Last month, as skiers queued in the liftline at northern Wisconsin's Whitecap Mountains Resort, the morning sun rose above their smoldering base lodge. Just the day before, on the chilly Friday afternoon of January 18, a red-hot fire sparked near the lodge’s second floor bar, which was closed at the time for renovations.
The inferno destroyed the building overnight, despite the best efforts of more than 50 firefighters dispatched from nine area fire departments, according to news reports. Though the cedar structure burned for hours, with the asphalt-tiled roof emitting a heavy smoke, no injuries were reported. Everyone was safe.
Early Saturday morning, the owners announced they would rebuild, the lifts began spinning right on schedule, and the devoted community showed solidarity in the most fitting manner: they came to ski.
David Dziuban, the principal shareholder of this 400-acre resort, tells POWDER about Whitecap's history and its future.
Before the first fire department arrived on scene, I knew that as long as we had electricity for the ski lifts, we were going to open Saturday morning on time.
The high [temperature], that Saturday, if I remember, was about 5 degrees. But these skiers are prepared for that kind of weather. I think there were a lot of people who came out just to support us.
The resort was originally started in 1962, with just a single rope tow, and just a small base lodge. No hotel, no lifts. In 1964, Dave and Evie Lundberg purchased the property. From '64 until 2018, Dave and Evie put their heads down and built a great resort. Dave was a visionary. He saw all the good in the future of Whitecap, and he built it that way.
In February 2018, I took over the company. I've spent 17 years working in the ski industry, and I knew what kind of special place the ski area is. The people reflect that. It's not uncommon, on any given day, to spot a family of three generations skiing here together. There's a lot of history.
[The fire] was disheartening—we had just finished renovations. [Starting in July 2018,] we built out two new restaurants, a new kitchen, a new bar area, and a new rental shop. We had received all new rental gear— about 350 pair of skis, 80 snowboards, and related boots and bindings—the day after Christmas. It was a total loss. Some of it didn't even get used.
We have 88 employees. Everyone who works here lives within 20 miles of the mountain. It would have been easy to bring in a big company to do all the renovations, and be done in a season—but we thought it was important to hire local people, to help out Iron Country. And we'll continue to do that.
It's very important that we contribute to the local community. If the mountain becomes successful, the local community should share in that.
[The lodge that burned] had a Bavarian, or alpine, theme. Dave and Evie had traveled extensively through that area of Europe. We found boxes and boxes of pictures they had taken, and on the back of the pictures were handwritten notes like, "this would look good for the hotel."
It's always been my idea to pay respect to this area's history of logging, and mining, and also skiing. That's a big part of this area, the snowsport capital of Wisconsin. [After the fire,] we have a clean slate. The new buildings will reflect the heritage of the area. Everything we do, we try to make unique to Whitecap.
We were able to save a few old photographs, awards the mountain had won years ago, some old signage. I'm sure, as we go through the rubble, once we start the demo process, that we will find more artifacts related to the history of Whitecap.
A couple big pieces of steel that were part of the [lodge] structure were bent, because of the heat of the fire. I'm sure we're going to incorporate those into the new base village, as a reminder of what we came from.
The Wine Hut is probably the most recognized facet of Whitecap Mountain. I've heard stories: at one time it was an office for a logging company, at one time it was a trapper's cabin. We have a little bar, a wood stove. It has orange and yellow shag carpeting on the floor. It's a place that everybody congregates. The walls are literally full of history. The night of the fire, I kept looking to the north [to where the Wine Hut is located] to make sure I didn't see any glow.
[The fire] slowed us down a little, but we're going to continue to move ahead.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.