Here is out latest Local’s Lowdown by Erik Vizinas. Huge thanks to him for giving us an update of what’s up in the Midwest. For those living in another part of the country feel free to send us your Local’s Lowdown and we may post it in our next installment.
Just a 5-hour commute from Chicago, a bit further North than the Dells; home to Cascade and Devil’s Head, lies Granite Peak or for the older souls what used to be known as Rib Mountain. In my opinion the BEST resort outside Chicago. People will try to argue that the Dells is where it’s at, but to me it’s simply not true. Complete with a couloir, a multitude of roller runs and a ton of freestyle terrain, Granite Peak provides riders with a challenge most other local hills can’t. More on the couloir later.
Last Minute Trip to Granite Peak
This was a bit of a last minute trip for my brother Tom and I (who may look like a Jerry but knows what he’s doing) is married and has a baby. He doesn’t get out much and wanted to get some time on the slopes and I’m always game so I was in. He booked a room at the La Quinta in Warsaw. Friday afternoon we hopped in his Prius hatchback and drove the 4 hours from the city through Schaumburg, Rockford and Madison till we finally reached Warsaw. We quickly checked into the hotel and went to get some food.
The La Quinta we stayed in was just off the highway and in a business district of sorts with restaurants and other shops surrounding it. The quick choices were between McDonald’s, Applebee’s and Milwaukee Burger Co. It’s fairly obvious given the choices which we went with.
Milwaukee Burger Co – A Wisconsin Franchise
Milwaukee Burger Co. is your standard franchise bar, knick knacks on the walls, beer posters and a “better than a dive bar” feel. If you’re on a diet I wouldn’t suggest this joint because just about everything is either served with or involves cheese or cheese curds. Note: Growing up in and around Wisconsin when someone says “cheese curds” I immediately think of quarter sized deep fried deliciousness. These are MASSIVE, you get two, they’re cubed and they’re about as big as a pair of fuzzy dice one might have dangling off their rearview. Wanting something a bit lighter than a burger I went with the “Piled High Reuben” and a side salad. The meat was tasty, but what really set it apart was the marble rye it was served on which had a distinct flavor which helped marry the ingredients. After a few New Glarus Spotted Cows it was time to crash. For those who haven’t had a Spotted Cow you are missing what can be considered a Wisconsin tradition in beer. This unfiltered beer is amazing and definitely worth a try if you are in the great state of Wisconsin since you can only get it there.
Next morning I woke to a bitter 5°F
After getting geared up it was time for a quick continental breakfast in the lobby then off to the hill. Looking for a discount I’d asked the associate at the desk whether or not they had any coupons or vouchers available to which I was told that La Quinta didn’t offer anything, but I was welcome to try the brochures (Nothing).
From the hotel Granite Peak is a short drive, 5-minutes tops so we got there early. I was down for just the standard day, but my bro was able to convince me to get a full day 9am-9pm pass for $92.23 w/tax. Not a bad deal considering there’s quite a bit of night skiing available. We still had about 30min till the hill opened so back to the car to finish my hot cocoa.
The Connection between Christmas and Granite Peak
It’s pretty funny, most of the lifts at Granite Peak are Christmas/Winter themed: Santa, Dasher, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Blitzen, Blizzard, and Frosty. As whereas Santa has delivered snow in droves this year out West, while in the Midwest and until recently the East coast have been forsaken. At about 9 a.m., we made our way to the closest lift Blitzen hoping to make it to Dasher, which was home to our favorite runs. Unluckily the liftie mentioned that there were “ice issues” at the top so Blitzen wasn’t open yet and Dasher wasn’t either. Bummer…begrudgingly we skated to Santa and hoped to get our first runs in.
Just as the lift attendant said, conditions were the classic “hard pack.” Wisconsin hasn’t seen much snow this year and it was obvious when you looked at the trails versus the trees. The trails were easily elevated 10” or more above the snowpack than between the trees. Not a good sign. Most of the runs had a great base, but since it lacked any natural snow it was essentially a sheet of ice w/crunchy corn on top for your edges. Not ideal if you’re talking about actually making turns. Because of the snowpack you pretty much had to bomb most the runs, bouncing from edge to edge praying that you didn’t catch and eat it down the glacier.
Granite Peak has a Couloir?!?
