Downhill Skiing


Photo courtesy Wild Mountain

Slopes for everyone

For its solidly Midwest location, Minnesota boasts an impressive number of downhill ski and snowboard areas. Not only are these slopes conveniently sprinkled throughout the state, they offer diverse amounts of terrain and scenery. A fun-filled skiing weekend is just a drive away. Best of all? The slopes have something for everyone, whether you’re learning on gentle hills or prefer tackling black diamonds.

Chris Lindstrom, a Level III-certified skier who owns the women’s ski school Wings for Women, loves the excellent access Minnesotans have to skiing. There’s usually at least one ski area–if not several–within an hour-and-a-half drive, particularly for those in and around the Twin Cities. Lindstrom says Minnesota ski areas with steeper terrain and longer runs provide an exceptional learning environment for her students: “We can create a ski lesson that’s comparable to what we’d have in western mountain terrain,†she says

Don’t forget that ski areas make piles of snow when Mother Nature won’t cooperate. “There may be no snow in your yard,†Lindstrom says, “but they’ll have three feet at the ski area and the skiing will be fabulous.â€

Rarely will Minnesotans have a conversation about skiing in the state without mentioning Lutsen Mountains. Located 90 miles northeast of Duluth, Lutsen is the largest ski area in the Midwest. It boasts the highest vertical drop in the state–nearly 1,000 feet–and slopes up to two miles long. Ninety runs wrap around four mountains and a river valley, providing spectacular views of rugged hills and the blue expanse of Lake Superior. New in 2007 is a nearly mile-long terrain park on Mystery Mountain. There’s something for every type of skier here–including those who prefer to stick to skinny skis on Lutsen’s groomed cross-country trails. Lodging options around the ski area are plentiful, with many resorts offering stay-and-ski packages.

Scott Grebe, a ski and snowboard buyer at Hoigaard’s who has been skiing most of his life, appreciates the longer runs at northern Minnesota’s ski areas, including Lutsen. “It gives you a little bit more of an out-west experience,†he says. “When you do ski top-to-bottom, you can start to feel it in your legs, so you know you’re getting a good workout.â€

Sitting atop the northern continental divide, Buena Vista Ski Area near Bemidji offers skiers and snowboarders 16 downhill runs and two terrain parks. Buena Vista caters to families with snow tubing, 25 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, and horse-drawn sleigh rides. This family-owned resort offers a 10 percent discount on life tickets when visitors show a room key, voucher, or receipt from a participating hotel or inn in the area.

One of Minnesota’s best-kept downhill skiing secrets, Andes Tower Hills near Kensington, west of Alexandria, offers more than a dozen runs and two terrain parks. This is another resort with plentiful recreation options, including snow tubing and 15 km of cross-country ski trails for skiers of all abilities.

Ski Gull, in Nisswa, is a resort where winter sports flock together with a family focus. The downhill skiing and snowboarding area on the shore of Gull Lake encompasses 12 runs. When you’re not on the slopes, enjoy snowshoeing, snow tubing, or one of several indoor water parks in the Brainerd area.

Hugging the rugged St. Croix River Valley north of Taylors Falls is Wild Mountain, famous for its snowmaking and excellent conditions. Wild Mountain offers lessons for all levels and a good variety of terrain to match. For extra thrills, check out the terrain park and Soaring Eagle Halfpipe. A newer addition to Wild Mountain is Wild Chutes Snow Tubing Park.

Coffee Mill Ski Area’s claim to fame is its drop–the highest in Minnesota south of Duluth. Its unique bowl-shaped layout also ensures protection from icy winter winds. Located in Wabasha, Coffee Mill’s forest-lined slopes face a beautiful panorama of river valleys and the Minnesota and Wisconsin countryside. Among nearly a dozen runs are long, easy rides, a number of black diamond slopes, and new terrain parks.