What began as a vision of the residents of Minocqua, Wisconsin has bloomed into a thriving destination for winter sports enthusiasts and a treasure for the surrounding community. Early in its history, its fate hung as the highs and lows of the area took its toll on the park. Now, however, Minocqua Winter Park is becoming a staple in Northern Wisconsin growing more and more each year. Join us as we explore the rich history, operation and personal accounts of this local landmark - Minocqua Winter Park.
In the late 1950's, residents of the Town of Minocqua began to churn about the possibility of developing silent winter sports in the area. Just as the lakes provided enjoyment to water skiers, boaters and swimmers throughout the summer, they figured, a location dedicated to snow-oriented recreational activities would do the whole town some good.
Not only, they hypothesized, would it add to the residents' quality of life, but also encourage travelers to visit the Minocqua area during the long, cold winter. With plenty of snowfall each year and a few areas with elevation up to 1800 feet above sea level, a skiing hill seemed like a great idea.
After a handful of newspaper articles highlighting the questions, concerns and proposed ideas from businessmen, surveyors and townsfolk, the decision was made to embark on a single ski hill, affectionately called "Squirrel Hill." Once the decision was made, and funds were received in part from the land owners "Nekoosa-Edwards Paper Company", construction began. After only 3 months, the trees down the slope had been cleared, a simple lift was installed and a small warming facility was constructed.
The Hill quickly gained popularity and on February 23rd, 1956, it was reported that 100 skiers had graced the slopes that weekend alone. Throughout the early 1960's, volunteers and gracious financial backers helped keep the ski area alive and well, while being operated by the Town of Minocqua.
Patrick Handrick, a resident of the area during the 1960's, fondly recounted his experience visiting Squirrel Hill as a child in a 2013 Lakeland Times article.
"We would head to the ski hill every Sunday and some Saturdays when able... We would (ski) all day long until either we were frozen, starving, or Gordy Hauge would simply shut down the tow ropes at the end of the day, and our parents were usually already in the car... The warming house had the greatest fire place I had ever seen. Even to this day and after skiing every major resort area in the country, I have never seen one that matches it. It was a huge round fire place with chairs all around it and a stone edge that you could prop your feet up to un-freeze your toes with a huge black round vent in the middle. After skiing all day until you were frozen, it was like heaven sitting around with your stocking feet propped up and sipping on a hot chocolate."
Despite the fun times had by many, the popularity of the ski hill began to decrease in the 1970's, in part due to competing ski hills nearby. While the hill was in decline, The Lakeland Ski Touring Club formed (January of 1973) and began to draw members from the area interested in winter sports. While not exclusively connected to Squirrel Hill, the club began to sponsor trail grooming in the area, an annual ski race and more.
Unfortunately, this was still not enough to keep the ski hill active. In 1975 Squirrel Hill went dormant and stayed dormant until 1978 when the Town of Minocqua offered up the operations of the hill to the Lakeland Touring Ski Club (still active and growing). The Town also officially designated the hill as a town park and renamed it the Minocqua Winter Park.
Much growth has been achieved since the take over by the Lakeland Touring Ski Club including an additional 80 km of trails, groomed and maintained throughout the winter season. The club still operates the Park to this day offering winter sports enthusiasts the opportunity to embrace the breathtaking views at the top of the hill.
Today, Minocqua Winter Park "is one of the most popular XC Ski Centers in the Midwest [with over 50 miles] of impeccably groomed trails, winding through 6500 acres of peaceful northern upland forest." (source) "In addition to cross country skiing, Minocqua Winter Park provides 10 miles of snowshoe trails, multi-use fat bike trails, an ice skating pond, snow tubing, trailside warming shelters and fire pits, a Tea House, and a full schedule of activities and programs for the whole family. The park is also home to the Minocqua Winter Park Ski Shop which offers lessons, ski and snowshoe rentals, and a pro shop for all your winter sport needs."
The Minocqua Winter Park, from its inception to today, has always looked to enhance future generations with it's sloping hills and neatly groomed trails. A a staple in the community, its future is bright, active and inviting to all who choose to vacation in the Minocqua area throughout the winter. When you're ready to experience the joys of all the winter sports offered by the park, contact Birch Trail Resort Bed & Breakfast to secure your warm, cozy cabin to welcome you home after a day on the hill.
Images provided by multiple sources, including the Lakeland Times Newspaper, the Minocqua Winter Park website and Wes Doak. We thank you for the opportunity to feature them.