Skiing became available to enthusiasts on hills outside of Wheeler, Wisconsin beginning the winter of 1951. Earl and Lila Hammer of Colfax officially started the small-hill ski business in 1952. Both big and small ski hills had been popping up in snowy climates around the country in response to the post-World-War-II craze for downhill skiing. Deepwood Ski Tow welcomed people from the Western Wisconsin area and the Twin Cities to the newly carved slopes. Eventually, visitors from all parts of the Midwest would make a stop at the Deepwood ski area.
A number of the original skiers would arrive at Deepwood with wooden skis fabricated from scraps found on their farms. Many quickly realized how treacherous the homemade skis could be without edges to slow their descent down the 200-ft hill. Technology ultimately advanced around the sport and rentals became available at Deepwood when the new owners expanded the business.
Ray and Marie Fritz, who lived in the Twin Cities where Ray was a successful plumber, visited Deepwood as patrons in 1957. They immediately fell in love with the hill and the idea of running a ski operation for themselves. Ray, a national ski patrol member, was so enamored by the place, he and Marie purchased the property thirty days after their initial visit on March 10, 1957. They began expanding the existing recreation area soon after.
With Ray’s handyman skills and creative ingenuity, he set to work to build up all parts of the operation. The small, single-room chalet was expanded and was increased to more than twice the size of the original building. The main level boasted two large bar areas, one of which was used as a banquet room for dancing and live music. There was also a sizeable coat room, kitchen, bathrooms and living quarters for the Fritz’s. A second level was also added to the now much larger structure and the new construction, of which Ray was an integral part, included a basement with a third bar area, more bathrooms and a large space they eventually utilized for equipment rental.
Marie provided the quiet inner-workings from the kitchen of the chalet. She was a hospitable host and cooked a number of “favorite” dishes for the regular visitors.
Expansion continued outside the chalet as well. The Fritz’s cut in a number of new ski runs on the hill and added homemade tow systems. Since the Fritz’s were among pioneers in the running of a small ski area, Ray leaned on ingenuity and problem-solving to tend to the maintenance needs of the facility. He built a snow groomer out of a shower stall, welded and installed t-bar machination himself and finagled a homemade snow-making machine that he used for some time in the 1960s. Eventually he abandoned the snow-making and relied on mother nature to provide the snow.
Generally, the overall operation struggled financially and by 1969, the Fritz’s created a 9-hole, par 3 golf course in hopes to bring in some income during the summer months. Despite its challenges, the facility was frequently used for all sorts of parties and celebrations including birthday parties, anniversaries, wedding receptions, and reunions.
By the 1980s, Ray and Marie’s health had begun to decline. Ray died at the ski hill January 26th, 1984 and Marie passed away a few years later in 1990.
Prior to his passing, Ray had deeded the Deepwood property to one of their daughters. Gloria had been a ski instructor for Deepwood as well as an instructor at a number of other ski areas including the Playboy Club (now Grand Geneva Ski Area) at Lake Geneva. Shortly into the new ownership Gloria changed the name from “Deepwood” to “Deep Wood” and several promotional materials were created around revitalizing the challenged operation. The efforts could not be sustained, however, and Deep Wood shuttered its doors in 1988.
There was a brief attempt to reopen and resurrect Deep Wood for parties, events and limited outdoor activities in 2000, but it was short-lived. For the bulk of thirty years, between 1988 and 2018, the property including the hills, the golf course grounds, and the chalet have been mostly unoccupied while the land has done its work to reclaim what had once been vibrant space for recreation and memory-making.
Remnants of old maps and renderings have helped inform efforts to revitalize The Park for both outdoor and indoor activities. WoodWind Park has bee under construction since January 2019 and plans are in place to open to the public in fall of 2021.
Sited sources for this article:
Dunn County News article by Deb Anderson “DeepWood Lodge coming out of hibernation”
NYT article about Ray, his ingenuity and an unwillingness to rely on outside help. He fabricated the machinery at Deepwood out of frugality and prideful capability.
Lost Wisconsin Ski Areas Facebook Post March 18, 2017