By Shelby Deering
The lakes area is famous for many things—the storied mansions and summer camps that line the Geneva Lake Shore Path, plus charming boutiques, plentiful restaurants, lake tours, beaches, and upscale resorts.
But many warm-weather travelers are often unaware that the region also comes alive during the winter months. Shortly after the boats have been stored, that’s when the three local ski resorts—Wilmot Mountain, Grand Geneva Resort and Alpine Valley Resort — start making snow.
Whether you’re a veteran skier or a newbie on the bunny hill, each resort caters to all levels, doing it with expertise and a commitment to guests.
Like most things in the lakes area, the three resorts all have backstories.
Wilmot Mountain is the oldest resort in the region dating back to 1938. First called “Wilmot Hills” by founder Walter Stopa, who leased the land from a farmer, the resort has grown from using rubber hoses and sprinkler heads to make snow to state-of-the-art equipment. And in 2016 Wilmot Mountain was purchased by Vail Resorts Group of Broomfield, Colorado.
“We are celebrating our 80th season at Wilmot Mountain this winter,” says Taylor Ogilvie, vice president urban ski areas and general manager Wilmot Mountain Vail Resorts.
Grand Geneva Resort, which was built as the Lake Geneva Playboy Club in 1968 featured a ski lounge in the shape of two snowflakes. Today, it still offers skiing, without the bunnies.
Chad Hart, director of ski area operations says, “So many great skiers have come from this area and countless memories have been made on these slopes.”
Alpine Valley Resort near East Troy once included Apple Valley Music Theatre in its portfolio of amenities.
Bruce Firestone, general manager of Alpine Valley Ski Resort, explains, “The resort is the ski hill, the hotel and the golf course. It no longer includes the music theater. We sold that back in 1985.”
Since their humble beginnings, time and technology have only improved these ski resorts to make them go-to destinations for winter sports enthusiasts in the Midwest.
MORE THAN SKIING
In addition to offering ski and snowboarding experiences, these resorts have plenty of on-site amenities and cutting-edge programs.
At the 120-acre Wilmot Mountain, you’ll find 23 trails, seven lifts, two surface conveyor lifts, and for an added challenge, progression terrain parks, which include jumps created from snow that range in difficulty for beginner to advanced level skiers and snowboarders.
“We have innovative terrain parks and an overall fun atmosphere to enjoy skiing with friends and some post-slope libations in the main lodge or Walt’s Tavern,” says Ogilvie. Another bonus at Wilmot? A 4,000-square-foot Children’s Learning Center where kids can learn how to ski. “It really elevates the beginner experience,” says Ogilvie.
The 30 acres and 20 runs at Grand Geneva serve as what Hart calls “a progression learning center,” which especially accommodates young skiers. “This means our area is designed to assist in the progression of a skier or snowboarder,” says Hart. “We are a Burton Learn to Ride Center and an Official Burton Riglet Center. For snowboarders, this means you can start as young as three-years-old.”
If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, Grand Geneva has a sledding area and ice-skating rink, too.
On just over 90 acres of skiable land with its longest run at 2,500 feet, Alpine Valley Ski Resort provides packages to guests that tie into the hotel on the property. Firestone says, “We offer midweek and weekend packages. You can do a lift ticket, rental and lesson package. Or you can do lodging, meals, a ticket, a rental and a lesson.”
The three ski resorts continually strive to better themselves, from additional programming to high-tech equipment.
Last year, Wilmot Mountain spent more than $13 million to upgrade their facility.
These improvements include a 45 percent increase in lift capacity, an expanded terrain park, 56 new guns for snowmaking and the newly-opened Walt’s Tavern and Children’s Learning Center.
At Grand Geneva, big plans are waiting in the wings while subtle upgrades with big impacts are made.
“We are always looking to improve our area for our guests,” says Hart. “We have a number of fun additions in the planning stages. Our latest addition is that we increased our terrain by 25 percent with the addition of the Basin Terrain Park. We installed a handle tow surface lift and invested in all new Terrain Park features. We ensure snow all season long. Our top-notch Mountain Operations Crew never stops making snow. We upgrade our snowmaking equipment as technology becomes more efficient. This allows us to make sure that the snow you’re on is the best possible, making for top skiing conditions.”
