When Charles Skinner took over the Rib Mountain Ski Area on the edge of Wausau, Wis. 13 years ago, he changed more than just the name of the then-tired resort—which opened in 1937—to Granite Peak, he was about to put the resort on the map.

Skinner wanted to capture the thousands of Chicagoland and southern Wisconsin skiers and snowboarders who were driving past Wausau on their way to resorts in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As a result, Skinner, whose family also owns Lutsen Mountains north of Duluth, Minn., did a major revamp of this central Wisconsin resort.

Over the next few years, he spent $12 million to put in the Comet high-speed, six-pack chairlift, build the Sundance Chalet restaurant, add 60 runs to the existing 14 for a total of 74, restore the area’s Historic Stone Chalet and significantly expand their snowmaking capacity.

The investment paid off, boosting skier visits from 70,000 in the year 2000 to an estimated 100,000-plus in 2013 at what is now the biggest—400 skiable acres with a 700-foot vertical—and arguably best ski resort in Wisconsin.

On top of that, last summer, he spent another $4.1 million to replace the triple Donner chair on the west side of Granite Peak with Dasher, a high-speed, four-person lift that cut the travel time up the hill from 10 minutes to 3.

New Dasher lift at GP

The new Dasher quad provides skiers and riders a quick 3 minute ride to the summit. Photo: Granite Peak Ski Area

 

Day One

If you have a big appetite, start your morning at Emma Krumbee’s Restaurant and Bakery, located about a mile from the resort on N. Mountain Road. Ask for the Garden Harvest omelet, filled with sautéed tomatoes, broccoli, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese, then smothered with hollandaise sauce. If an omelet isn’t your thing, try the country fried steak, French toast or buttermilk pancakes.

Skiers and riders with a lighter appetite can grab a fresh-baked muffin at the Historic Stone Chalet in the base area. Be sure to check out the Tenth Mountain Division display featuring gear from World War II veterans who returned to Wausau after the war to ski.   

If you have small kids or first timers in tow, you’re in luck. Granite Peak has a large novice area served by two moving carpet lifts, the Santa, Blitzen and Prancer chairs. Beginners even have their own Tyro terrain park—one of five at the resort.  

snowboarder at GP

A snowboarder hits a rainbow rail at Granite Peak. Photo: Granite Peak Ski Area

 

One of the best instructors for youngsters is “Grandma Jane Wiley,” who’s been teaching and entertaining kids at Granite Peak for decades. Intermediate and advanced skiers and riders who want to warm up their legs should jump on the Comet chair and scoot down the corduroy on the Hawks’ Ridge, Miracle or White Lightning runs that all lead to the new Dasher lift.

The upper portions of these runs are steep by midwestern standards. In the bottom stretch, it flattens out, but Skinner and crew have added rollers to make things interesting. And if you’d like to show off your mogul skills under the lift, zip down the Main Event run.

When your stomach starts growling, head back to the Stone Chalet for one of Wisconsin’s signature, ahem, foods: deep-fried cheese curds. Or, grab a burger, kabobs, homemade soup or chicken sandwich on the sun deck. For great pasta salads, go to the Sundance restaurant.

In the afternoon, mosey over to the east side of the resort, where there are usually fewer people and the runs are steeper, but shorter. You’ll also find bumps here on the Sundance and Idle Wild runs. Better yet, there are lots of glade runs. 

When you decide to call it quits (you can ski until 9 p.m.), join the locals at Carmelo’s, a family run, Italian restaurant within spitting distance of the base. You may even be able to smell the garlic from the resort parking lot. 

The lasagna here is superb, as is the chicken ravioli or manicotti. El Tapatio’s is a good choice for Mexican grub and Michael’s Supper Club has tasty steaks and seafood.

Beer lovers will be in heaven in Wausau, too, thanks to three brew pubs: The Great Dane, Red Eye Brewing Co. and Bull Falls Brewery. All of them serve handcrafted suds and a wide range of food.

For a little nightlife, try either Malarkey’s Pub or the Intermission Bar in downtown Wausau, both of which feature live music.  

When it’s time to tumble into bed, you can choose the boutique Jefferson Street Inn, the Everest Inn or the Rosenberry Inn—all three are great bed and breakfasts. The Grand Lodge, with its big water park, is perfect for kids of all ages who like the aquatic scene. 

 

Day Two

Begin your morning with some coffee and delicious apple fritter French toast at the 2510 Restaurant, then do some more laps on the Granite Peak corduroy to warm up. 

If there’s been fresh snow and you’re feeling brave, you can jump in the short-but-sweet trio of chutes dubbed Charlotte’s, Caroline’s and Mamma Mia over on the east side of the resort. 

And if the eastern glades—which some say is like skiing in New England—get your motor running, there is another 30 acres or so of tree skiing on the west side of the resort.   

Before lunch, hit the cruisers in the mid-section of the mountain—Birch Run, Elk or Exhibition. While you’re dining at the base, you may see 87-year-old Chuck Luedtke carving turns. He's a Tenth Mountain Division veteran, and lifelong skier who first skied here at age 11.

Trio of boarders

Three snowboarders get ready to ride at Granite Peak in Wisconsin. Photo: Granite Peak Ski Area


For dinner, try the Back When Cafe, Gulliver’s Landing or City Grill for steaks, seafood, pasta and regional specialties. For something different, there’s the Wausau Mine Co., with an interior that looks like an underground cave. Try the pizzas and Italian fries.

 

Day Three

For an adventure away from the slopes with great views of Wausau and the Wisconsin River in the distance, go snowshoeing in Rib Mountain State Park. Bring your own snowshoes, or rent them at Shepard and Schaller.

The skinny ski set may want to head for the nearby Nine Mile Trail system, which covers 18-plus miles and includes an 8-foot-wide skating lane. The trails are lit for night skiing some nights until 8 p.m. The chalet here has ski and snowshoe equipment rentals as well.

If you’ve got a non-skier in your group, or would simply like to take in some local culture, check out the city’s Center for the Visual Arts, which is home to three galleries; the 86-year-old Grand Theater (both in downtown Wausau); and the The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, with its sculpture garden and acclaimed "Birds in Art" exhibit.

Ice skaters may want to linger downtown at the 400 Block and do some spins and twirls on the ice. You can rent skates at the Shepherd and Schaller ski and snowboard shop at 324 Scott St.

However you choose to spend your getaway to Wausau and Granite Peak, give thanks to Charles Skinner. Without his lead, your Granite Peak experience may not have been possible.