Going Further Afield: Crystal Ridge Ski Area, Wisconsin 16
Author thumbnail By Robbie Allen, DCSki Columnist

I skied a trash heap!

The Crystal Ridge Ski Area is a trash heap, quite literally it is a pile of litter. Located within the city limits of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the ski area is located on a landfill. No kidding! There are bulldozers and dump trucks in the parking lot. I watched a dump truck drop off a load from the ski lift. This is an urban renewal project gone alpine.

Crystal Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area is known to the locals as “The Ditch.” It is open nights during the week and all day on the weekends. The ambitious trail map not withstanding there is one face to this hill which is served by two lifts. The small lodge, minimalist rental shop (a shipping container) and Ski Patrol shed (another shipping container) sit off to one side of the skiing face. The summit tops out at 290 feet (give or take a few garbage bags). The skiing surface covers 75 acres. The runs descend 225 feet of drop, off the top down to a small creek and wooded park land below. Thus “the Ditch.” The lifts are slow and paint-chipped, but this is a trash heap so they fit in.

Interestingly located off to one side at the bottom of the hill is the Timber Ridge Wolf Preservation project. This kennel holds wolves being bred for reintroduction to the wilds of Wisconsin. You could hear the wolves baying from the lift. This made the place even more bizarre.

The land directly adjacent to the skiing face is nicely wooded park land. So the view while skiing is of suburban parkland. This contrasts with the ride back up the lifts as the signs and lights of the nearby suburban sprawl are clearly visible.

The almost 50-degree day I was there the weather was taking its toll on the slopes. I was truly bummed that they didn’t offer day skiing as I had finished work early and was looking to enjoy some of the sun. But the wait was worth it. For a total of $13.00 I got 5 hours of skiing on the trash heap. The snow started out icy and well worn but as the sun went down it began to loosen up a bit. Overall the coverage was sufficient but the recent warm spell (all of two days) was quickly taking its toll on the slopes. The forecast called for more warm days ahead. So snow days this year on the trash heap may be numbered.

This place reminded me a bit of Blue Marsh (now a lost area) mainly to its similar size and layout. No real trails, just open terrain across one face. The crowd started out sparse at 5 p.m. but picked up a bit later in the night. Local boarders mixing in the lift line with local racers. I am sure I was the only out of town guest. But in speaking to the lifties the place was packed over the weekend.

I also learned that the ski area offered an “unofficial” season pass. If you spend as much on lifts as the season pass rate you get the rest of the season for free. Kind of a season pass on the installment plan which is a very neat idea.

Terry Owen, the general manager, was very nice. She and her staff worked hard to make it an enjoyable experience. A bit of local controversy is swirling as the city is looking to reopen the entire landfill while the ski area’s operator claims to have several years still to go on their lease from the city. This legal side show is a bit of a distraction and probably prevents the ski area from making too many improvements. Hopefully the snow sliders will prevail over the trash throwers and the hill will stay open.

Overall this place is a fun distraction with trash, wolves and all. If I lived nearby I might turn out a couple nights a week to get some runs in. It is a trash heap and that in itself is cool! I only wish they would own it more. Lose the name and just call it THE DITCH. Just think of the marketing campaigns! Ski The Ditch! If I was running the place I would paint the lift towers black, light the place in different funky colored lights, get the wolves to howl and maybe dress the ski patrol in Goth costumes. Well, probably not the family friendly image they are looking for, but it would be cool.

For now all that will have to wait. But Crystal Ridge Ski and Snow Board Area is a first for me… a truly urban ski area.

Two folks learning at “the Ditch.” Photo provided by Mary Jo Walicki.

Locals discussing world events in the lodge at “the Ditch.” Photo provided by Mary Jo Walicki.
About Robbie Allen

Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.

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Reader Comments

June 18, 2007
I know of land fills (trash heaps) in Michgan that are ski areas. Any other states have the same?
DCSki Reader
November 29, 2007
Yep - some think it is just urban legend. But you're right. As a local our kids snowboard there 7 days a week when possible. And, yes, the season passes. We do the family season pass which right now is $550 for a family of 4. Well worth it!! Very fun place, no snootyness, and big egos usually mellow as they get use the environment. I agree, the ski patrol dressed goth would be very appropriate but it would feel too much like our local holloween haunted houses. Maybe if they dressed like the Tellatubies?
November 30, 2007
haha, ok we call it "the dump" but i mean theres no real difference between the two. but anyways. i love crystal ridge, cuz its like a place thats fun to hangout at and chill with friends the hill is right in my backyard basicly and i always look forward to going to ski everyday, even though its a small hill.
Charlie Montpetit
January 1, 2008
its a realy nice hill but they need to cover the bad ice patches on the jump landings,wen u go off the jumps u go off at a angle and land on a other angle,i sugjest sunburst anyday,if your willing to drive a little more
March 15, 2008
wow robbie allen,go a little harder on it won't you?

Crystal ridge is a great ski resort that is very fun.

yes it used to be a garbage dump, but it HASNT been use for that in about 10 years.

Ive live about a mile away from it my whle life and never heard myself or anyone ever call it the Ditch

its a very nice and community hill

so stop makin' fun of it mister big shot jouranlist

March 29, 2008
This hill used to be the place in the area. There was a dedicated team of skiers and boards that really it took it to the next level, we had a full half pipe, a 10 foot quater pipe, moguls and several large hits such as a 30ft table. The reason this hill is in such bad shape is the owner, John will not put any money into the hill and the management (mostly his family) will not listen to people who know the industry.
When this hill was in its best days the hill was filled with skiers and boards who are now pros. There are 3 pro skiers, 1 nationally ranked mogul skier and aerialist that have come from here, and at least another 3 boarders. Now these guys are all out of state and the hill has lost any real appeal.

