La Crosse's Snow Bowl, or "The Alps of the Mississippi"

Posted by Anita on May 23, 2023

(research for this blog was completed by Carla Swerman, former Archives staff, and Jenny DeRocher, Archives staff; written by Jenny DeRocher)

In the 1930s, as the Great Depression forced people out of work, and factories into shorter hours of operation, more people found themselves with increased leisure time.  During this same decade, the federal New Deal began providing infrastructure for more recreation opportunities through programs like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Locally in La Crosse, these programs provided hiking trails in Perrot State Park and a shelter at the top of Grandad Bluff.  Together, movements like these created an increase in people participating in outdoor recreation.

Norwegian immigrants had brought skiing to the Midwest as early as the 1830s, and in La Crosse, there is evidence that residents were using area bluffs and hills for skiing by the late 1800s, though they could have been doing this as early as the 1850s.  One popular location was the Pammel farm, which was south of the city, along what is now Hwy 33.


La Crosse Tribune 2 February 1915


By the late 1930s, La Crosse had enough interest to establish a ski hill in the city.  They called it the Snow Bowl.  It was developed on a 350-acre tract of land on and surrounding the Charles Hass farm.


From the 1931 La Crosse County Plat Map

The Snow Bowl was a jointly-managed property: the La Crosse Junior Chamber of Commerce (or, “the Jaces” — a predecessor of the Jaycees) paid the land rental and fundraised when necessary for things like the warming shelter, which was built at the base of the hill in 1937-1938.  The City Parks and Recreation Department maintained the land and provided parking.


From the 1937 meeting minutes of the La Crosse Board of Parks & Recreation

Charles Haas, the owner of the farmland, who was a member of the Jaces, reportedly built fires for skiers in the warming shelter and maintained the ski tow.  The La Crosse Ski Club taught free ski lessons on the weekend, and helped advocate to City Council members the importance of a resource like a city-maintained ski hill.



Images from a 1939 article titled “Alps of the Mississippi,” by Kathryn Handy Fuller


To draw in local tourism, the Jaces worked with the Burlington Railroad passenger service to produce tourist pamphlets like the one below to attract travelers from Chicago to La Crosse for a weekend away.



The pamphlet encouraged tourists to book a room at the Stoddard Hotel, where taxis could take them up to the Snow Bowl. The whole trip would cost travelers only $15, according to the brochure.  Click the images for larger view.


For the ease of tourists and skiers, the U.S. National Weather Bureau station in La Crosse even started a snow report service to describe the snow conditions in 1939.


This article from January 25, 1939, reports that this snow reports would be relayed to the La Crosse Tribune and the Weather Bureau’s Chicago office for those looking to travel to La Crosse for the weekend. La Crosse’s meteorologist A. D. Sanial is quoted in the article: “Four to six inches of snow will give good skiing in the La Crosse Snow Bowl.”

For the past 80 years, this land has been relatively untouched, and is currently owned by the Outdoor Recreation Alliance (ORA), who is working hard to develop a Trail Farm to keep this historic piece of property a space where folks in the La Crosse area enjoy the outdoors.


Image from a 1939 article titled “Alps of the Mississippi,” by Kathryn Handy Fuller