Lodge’s request to replace Pucci with a high speed quad.
  • In what could be a preview of an eventual lift sale, Alterra, Vail Resorts and Seven Springs all bid to buy the Hermitage Club’s snowmaking guns (Vail won.)
  • The latest Pomalink newsletter previews Téléo, the first 3S urban gondola in France.
  • Tampa Bay will study gondola transportation.
  • Park City elected leaders discuss the same topic.
  • Grafton SkyTour is now open.
  • Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers visits Granite Peak to see how lifts are inspected and learn about a proposed expansion.
  • The Sea to Sky Gondola replacement haul rope is spliced.
  • A guy BASE jumps off a tram tower in Germany.
  • The urban gondola promoter in Edmonton unveils its first proposed station location.
  • The new Gould Academy T-Bar at Sunday River will be open to the public whenever four or more major chairlifts go on hold.
  • The name of Manning Park Resort’s new Doppelmayr quad is Bear.
  • Steamboat’s new gondola completes acceptance tests.
  • The Swiss gondola which lost a cabin on October 20th reopens.

News Roundup: Six-Pack