Giants Ridge owes its recreation origins to a group of local skiing families who didn’t want to travel long distances to participate in the winter 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 its summers cutting down trees and the falls cutting brush. The first run, “Ram’s Run,” was skied that 1958 winter. Founder Duane Ramfjord recalls that there was no mechanical way to get up the hill, so skiers sidestepped 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, an overhauled 1949 Plymouth was used as the power source on the beginner runs.
INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS
The first ski 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.
“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,” said Ed Karkoska, an original founder, 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 TODAY
Today, Giants Ridge is not only one of the Gopher State’s biggest golf and ski resorts, it is also 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.
The town of Biwabik has become a travel destination. The community, a trailhead of the 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 and snowmobilers, golfers and anglers. Biwabik is host to several seasonal festivals including the Fourth of July, on which Biwabik presents the area’s largest Callithumpian Fourth of July Parade; and Weihnachtsfest (the first Saturday in December), a Christmas lighting celebration complete with fireworks, ethnic food, music, and entertainment.
Credit: Giants Ridge