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Ski Hill Expansion, Mountain Biking Could Come To Rib Mountain

New Planning Initiative Will Consider Proposed Expansion Of Granite Peak Ski Area

Granite Peak, Wausau, mountain, skiing
Granite Peak Ski Area in Wausau. vxla (CC BY 2.0)

A proposal to expand a central Wisconsin ski hill will now be considered alongside plans to bring mountain biking to Rib Mountain State Park.

The state Natural Resources Board on Wednesday voted to create a new master plan for the park. The state Department of Natural Resources has been considering a proposal by Granite Peak Ski Area to significantly expand its ski hill there.

Diane Brusoe, a DNR program manager, said the park’s plan needs to take into account other potential uses for the park beyond skiing.

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DNR officials toured the park in August, Brusoe told the board.

“We realized there are a lot of opportunities going on on this property,” she said. “We believe any future evaluations and changes to the property should be more holistic.”

Granite Peak Ski Area is Wisconsin’s largest ski resort, with an economic impact estimated at $27.5 million per year in the Wausau area, said Dave Eckmann, president of the Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce. The ski area is privately owned, but it leases 405 acres of public land.

Under an expansion plan first released in 2015, the hill would expand by around a dozen new family-friendly runs and build a new chalet and other facilities.

That proposal, Eckman said, could bring the economic impact of the ski hill to $54 million per year in the region.

However, it would require Granite Peak to lease an additional 154.7 acres from the state.

Brusoe said that DNR regulators “were not really able to reach agreement (with Granite Peak) on the scale and size of what’s being proposed.”

At the same time, the Chamber of Commerce has been engaged in initiatives to promote the region’s outdoor recreation opportunities, including mountain biking. An Oct. 19 event by the new organization Ironbull included mountain biking on Rib Mountain — the first time the DNR has allowed an event like that there.

Bill Bertram, president of the Wausau and Marathon County Parks Foundation, said events like that aimed at “environmentally conscious outdoor enthusiasts” could provide a significant boost to central Wisconsin tourism.

“We could become an ‘it’ destination for the Midwest, a magnet for millennials, offering year-round outdoor opportunities,” Bertram said.

A spokesman for Granite Peak Ski Area told the board Granite Peak supports the creation of a new master plan that considers other recreation uses. Lisa Zilinsky, marketing manager for Granite Peak, said that the ski area has no current plans for when it hopes to begin construction on the expansion.

Some residents have objected to the expansion proposal on the grounds that the new ski runs would further alter the look of the peak and potentially affect the surrounding neighborhood. Granite Peak worked with neighbors groups to add hiking and snowshoeing trails as part of its expansion plans.

NRB chairman Fred Prehn, himself a Wausau resident, said the creation of a new master plan “just makes logical sense.” The new planning initiative doesn’t stop the ski hill expansion from moving forward, he said, but it does mean “we’re going to take a step back, get full state government involvement and come up with a plan that makes sense for everybody.”