Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thunder Mountain Ski Resort, Chicago, Illinois.

Thunder Mountain Ski Resort was the only Chicago ski resort. Its brief life at 2600 North Narragansett Avenue, in the Belmont-Cragin Community, with the Brickyard, Cragin, and Hanson Park neighborhoods, was as short as the longest run down its 285-foot slope.
Located at what was the Brickyard Shopping Mall on the Northwest Side, the grandly named Thunder Mountain was open for one season, the 1967-68 winter. It boasted the longest vertical drop of any place within 200 miles, according to a 1967 Tribune story. The feat was accomplished because skiers started at the top of the man-made hill and ended at the bottom of the clay pit excavated over the decades by the Carey Brick Works. Parking was available for 2,000 cars, and was the only Chicago resort serviced by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

The highest natural point within the city limits is in the Beverly neighborhood at 104th and Leavitt Street at 672 feet. In pioneer days, this hill was called Blue Island, so named because, at a distance, it looked like an island set in a trackless prairie sea.

According to geologists, ages ago this ridge was a real island in Lake Michigan. It was made up almost entirely of alluvial drift and lake deposit, probably left by a melting ice cap during the glacial period. The island rose 10 to 35 feet above the surrounding waters.Eventually the shoreline of Lake Michigan receded to its present location and left a six-mile-long oval ridge in the midst of a low marshy plain.

The Careys launched "Thunder Enterprises" and divided the landscape into three different runs for beginners, intermediates, and experts, all serving the 55 skiable acres by tow ropes.

Robert Carey, the owner of the brickyard on which the resort is located, is also managing director of Hawthorne Race Track in Cicero and is head of Thunder Enterprises, Ltd. 

The former brick kiln was converted into an A-shaped chalet. There were too many fireplaces in the chalet, and several had been bricked up. The chalet at the top offered a snack bar and a lounge, a complete rental shop, restrooms, etc. Two certified ski instructors were hired. Five compressors were used to feed 15 snow guns to provide machine-made snow for the area.

Thunder Mountain was lit for night skiing. The original operating schedule listed hours from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., seven days a week. Lift charges were $3.50 during the week and $4.00 on Saturday and Sunday. Parking costs $1.00.
Thunder Mountain view looking northeast toward Steinmetz High School.

Carey had big plans for the place, envisioning a five-story chalet on the Diversey Avenue side, toboggan runs, an indoor swimming pool and a hotel. Ski lifts also were planned. 

The Tribune reported that the family had enjoyed the slopes for a few years before deciding to open it to the public. But a March 1968 story blamed a horrible lack of snow and "some growing pains" for a first season that was "hardly a smashing success." 

The ski run never reopened, though the Tribune reported in 1971 that abandoned ski lift poles at the site were used by ham radio operators for a simulated emergency exercise.
Thunder Mountain view looking southeast toward downtown Chicago.

Carey Brick Works made a fortune for political heavyweight and one-time mayoral candidate Thomas Carey and his family. It was part of a Chicago-area industry producing 300 million Chicago common and street paver bricks yearly. The company was fined for using those clay pits as illegal dumps, ending a protracted battle with neighbors in 1950. Carey Brick Works continued in operation during the ski resort era and beyond. They were the last place in Chicago to make these bricks. The kilns needed to produce these didn't meet modern environmental standards, and Carey closed in 1980. Today, whenever a Chicago brick building is torn down, companies are brought in to salvage the bricks and re-use or sell them.

Oak Park resident Deb Pastors, who grew up near the site, has told people about the ski run for years. She wrote, "People look at me like I have horns growing from my head. The whole brickyard story would be pretty interesting, but the story about the ski hill would be fascinating."

The original Brickyard Mall opened in 1978, and the site's brief fling as a ski resort faded into history. By 2003, the mall was nearly 80 percent vacant, so the city council approved a one-hundred million dollar
 redevelopment plan to demolish the structure. Opening in its place was a strip mall with Target and Lowe's, along with a relocated Jewel supermarket.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. I was quoted in this DNAinfo article about Thunder Mountain on February 8, 2017.

  2. I had no idea ! This would have been so fun for ski club but I wasn't in high school yet.

  3. Never realized The Brickyard had once been an actual brick yard. Duh!

  4. I do remember Thunder Mountain. Not a skier but I had friends who went there’!

  5. After the ski resort closed, motorcyclists would race down the mountain.

    1. Yep, my friends and I rode our dirt bike there.

    2. wish I could of walked around the mall prior to 2003 demo


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