What does the future hold for the Granite Peak expansion?

Granite Peak will present its proposed expansion plan to the Wisconsin DNR in the spring of 2017. It’s anticipated that DNR officials will announce a decision on the expansion by later in 2017. If approved, skiers can expect to use some new runs as early as 2018, but more fully by 2019. On-site lodging plans could be revealed to the public by 2018 with construction starting as early as 2019. Plans for multi-use concepts, such as canopy tours and zip lines, could be revealed in 2018.

Is the expansion consistent with the heritage and mission of the Park?

The Park’s heritage is a story of sharing by skiers and hikers.  When the ski area opened in 1937, a majority of the Park’s land was used for skiing: 160 of 280 acres.  Today, the Park has grown to over 1600 acres, and the ski area use is a much smaller portion.

We are committed to being responsible stewards of this amazing park and sharing it with hikers and other users.  Our proposal includes adding 10 more kilometers of hiking trails to the existing 20 kilometers.  We will also add parking below the new ski runs that will provide convenient access to the existing and expanded hiking trails.

The Park is undergoing a wonderful renaissance in use by both skiers and hikers based on investments by the ski area and by the DNR.  Both skiers and hikers share a love for healthy outdoor recreation and both uses fit the Park’s mission.

Where is the Granite Peak ski expansion located?

Granite Peak currently leases 415 acres of Rib Mountain State Park from the state, and is proposing to add 155 acres to its lease with this expansion. The majority of the new runs will be located to the west of the existing ski area on 142 acres of the 150 acres requested. Of these 142 acres, 61 will be cleared for ski runs. This new western pod will have a high-speed lift and a dozen new runs featuring full-length novice and intermediate runs, which exist in only one other area. These runs are vital to attracting our core customer base of middle-income Midwest families.

The expansion proposal would further request 13 leased acres on the east side of the existing ski area where an additional two and a half runs are proposed on eight acres of new ski area, and will be served by the high-speed Cupid lift installed in 2014.

If approved, when will the expansion process start?

In December 2014, Charles Skinner, president and owner of Granite Peak, requested approval from Wisconsin DNR for expansion of the leased ski area. If approved by the Wisconsin DNR, expansion will start in 2018.

How important is this expansion to the local economy?

The ski area impact will grow from $30 million to $53 million per year and at the same time, jobs will grow from 200 to 380. The expansion will generate $20 million in construction spending, create construction jobs, and become the catalyst for other local development.

Granite Peak has approximately 4,000 season pass holders, but “destination” skiers generate most of the sales and economic impact.

Since 2000, $26 million has been invested in the ski area, spawning new hotels, restaurants and service facilities. Thus, central Wisconsin’s winter tourism season, previously the weakest, has become as strong as the summer and fall seasons.

How does the expansion of Granite Peak help the community?

In addition to improving downhill skiing and snowboarding, other healthy outdoor recreational opportunities for residents and vacationers include 10 kilometers of multi-use hiking, snowshoe and cross country ski trails. Possible summer outdoor facilities include nature rope courses, forest canopy tours, zip lines and interpretive trails.

What could happen if Granite Peak does not expand?

In recent decades, 300 ski areas have gone out of business, including the iconic ski area of Telemark in Northern Wisconsin, because they were too small, had antiquated equipment, and failed to keep pace with the improvements other Midwestern ski areas were undertaking.

Midwest ski destination areas compete against much larger Western areas like Vail and Aspen, which are actively campaigning for Midwest skiers. For Midwest ski areas to survive, they must be modern, possess the size to hold the attention of skiers for more than one day, and have a wide diversity of runs for all levels of skiers and snowboarders.

Granite Peak is within an easy driving distance from its principal markets of southern Wisconsin, the Chicagoland area, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis/St. Paul, and is highly dependent, as is the local economy, on these destination skiers. The proposed expansion is what we feel Granite Peak needs to survive for future generations.

Is there a need for more ski runs?

Granite Peak has 149 acres of ski runs compared to 215 to 306 acres of our four peer ski areas. With existing ski runs crowded on busy days, and little potential to expand within the current leased area, Granite Peak needs additional ski runs to attain the critical mass of skier visits to survive long term.

The expansion will increase ski runs to 220 acres and put us within range of our peers.

How do you plan to accommodate more out-of-town skiers?

The Wausau area has a vibrant and growing lodging market that serves vacationers in a tremendous fashion. However, Ski-in/Ski-out lodging is a core requirement of many of our visiting skiers, particularly families. Virtually every destination ski area in North America has on-site lodging. It’s also critical to increasing midweek and off-peak visits.

In 2000, a separate and adjoining 25-acre parcel was purchased by Granite Peak for this purpose, and as part of this expansion, Granite Peak would look to add on-site lodging slowly over the next decade.

Why does this expansion need to happen now?

Vail Resorts, the nation’s largest ski conglomerate, and others like it are campaigning for Midwest destination skiers by offering low-cost nationwide season passes, and they are especially targeting the same principal markets that we do. In January 2016, Vail purchased Wilmot Mountain in Kenosha County, WI. and they also own Afton Alps, just outside of St. Paul, MN.

Is it appropriate for publicly owned land to be used by a ski area?