Regardless of the conditions the terrain that Granite Peak has to offer is unique. What makes it different? As I mentioned above Granite Peak actually has a couloir. It’s not massive, but it is a feature I’m yet to come across anywhere else. That being said, today was not the day to ride it. Heading up the lift my spirit is high, could that be untouched snow? It looked as if no one’s even put a track on it yet. After making it to the top, as any seasoned rider would I unstrap to go and take a closer look before diving in. Good thing too because it’s nothing but a frozen hunk. What looked like untracked snow was nothing more than untracked ice. Walking on it you couldn’t even tell I even walked across it. And at the bottom an endless pile of ice balls 2’ in size. My brother grabbed one and tossed it down only to have it shatter across the line not even leaving a dent. We were out. As fun as it may be, it wasn’t worth the injury.
A different kind of Ski… Apres Ski
Even with the conditions being a bit rough there is still always fun to be had at a ski resort. Today was going to have to be a different kind of ski… Apres Ski. Still cold we decide to take a break and have a brew at the historical chalet. The large log cabin style building seats a ton of people. They have a cafeteria which offers the regular fare: burgers, fries and the like as well as a bar. The bar is a bit out of the ordinary since they actually serve local beers from Great Dane, New Glarus and Bull Falls. For those less adventurous don’t worry they also carry the standard domestics and imports. The bar staff was also very Midwestern. They were friendly, polite, accommodating and coy yet willing to answer this guy’s silly questions. The ladies told me that the bar was open during the week, hosting music and other events, but was normally open as a local watering hole. After some time joking with them I did find out they didn’t have a shot ski! What kind of ski/ snowboard joint doesn’t have a shot ski?!
Bull Falls Nut Brown … a microbrew in Wisconsin
Me myself, I’m interested in the local beer I can’t get at home in Chicago. Lisa poured up a pitcher of Bull Falls Nut Brown. One word, spectacular! Unlike other nut browns which are usually light on the palate, this one was a bit heavier, but with a smooth creamy, chocolatey finish. This is the perfect beer in-between runs. After a pitcher it was time for us to take a minute and bum around. My bro’s boots were drying, so he figured we might as well do some window shopping. Surprisingly, Granite Peak does have a shop which sells gloves, hats, gaiters and other odds and ends. Basically, accessories are pretty much it. They don’t carry decks, skis or boots. It was a slim version of a ski shop for sure, so make sure you have what you need before you get there.
Blaze the local Spicoli of Granite Peak
Back on the slopes and just when we began to chalk the day up as a loss, we hear Dasher is open! Finally! Another one of my favorite runs is Western Frontier. Essentially it’s a wall and there’s really no room for mistakes! This is even on a normal day and especially in these icy the conditions. To top it off, at the bottom of this run there’s a series of rollers. If you’re coming in too hot they can pop you up for a couple feet of air. After a couple of runs we meet Blaze. A local kid who hails from Sturgeon Bay, but has a striking resemblance to Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High! With no hat and orange mirrored sunglasses he looked like he’d be more comfortable riding in Cali –vs– the tundra of Wisconsin. According to him and his friend who had season passes this had been the best day of the season thus far. The kid can rip. Blazing (ha) past me he hits the roller at breakneck speed for a solid pop and old skool stalefish grab (as an OG of the sport I have a respect for anyone who shows love to the roots, flips and spins win trophies, but popping a sick grab with style and grace gets a nod). Soon he’s shooting over the second roller and he’s gone.
Saving the best for last
As the sun finally sets, the blueish hue from the metal-halide lights illuminates acres of snow at a time. They’ve closed Dasher and Cupid and the other auxiliary lifts, and opened Exhibition up to the public after the races finished earlier. Like a good slice of cake Granite Peak made sure to save the best for last. The race run is the softest and cushiest of them all. This run provides for some pops and drops the likes of which would be sketchy at best on any other trail.
Finally back in the car headed home we learn a few things:
- In Wisconsin your best bet is to get cheese from a grocery store for the variety.
- On Saturday nights Madison doesn’t sell liquor after 9pm.
So if you plan on bringing back some Wisconsin beer better get it early.
Overall a bad day on the slopes still beats a good day at work. No, the conditions weren’t ideal, but spending a day on with your brother regardless can still make for a great time. And if you’re planning a trip to Granite Peak this season, pray for some snow.