What a shame, it is truly a dump now
February 8, 2009
you guys are great, some of you. my parents have worked at crystal ridge for an extremely long time. my dad used to teach when i was in a backpack on his back when i was a baby. cr is a great place to hang out with friends. it used to be great and yes john doesn't do anything to make it better, if he did he would get tons more money. he's given up in his old age. but it's still a cool place to hang out. so if you have anything against cr, don't talk smack, just go somewhere else, cause there are people who practically grew up there (i.e.me)
March 22, 2009
Crystal Ridge may well face the fate of many small family run resorts, people don't understand the fact that these small hills must compete with all the new options avaliable to people these days, families need to make choices about how to spend recreation dollars. If those families are going to spend money on an experence the quality of that experence is measured and unfortunatly Crystal Ridge has an outdated snow making system, marginal grooming and systems that are seriously in need of maintainance. This area is late to open and early to close becouse they simply cannot put enough snow on the slopes due to the fact that they still utilize a very out dated snow making equipment. However if you are a skier or rider that appreciates the down home funkey feel of these places do yourself a favor and support this hill. If we don't this little jem may weel fall the fate of the 200 plus small areas that are now out of business. Ski it, ride it, support it. The kids and locals that ski and ride hear need your support. Its well worth the price of admission.
April 14, 2009
Robbie-Your review is pretty good, actually I almost busted my balls reading it. The "Ditch" was actually a term coined in the late 80's by fellow ski school staff. Every year since it's opening things have got worse. The owner basically runs this to give himself somthing to do. This is a gunuine South Side resort so you do need to be careful how you tread since you are an outsider. As others commented the Lodge is on part of the landfill but the hill is actuall fill from the deep tunnel project of the 80's. Since all the other hills in the area are either 50min. to the north or 35 min tot he south this is not so bad for people who live in the area. All in all the people who run this place mean well but your comments kind of hit things on the head.
April 14, 2009
The "Ditch" was actually a term coined in the late 80's by fellow ski school staff.

Yes, I was one of the staff who familiarized this term. It actually started as "Crystal Ditch" and later just became "The Ditch".

Many fun times were had at the ditch, and it was a good place to work for college students. I still see many of the old ski-school instructors regularly.

When the snow is good, and the lifts are working the skiing can be great.
April 15, 2009
Crystal Ridge is a hidden gem. Its a microcosm of Milwaukee's south side, Wisconsin's laid back attitude, and what America is about. Any hard working individual would appreciate it. You can show up in jeans, bust out the straight skis, while swigging a PBR and still make friends with the Brazilian girls that work inside. That's no joke, the owner recruits Brazilian babies through an exchange program.
I grew up skiing "the ditch" 5 days a week. I've skied out West countless of times, and I'll tell you what - No one appreciates a powder day like a Milwaukee South Sider who learned to ski on a landfill.
April 15, 2009
It has been a constant argument with my friends and I'm always saying that the southside is the best.....better than, most importantly, the northside. This is a lot to do with us having the ditch! As part of a ski team that practices at sunburst, it is quite convenient when CASH MONEY decides to practice at the ditch. The only thing I have to say bad about it is that it is being run pretty shittily and can be much more than it has been. We used to race there.....back in its prime. Those days are long gone but it still shows a glimmer of hope.....it still has the best run for high school racing, but because of the lacking management skillz, the ditch merely proves close to useless.

April 18, 2009
Well I am a local to the "trash dump" or the "ice rink" as the true locals call it. It could be an ok place if someone new owned it and actually put money into it so the lifts would work and there would be snow on it so it could be open more than just a few weeks out of the ski year. All in all right now just like it has been for years, the place sucks. It worth spending the gas money and time going somewhere else if you really would like to have a good time. If your cheap and want to just get out and mess your skis/board up then its a good place to go. For the lodge, it sucks too. Everything in there is over priced and well i wouldn't really want to eat anything that has been made there. There is a strange old place smell and look to it, keeps it "clean" but really its not all that clean. The wolf park is cool, its neat hearing the wolfs at night howling. Another interesting attraction at the bottom is the none legit trailer park at the bottom. To sum this all up i'd say CAN SOMEONE NEW PLEASE BUY THIS HILL, IT COULD BE A DESCENT PLACE THAT MAKES GOOD MONEY but with the people now that are running it. the only place it has been going and is still going is down the hole and its just something that's there.
John Smith
April 21, 2009
Crystal Ridge and Olympia are very much the same. They both were dumps and are crappy hills! I suggest that local skiers go ski Alpine Valley, Sunburst, or if you want a little drive ahead of you even Cascade. All the hills i have listed have great features for freeskiers and boarders, and alos they are family friendly for the people who just enjoy to ski or board with their entire family. So going with Robbie Allen Crystal Ridge is a Dump but also is Olympia and the greater area offers some hills that are twenty times better than both those hills combined.
August 12, 2009
i have been snowboarding at crystal ridge fpr 8 years now and i have never heard anyone call it "the ditch". and for the past two years they actually have been trying to make improvements for example the past year they repainted the green lift and they make three big kickers. so mr. robbie allen you can just shut your mouth and stop trying to make your self sound better than all of us who do ride crystal ridge. SKI CRYSTAL RIDGE!
October 7, 2009
I learned to ski at Crystal Ridge when I was 2 years old. They were the first team I ever raced for at 6, and it was definitely a place of convenience. However, while I still live in Franklin, I would rather drive however many miles it is out to Sunburst or Ausblick to ski than pay the ridiculous rates for shitty skiing. A season pass there, when I was in high school, ran about $300... for what? The owner to make snow about 4 times per season? I say get rid of "The Ditch". The southside has a bad rap as it is... this only drags us down that much more.

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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