The ski area was part of the impetus for preserving the land and for the formation of the Park, and after the ski area opened in 1937, 160 acres of the 280-acre Park was used for skiing.  Today, skiers and snowboarders account for about half of the annual visits to the Park.

Almost half of U.S. ski areas and at least three-quarters of U.S. destination ski areas are on public land.  Almost all of the largest U.S. destination ski areas are on public land including Vail, Aspen, Sun Valley, Jackson Hole and Killington.  Public land use is the dominant pattern for access to land by ski areas in the U.S., including a dozen ski areas in Wisconsin.  Wisconsin State Parks previously hosted downhill ski areas at Pattison and Blue Mound State Parks.

What will be the impact on Rib Mountain State Park?

Land is precious within a state park. Our proposal maximizes use of existing leased land and uses as little additional parkland as possible.

The land does not contain any known endangered or sensitive species, nor is it a listed cultural site. Impact on the 215-acre Talus Forest natural area has been limited to 12.9 acres with 7.8 acres being ski area, which is located on the northern periphery of the Forest.

The top lift terminal will be behind a knoll and is not visible from hiking trails, even when leaves fall from trees. The project does not impact the higher-traffic hiking trails, and one very short section of the Quarry Trail can be relocated into a forested area.

What will be the impact on the environment?

We do not anticipate any significant impacts to the environment. Minimal impact clearing methods will be used to minimize habitat and soil disruption. Ski run clearing will not destroy any trails, impact the neighboring quarry, and will not result in alteration of the existing land surface. Open ski runs will become grass and shrub meadows in the non-winter season leading to slower water run-off than canopied woods. Stormwater best management practices will eliminate impacts to other land or bodies of water.

How will this expansion and related facilities address energy concerns?

Granite Peak is continually upgrading facilities to be more energy efficient such as adding new snow guns that will save in annual utility costs. The new facilities will incorporate LEED certification and green building practices, and consider the use of solar power. Night lighting will be switched to newer technology that directs light down into the snow and minimizes lost lumens that currently brighten area skies.

How is downhill skiing a part of the Rib Mountain State Park heritage?

The ski area has been an integral part of Rib Mountain State Park and this community since 1937. Local ski enthusiasts lobbied state officials to form the park and donated some of the initial parkland. Rib Mountain is home to one of the first ski areas in the U.S. During the 1930’s crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the existing ski chalet. Today, about one-half of the park’s local and vacationing visitors are skiers. Many homes have been built in the area to serve customers that like living at the base of a ski hill.

Will Granite Peak take precautions to hinder man-made snowfall?

Although rare, snowmaking and high humidity coupled with wind can create an isolated snowfall in an unintended location. To prevent future incidences, we are working closely with Marathon County officials and subscribing to the same weather service. We’ll be investing in snowmaking infrastructure so that we can focus on increasing snow production when weather conditions are ideal.

How will Granite Peak control additional water run-off?

Through engineered science and proven methods, Granite Peak will control excess water run-off created by snowmaking with detention ponds and control systems. However, this expansion plan does not include the paving of large areas or altering the hill in a way that creates massive water run-off. The trees to be removed would not assist in slowing or stopping run-off and in fact, the grasses and brush that supplant them do a better job.

As always, Granite Peak is dedicated to managing run-off from snowmaking by working with some of the best engineers and land planners in the industry.

Will water run-off impact the local sanitation system?

Granite Peak does not put run-off water into sanitation systems. Water runs through open ditches on the west side–ditches that channel water flow during all seasons from the thousands of springs and seeps on the hill–and directly back into the Rib River from which it’s drawn. On the east side, the majority of water runs into a pond where it slowly feeds into a stormwater system that takes it directly to Lake Wausau.

Is the Rib River at risk of losing too much water from snowmaking?

No. Engineering projections provide that 90% of the water withdrawn from the Rib River for snowmaking is returned to it four months later. The water is being “borrowed” not consumed such as it might be by agriculture and industry. And, by returning it to the same basin, there’s an extremely infinitesimal amount of water loss.

Will hiking trails be eliminated in the expansion?

No. Winter use on a very small percentage of trails will be restricted during downhill skiing months. During the best hiking seasons–Spring, Summer and Fall–all hiking trails will be open with better accessibility from a new Trailhead that would be developed on the west side. As for non-alpine winter recreation facilities, Marathon County has more than 39,000 acres available for snowshoeing plus the well regarded Nine Mile County Forest for groomed cross-country skiing.

What does the future hold for the Granite Peak expansion?

No. Winter use on a very small percentage of trails will be restricted during downhill skiing months. During the best hiking seasons–Spring, Summer and Fall–all hiking trails will be open with better accessibility from a new Trailhead that would be developed on the west side. As for non-alpine winter recreation facilities, Marathon County has more than 39,000 acres available for snowshoeing plus the well regarded Nine Mile County Forest for groomed cross-country skiing.

Will traffic increase and impact the main roadways?

Granite Peak skiers noticeably increase traffic loads on weekends and holidays during the winter season. The main artery, County NN, is designed to handle large amounts of traffic. Local traffic calming features and signage can be added if necessary as Granite Peak engineers continue working with town and county officials to best manage peak traffic loads.

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