Photos Courtesy of the Crawford County Historical Society
Hanson Hills has a rich history of activity and controversy. Opened in 1929, it was the first downhill ski area in Michigan and the second to open in the Midwest. The "Snow trains" brought many people to Grayling where they would board flat bed trucks for the ride to what was then called the "Grayling Winter Sports Park". The Michigan Snow Queens were crowned and honored at the annual Winter Carnival, famous for the elaborate ice sculptures built by local people. The old toboggan run was an attraction that thrilled many. Another exciting attraction was the 66 ft. ski jump that was built in 1934.
Hanson Hills was willed to the State of Michigan by Rasmus Hanson for military or recreational use and is still controlled by the State of Michigan's Military Board. It was during the time when the area was called "Bear Mountain" that great growth was seen and the ski resort had 22 slopes for downhill skiing, the "Polyhedron" hotel, the "Little Smokey Railroad", and the "Fred Bear Museum" were all a big part of the excitement at what we now know as "Hanson Hills Recreation Area and Winter Sports Park". When the heirs to the Hanson Estate found private individuals making money on the property they attempted to take the land back. Their reason for the action was that the lease stipulated that the land was to be used only on a non-profit basis. The Bear Mountain Area was ordered "boarded up" in 1973 by Judge Roth. The hotel and lifts were disassembled and sold, the Fred Bear Museum, Little Smokey Railroad, the Pine Knoll Campground, the House of Flavors Ice Cream Store, and Dillons' horseback riding stables all closed also.
Volunteers came forward that winter to try to keep a few hills open for children to downhill ski. It was soon after this that Grayling Recreation Authority was established as a result of a lot of volunteer work. With the cooperation of the Michigan National Guard and the State Military Board, a special law was made to allow the "Authority" to work on a non-profit basis. The Grayling Recreation Authority (GRA) is a government "consortium", made up of representatives from Grayling Township, Crawford County, the Crawford AuSable Schools and three members at large.
In the beginning, the main goal of GRA was to maintain and run the ski operation. Now GRA has added to it's priorities year round sports programs for Youth and Adults. Year round, quality recreational activities are supported by 1/2 mil of taxes and user fees. GRA keeps prices at a minimum so as to be accessible for as many participants as possible.
For more information about Hanson Hills or to plan a visit please call 989-348-9266 or write to Grayling Recreation Authority, PO Box 361, Grayling, MI 49738.