Michigan's oldest ski area plans improvements

The Mont Ripley Ski Area on the Keweenaw Peninsula holds the distinction of being the first ski area in Michigan, with operations beginning in the winter of 1933-34.

The Mont Ripley webcam shows its commanding presence on a hillside overlooking Houghton and Hancock. The 115-acre ski area features 24 challenging trails, a tubing park, and a terrain park. If that’s not enough to whet a skier’s appetite for adventure, Mont Ripley also boasts a 440-foot vertical, resulting in “a stunning overlook of the Keweenaw Waterway.” 

“Mont Ripley is in the snowiest city (Houghton/Hancock) in the Midwest deemed by (television’s weather channel). If snow isn’t the main ingredient to skiing, I don’t know what is. That being said, we have the best snow conditions possible,” says Nick Sirdenis, general manager who has worked at Mont Ripley since 2000 and is beginning his 24th season. 

Snowboarders at Mont Ripley. Photo courtesy of Alyssa DupuisThis season, the ski area launched a fundraising campaign to make various improvements to this “vital recreation resource for Michigan Technological University and the Keweenaw.”

The ski area, owned by Michigan Technological University, is among several ski destinations in the Upper Peninsula in the midst of making infrastructure and other improvements, further adding to the Upper Peninsula’s appeal as a ski destination.

What’s happening: In November, Mont Ripley announced a planned expansion of the ski area, with a focus on the Mont Ripley Chalet, a new green run and additional parking.

The Mont Ripley Chalet was built in 1965 when the university’s enrollment was 3,400. Enrollment has more than doubled since then, contributing to the need to expand the existing building. An additional building was built in 2006 to ease congestion at the chalet and has a gas fireplace, seating and lockers. That building is primarily used for special events, such as races and parties. 

In addition, the ski area would like to add another green or beginner run. A new green run would be constructed on the far east side of the current skiable terrain. Officials believe skiers of all abilities would benefit from a new top-to-bottom beginner run. 

Parking areas would also be expanded to provide more convenient parking options for all customers. 

Michigan Technological University took ownership of Mont Ripley in the 1940s and is one of only two universities in the United States that own its own ski area.

Previous Capital Projects: The all-important all-hill lighting system was installed in 1997, allowing for evening recreation. Snow-making capabilities were improved in 2000 with the purchase of eight more snow-making guns, providing additional weeks of activity at both ends of the season. In 2007, a second chair lift, Copper Hoist, was built on the east side of the hill, making it easier for skiers and snowboarders to use those runs. The ski area has three lifts, two chair lifts and one T-bar.

Visitors: About 48 percent of Mont Ripley customers are local, 48 percent are Michigan Tech students (about 44 percent of the students on campus last year), and 4 percent come from the regional market area. Mont Ripley offers ski equipment rentals, including tubing, as well as season passes. 

Season update: “El Nino has been difficult this year and we are in a drought for snow at the moment,” Sirdenis says. “We plan on opening on the 16th of December thanks to snowmaking. Our favorite run is Center Bowl. My favorite run is the Plunge or Husky Bowl. Mont Ripley is a very challenging hill. The old saying is, ‘If you can ski Mont Ripley, you can ski anywhere in the world.’”

The Holiday Season will open Dec. 18 and run through Jan. 1; Prime Season is Jan. 2 through March 9. Value Season is March 10 through 24. Hours of operation may be found on the Mont Ripley website

Winter Carnival: Sirdenis described Michigan Tech’s annual winter carnival (Mont Ripley is a part of this) as “four days of incredible winter fun.” This season’s carnival is scheduled Feb. 9-11. Events include expanded hours for the hill and races for MTU students. Highlights will be the many snow sculptures spread throughout the campus and a display of fireworks on Saturday, Feb. 11. “I couldn’t think of a better place to be in that second week in February,” he says.

To donate: Go to Mont Ripley Expansion.

Ann Dallman has lifelong roots in Michigan’s UP. She started out as a newspaper reporter/photographer and returned to journalism after retiring from teaching. Her first Middle Grade novel, Cady and the Bear Necklace, received a State History Award (Books/Youth) from the Historical Society of Michigan as well as a Midwest Book Award, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, was a Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist and a UP Notable Book. Her second book, Cady and the Birchbark Box, also received the Historical Society of Michigan State Award, is also a UP Notable Book and was a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona 2023 Book Awards. 
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