Firestone refers to many features at Alpine Valley as “state-of-the-art,” even down to the latest rental gear, including skis, boots, poles, snowboards and helmets.
“Alpine adds improvements almost every year, from snowmaking, lifts, rentals and adding new runs,” he says. “Alpine is a leader in new technology in the ski industry. We have state-of-the-art high-speed lifts, five conveyer belts and a fast-speed rope tow for one of the terrain parks.”
TIPS FROM THE PROS
If you’re considering taking to the slopes this winter on skis, a snowboard or even on a snow tube (Wilmot Mountain offers this classically-fun winter activity), our experts emphasize safety should be at the forefront of your experience. And lessons are always imperative to new skiers and boarders (see sidebar on page 52 for more information).
If you’d like tips, tricks or information before your lesson, Firestone advises heading straight to the source. “For those who are thinking about getting into the sport, I recommend calling Alpine with any questions or concerns and our staff will help maneuver all phases of entering the sport.”
Firestone notes that Alpine has several novice-friendly features, saying, “Our conveyer belts ease the process greatly for the beginner and we have two beginner chair lifts that are easy to load.”
Ogilvie warns against lessons taught by amateurs. “Get a lesson! Don’t let friends or spouses try to just ‘help you out.’ With a professional instructor, you will feel safe, have fun and learn a lot.”
Hart also shares his tips for “first-timers.” “Dress correctly. You want to be able to remove layers when you warm up and put layers on if the temps drop after the sun goes down. There’s nothing worse than being uncomfortable — you can be hot and sweaty and then you stop skiing and get the chills.”
He also says, “Remember to make it as positive an experience as possible for the little ones. Make sure they are dressed comfortably and explain to them all the new experiences. It can be intimidating for kids to see all the people and new environment. Our instructors and staff understand that and go to great lengths to ensure that the experience is a positive one for children and adults. It’s all about having fun.”
Now hit those slopes!
TAKE A LESSON
Now that winter weather and ski season is upon us, you might be inspired to take a lesson or two. Whether you’re a local or visiting the area, these resorts have you covered.
“We have lessons for all ages and abilities, whether you are a first timer, have been away from the sport for a while or are looking to improve your skills,” says Ogilvie. The resort offers adult and child group and private lessons, three and six-week progressive learning programs for kids, Terrain Park Camps, Ski Girls Rock camp to empower young girls, a Junior Development Program and the new Learn to Ski/Learn to Ride program which introduces guests seven and older to skiing and snowboarding through multi-week instruction. And here’s something cool—upon completion, all students get to take home a free pair of skis or a shiny new snowboard.
When it comes to lessons, Grand Geneva doesn’t mess around. Hart says, “Our skiers learn to ski with the Dynastar Terrain Based Learning rental system,” equipment that reduces the effects of gravity and helps students learn how to control their speed. Another element of control is provided by the learning center slopes. “We actually design and maintain the slopes to help you learn how to make turns and build confidence to ride,” he says. Grand Geneva has several options available through its Ski School, including group, private and semi-private lessons. Hart adds, “One of our best package specials is our ‘Discover Package.’ This includes lift, rental and lesson for one great value price.” And for the kiddos, Hart says that they “excel” with their children’s programs. “The Snow Cubs program is for three to six-year-olds and is a great path of introduction to the sport. Our Mountain Mite Program is the next level and is designed for the six to 14-year-old age group. This is a multi-session program and focuses on improving basic abilities in a fun and safe way.”
“We offer all types of lessons, both for skiing and snowboarding: private, semi-private, group and children’s lessons,” says Firestone. At the Alpine Valley Ski & Ride School, there are several choices accessible to both green and experienced skiers, like the Kidner Kids, Adventure Kids and Mountain Teen programs for the youngest skiers in your family. A Learn to Ski or Ride adult option is available, along with long-term classes, such as the three-week Mountain Voyagers, Mountaineer and Mountain Master programs. Firestone appreciates the fact that his resort appeals to a wide variety of abilities and interests, saying, “Alpine is a family-friendly resort with three terrain parks of different degrees of difficulty.”