Giants Ridge History

Giants Ridge History


Giants Ridge is located in Biwabik, Minnesota. Its name is derived from the Ojibwe word for iron: Biwabiko-nabik-wan. Long valued for its iron ore, today, Biwabik is a travel destination. The community, a trailhead of the historic Mesabi Trail, is the home of the "Honk the Moose" statue, a well-lit paved walking trail and a sledding hill. True to the ethnic diversity of Iron Range communities, Biwabik treats visitors to its unique Bavarian style. It has become the area’s year-round center of attraction, hosting thousands of Alpine & Nordic skiers, snowmobilers and golfers. Biwabik is host to several seasonal festivals including: the Fourth of July, on which Biwabik presents the area’s largest Calithumpian Fourth of July Parade; and Weihnachtsfest (the first Saturday in December), a Christmas lighting celebration complete with fireworks, ethnic food, music and entertainment.


The name "Biwabik" in Ojibwa means "valuable." The main sources of livelihood for its residents are the mines and taconite plants, businesses, the schools and city. Biwabik was the first of the now existing Mesabi Range towns to be incorporated as a village. Biwabik also has several other "firsts." lt was the first Mesabi Range town to be served by two railroads; it had the first large mine on the Mesabi; and its mine was the first to use a steam shovel.

Located in the valley of the Embarrass River, traveled by Indians and fur traders, the site was an Indian camping ground. Prospectors visited the location during the 1865-1866 Lake Vermilion "gold rush" because the Vermilion Trail passed through.

In 1891, one of the Merritt parties discovered a high-grade ore at what later became the Biwabik Mine. A town site was platted overlooking Embarrass Lake and named Merritt for the pioneering family. Biwabik was platted a mile west of Merritt, north of the Biwabik Mine. When, in 1893, the railroad ran its line to Biwabik, and Merritt was almost destroyed by fire, Merritt's inhabitants moved to Biwabik. A story is told that Biwabik's first beer was floated down the Embarrass River on a raft from Tower. When the Biwabik Mine began operating in 1893, John T. Jones of the Biwabik Ore Company conceived the idea of using the steam shovel to strip the overburden from the ore. Although many experienced mining men laughed at this proposal, a steam shovel was hauled overland by horses through the forest from Mesaba Station.

After a short time this method proved itself and other Mesabi mines began using steam shovels. The era of open-pit mining had begun.

When the Biwabik Mine ceased operations in 1956, it had shipped over 25 million tons of iron ore.

Modern History

The Early Years

Now a year round recreation 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 area 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 (IRRRB), 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. IRRRB 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 recreation destination.

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 Destination

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. IRRRB had one last goal to achieve for Giants Ridge: make it a year-round destination ... 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. 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 recreation destination attracting 100,000 guests each year from Minnesota, the United States and Canada. Giants Ridge provides 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.

Mesabi Giant/Legend

Ojibwe lore once told a story of Mesabi, a giant man who endlessly gathered and guarded the treasures of the great north woods. When, at last, he lay down to rest, moss, trees and grass grew over his gigantic body and the many footprints he left behind were filled with water. All of his magnificent treasures —abundant wildlife, beautiful scenery and thousands of lakes, remain.

It is within this natural beauty, where deep within these woods, lives the Legend at Giants Ridge. Carved from a majestic forest, this magnificent golf course has left its footprint on the very nature of the game. Experience the serenity, encounter the Legend, and reawaken your spirit. The Legend at Giants Ridge— new name, same great golf.


In the mid-1600’s the voyageurs first portaged their canoes along the inlet of Embarrass River and into the north end of Wynne Lake. Giants Ridge recreation area is located near the shores of Wynne and Sabin lakes. The property also hosts part of the Height of Land Portage, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, where the Continental Divide splits the watersheds of the Great Lakes and the Hudson Bay.