Continued from last week
From drumming up community support for the Squirrel Hill project to the countless volunteer hours spent clearing the slopes and generous financial contributions to its opening day – Squirrel Ski Hill was an enterprise the Northwoods could point to with pride.
And the Lakeland area’s commitment did not go unrecognized.
To celebrate and show appreciation for those who “so whole-heartedly supported in any way ... the development of the hill,” the Squirrel Hill Ski Association held Founders Day March 16, 1957.
With its first season deemed a success, the ski association looked forward to the future and all the potential Squirrel Hill had to offer. And, as the saying goes – “Go big or go home” – developers had ambitious plans for the ski hill.
Plans to reach fullest potential
Though the very first cost projection for developing Squirrel Hill was $3,000, the full investment totaled $10,000 with the hill breaking even after its first season.
And it was worth every penny. Not once did the community support or Nekoosa-Edwards’ contributions waiver. As reported by The Lakeland Times May 30, 1957, stock membership accounted for $3,000 of the $10,000 spent; individuals loaned $4,500; Nekoosa-Edwards postponed payment of their bulldozing costs; and $1,500 in debts were outstanding.
“At first there was planned only a limited program with open slopes and a good rope tow. As interest mounted, a shelter house project became a ‘must’ and was completed during the winter,” The Times reported.
As soon as the snow melted and 1957’s spring had sprung, work on Squirrel Hill began again. The proposed projects included widening Nekoosa Pass, the expert slope, and clearing a new slope on the northeast side of the hill to “make the expert ski visitor happy.” This would require a new tow, and a simple rope tow wasn’t going to cut it with a grade average of about 30 percent.
“A rope tow would be cheapest, but it would be exceedingly tiring to use where percentage of grade exceeds 25 percent,” The Times reported.
There was also a proposal to add on to the shelter house and double its size to accommodate a ski repair shop, ski rentals and equipment sales, a complete kitchen and indoor plumbing.
In addition to the new expert slope, one for amateurs was also in the works – the Snobunny slope.
“With this kind of a layout Squirrel Hill could adequately handle 400 skiers per day, which business would principally be weekend. With very little cost night skiing at least one even each week could be enjoyed,” The Times reported.
“This is a very ambitious program of vital interest and of high recreational value. Many state and out-of-state skiers will be looking over the hill this summer. Once you see it, you’ll be sold on it.”
Squirrel Hill’s second season was as successful as its first. Two more slopes were open by mid-January 1958, the Snobunny Hill for beginners and the Sugar Bowl for experts, bringing a grand total of five runs at Squirrel Ski Hill.
“In spite of near zero weather and generally icy conditions the number of skiers using Squirrel Hill during the recent holiday period has been very gratifying, and must be a tremendous source of satisfaction to all those public spirited citizens who have so unselfishly donated their time and money to make improvements,” The Times reported Jan. 9, 1958. “There have been people at the hill from all over the state and the comments from those people have been highly enthusiastic in every case. The hill is a natural dandy in everybody’s opinion.”
Optimism for Squirrel Ski Hill
After reaping the fruits of their labor, Lakeland community members felt very optimistic about their investment in Squirrel Ski Hill.
On Feb. 15 and 16, a dedication ceremony was held at Squirrel Hill, complete with a high school ski meet and a snowshoe dance held at Curley’s.
Keith Roberts, editor of Nekoosa and representative of the Nekoosa Edwards Paper Company, was one of the speakers at the event. As The Times reported, he had nothing but positive remarks about Squirrel Hill.
“Mr. Roberts heaped praise on the hill, and on the quality of its development and management. He predicted that Squirrel Hill would become highly popular with ski enthusiasts everywhere.”
Unfortunately Mr. Roberts’ prediction would not hold true for Squirrel Ski Hill – at least while referencing downhill ski enthusiasts. Little did he or any of the ski hill supporters know, they were blazing the trail for what is now Minocqua Winter Park – a winter haven for cross country skiers and snowshoers alike.
To be continued
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org