Squirrel Ski Hill was an enterprise the Northwoods could point to with pride – a ski area that many remember fondly when it was in its heyday in the late-1950s and 60s.
Patrick Handrick, who grew up in the Lakeland area, is one of many who have childhood memories of the ski area.
The following is his account of Squirrel Ski Hill.
“My weekends growing up at Squirrel Ski Hill”
We were at the hill every Sunday and most Saturdays during the entire winter as my father, Glenn Handrick, was one of the ski patrols and my mother, Doris, was active with many things like the snack bar.
I can’t put my finger on the exact age, but I believe I was four or five years old and it was 1960. All I can remember is that at first I could only go half-way up the tow rope on the family hill and let go on the first drop vs. going all the way to the top. Once you let go of the rope you would ski directly across the hill and through a trial in the trees that put you on the bunny hill for a nice slow ride down to the bottom.
But that became boring and I began just going straight down the main hill. When I say straight, it was straight with no turning for controlling your speed – just straight down.
I was never afraid of the speed of the slope but stopping at the bottom was the problem. There was a bunch of tall grass and brush at the bottom that ran into a swamp and somehow it always worked in stopping me.
Even though I did not have the ability to turn back and forth to slow my speed while heading down the hill at the age of four, I could yell. I made it a simple, “Lookout” that came out “Wook-out.” For many years after that when folks would see me down town Minocqua they just called me “Wook-Out.”
After a season I began going all the way to the top, which made stopping even harder since I still could not turn back and forth for speed control.
At that age hanging on to the tow rope was a real challenge and we would just grab it with both hands in front of us and hang on for dear life. If you got caught in a rut you just let go, fell and crawled away from the groves going up so no one would hit you.
During those early years we stayed on the main family hill or the bunny hill but were very envious of the adults that could go down the Nekoosa Pass which was, as I remember it as a child, straight down the side. My father Glenn Handrick, Terry Lee, Walter Mastaglio and other members of the ski patrol along with some other expert skiers used to ski that a lot.
We would head to the ski hill every Sunday and some Saturdays when able. There were two ways to get out to the hill: one was down Hwy. 70 and out Squirrel Hill Road (which included the “fun hills” road) and the other one was south of Minocqua down Blue Lake Road. I use to always ask if we were going to hit the fun hills but was disappointed when we had to go the other way. We did that so we could pick up Mr. Alfonsi’s son up to go with us.
After a couple of years my buddies and I thought we were pretty good and started not only going down the Nekoosa Pass, but we also used to walk over and go down the Sugar Bowl on the other side of the hill, then walk back all the way back to the lodge since it did not come out by the lodge.
We would do that 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. I remember Gordy always driving the homemade snow-cat that they had. At that age he was like a God to us since he turned on and off the tow ropes.
We also began making trails between the family and bunny hills along with jumps etc. We were fearless – no such things as helmets, just racing down the hill through the trees playing follow the leader and never backing down from the challenge.
The warming house had the greatest fire place I have ever seen. Even to this day and after skiing every major resort area in the county, 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 you feet up to un-freeze you 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 you stocking feet propped up and sipping on a hot chocolate.
My mother would fix sandwiches at home to eat but the hot dogs and burgers at the snack bar were much better. Just like at Wheelers restaurant in Minocqua, I had my own charge account at the age of seven at the hill’s snack bar. Not sure who and how that all got paid but as a seven-year-old, it didn’t matter at the time.
When we were young, if we ever got tired of skiing we would go behind the warming house in a frozen swamp and build snow forts with the Bookers and have major military battles daily. At that age it was like having your own winter playground each and every weekend.
Because of those early years of skiing I have been hooked on snow skiing all my life – and it all began at Minocqua’s Squirrel Ski Hill. All I can say is thank you to all of those who made it happen for all of us back in the late 50s and 60s. We are simply passing on the great feeling of silently running down that hill where the only sound is your own heart beating and once down at the bottom, thinking, made it again.