THE STORY OF GIANTS RIDGE®
The Early Years
Now a year round resort destination, Giants Ridge owes its origins to a group of local skiing families who didn’t want to travel long distances to participate in the sport they loved. A group now referred to as “Giants Ridge Founders” were young families in the 1950’s on the Iron Range, where there wasn’t any place to ski other than rocky and rugged mine dumps. The nearest ski resort was hours away, so the group began looking for something closer to home. They selected the spot, what is now Giants Ridge, and in 1958 went to work with axes, ropes and borrowed equipment to blaze a ski run out of the woods. The group spent their summers cutting down trees and the falls cutting brush. The first run was skied that 1958 winter, “Ram’s Run”. Founder Duane Ramford recalls that there was no mechanical way to get up the hill, so skiers side-stepped up the hill and skied down. The next winter, a rope tow was installed, allowing skiers to grab onto the rough hemp line as a modified three-ton Mack truck engine pulled skiers up the hill. In addition, a 1949 overhauled Plymouth was used as the power source on the beginner runs.
The first chalet was a structure sold to the group by a local mining company, and it served its purpose as a warm-up building. The first amenities were an outhouse and a concession area that used a camp stove and water hauled in gallon buckets each day.
Some of the original founders included: Ed & Gretchen Karkoska, John & Betty Hagberg, Duane & Carly Ramfjord, Bill & Shirley Kuchta and Robert & Vivian Smith.
“The hill had all the ingredients required-things like challenging and moderate terrain, and proper non-direct sun exposure – and we were young and tough enough to think we could make it into a really successful winter recreation area,” Ed Karkoska said in a 1978 Mesabi Daily News interview.
The Founders group changed from a non-profit to a for-profit corporation in 1960, sold stock and took out an $80,000 loan to continue operating the facility. The next 20 years presented many struggles and an abundance of hard work.
Giants Ridge Ski Area Revitalized
Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board, a local-based Minnesota State agency with the mission of economic development, had the obligation to develop jobs and looked to recreation to do this. The agency bought the facility in 1984 and paid off the mortgage and debt. Iron Range Resources & Rahabilitation Board had four goals for the Giants Ridge Ski Area: Create economic development; provide recreational facilities to enhance the quality of life for people of the Iron Range; attract private sector development; and, create a year-round destination resort.
The first expansion phase at Giants Ridge included new snowmaking and grooming equipment, chairlifts, outdoor lights, a new chalet and a sports dormitory. In 1984, Giants Ridge was named as the United States Ski Association’s first regional Nordic training facility for Olympic hopefuls.
Giants Ridge had its second major ski expansion in 1991, with a chalet expansion, the addition of 15 kilometers of cross country trails, and a privately developed condominium/villa on-site lodging complex.
Golf Booms Nationwide – Giants Ridge Becomes A Four Season Resort
As the ski area continued to expand in the early 1990’s, golf was booming nationwide, and the majority of new courses were upscale & public. Iron Range Resources & Rahabilitation Board had one last goal to achieve for Giants Ridge: make it a year-round resort and championship golf was the answer.
In 1994, construction began on first golf course. And, during the construction period, ski area expansions were also taking place. Northface opened with 10 new alpine ski runs and a new lift, bringing the total alpine runs to 34. And, an additional 10 kilometers of cross country trails was added.
The Legend golf course opened for play in 1997. Writers from Golf Digest named it one of the 10 Best New Upscale Public Courses in the Nation. The course has also received a 4-1/2 star rating by Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play” for eight consecutive years. In 1999 The Lodge hotel opened at the base of the ski area and adjacent to the Legend. The Lodge featured 93 suites, banquet and catering facilities for up to 300, a full service restaurant and lounge, and an indoor heated swimming pool.
In 2000 construction began on the second golf course, The Quarry. 2001 brought national accolades to Giants Ridge Resort. For the first time, the ski area drew similar accolades to the nationally recognized golf course. The addition of The Lodge and the golf course put the ski area on the national radar and the customer base began to change; the ski guests were no longer primarily local, they were instead families FROM the Twin Cities, Chicago, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The Quarry opened for play in 2003, and blazed the national golf scene. Sculpted from reclaimed mine lands, The Quarry attracted golf writers and critiques from all over the nation. Ron Whitten, Golf Digest’s course critic played The Quarry that first summer and wrote, “Hands down, the finest course in Minnesota,” and ““…This Quarry will swallow up all Quarries before it, from Florida to California. It’s a combination of Pebble Beach, Pine Valley, Merion and Tobacco Road, with a bit of architectural Tabasco sauce sprinkled in for the occasional jolt.”
Giants Ridge Today
Today, Giants Ridge is one of the single largest employers in the eastern region of the Iron Range and continues to have a tremendous impact on the local economy. Giants Ridge has grown from a local ski hill attracting day visitors within a 50-mile radius, to a four-season resort destination attracting 130,000 guests each year from Minnesota, the United States and Canada. The resort’s sole mission is to provide extraordinary connections to nature and recreation in the True Minnesota Northwoods, and thousands of guests that visit each year leave with new memories of wonderful experiences with friends and family.
2020 Vision for the Future
Giants Ridge recently unveiled a 20-year master plan, which holds the potential of unprecedented residential and commercial growth in northeaster Minnesota. The master plan envisions a mountain top village with 300 new units; a base resort village with 340 new units; a water park; additional lodging; an ice skating rink; single family homes, lakeshore and lake-access lots ranging FROM ½ to 10 acres; fractional ownership properties; multi-family housing; parks and beaches; and public and private boat landings.
All of the components of the master plan are integrated into the landscape so that the integrity and beauty of the natural resources surrounding the resort are both preserved and enhanced. The Master Plan leverages the existing natural and man-made amenities in the area and will create even more opportunities for recreation and connecting to nature.
By the year 2020, Giants Ridge will truly evolve into the Midwest’s most sought after lifestyle, and real estate and real property opportunity.