Flying into the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport with skis will get you some comments, mostly along the lines of “where have you been?” and “Did you have fun?”
Telling people that you’ve just flown in from Colorado to ski with family in Minnesota will get you funny looks. And incredulous comments.
While Minnesotans love their snowsports, they also love their ski vacations at larger mountains, so to them our traveling to the Land of 10,000 Lakes might seem a bit silly.
But we didn’t think so. And did we have fun skiing with our family?
Minnesotans Ski into the Night
In Colorado, night-skiing is the exception not the rule. And when my kids were racing, they had to get up early to train. Not so in Minnesota.
What we’ve found are mostly empty slopes by day, with a surge in activity and energy each afternoon when school lets out.
Daytime, at least on weekdays, seems to be reserved for adult race training.
Actually, race training seems to be a non-stop pursuit. Adult leagues draw everyone from 20-somethings to octogenarians (and I’m sure there are a few nonagenarians still racing out there — we just haven’t met them). Some leagues are more serious than others, but they all seem to revolve around slalom turns and beer.
Once school lets out, the terrain parks get busy, more gates are set up, the tubing hills hum and kids enjoy unplugged, social, active time together.
It makes me jealous.
Nighttime brings out more families for lessons and after dinner fun.
As my friend Dee puts it, “One of the best things about skiing in the Twin Cities is the proximity of the hills. You can ski after school, you can go for ten laps and still have time for other things. We are lucky here because the proximity makes the sport very accessible to a lot of individuals.”
Did I mention that this makes me jealous?
Minnesotans Can Turn
Race training makes good skiers. So when you live in a state with short mountains, you make the most of every ride up the chairlift and every run back down.The more turns, the better.
Slalom reigns in Minnesota and since the snow conditions are variable, Minnesotans know how to turn on ice.
Which just makes them all the better on a race course.
Minnesotans Are Tough
According to my friend Greg, a patroller at Buck Hill, approximately 17% of Twin Cities residents ski and snowboard.
To me, 17% sounded low. This is a metropolitan area with at least seven ski areas within an hour. With so much convenient skiing, I figured the number would be closer to 40%. That just proves how skiing-centric my world is.
In comparison about 2.5% of US residents are active skiers or snowboarders, according to 2015/16 statistics from the National Ski Areas Association.
Suddenly, 17% sounds huge.
Especially when you consider that average daytime temperatures in Minneapolis rarely break 30° F in winter, with average lows hovering around 10°F.
As a friend of mine, who grew up ski racing in relatively balmy Colorado and married a woman who grew up ski racing in Minnesota, puts its “Those kids were tough. We were such whiners.”
I have to agree.
On our most recent visit to Minnesota in early February, the weather was sunny and the skies were bluebird. The daytime temperature was about 12° F. We had on every layer we own.
And we saw Minnesotans skiing with bare heads. Brrr.
Minnesotans Are Nice
Minnesota is a pleasant place. I’m sure there are some unpleasant Minnesotans (they probably moved in from elsewhere), but for the most part, a day, an hour, an afternoon spent skiing in Minnesota will bring you into contact with friendly people.
There is no pretension to skiing in Minnesota, so you’ll rarely run into ego.
Instead, the people we’ve met are happy and excited to share the snow with us. They’re just surprised we came all the way from Colorado.
Buck Hill is just 10 minutes from my brother’s home and we’ve skied mornings, afternoons and evenings on this small mountain, aka “the Bump” (45 skiable acres and 309’ of vert).
Currently best known as the place Lindsey Vonn learned to ski, Buck Hill has a long history of successful ski racing.
With 16 trails, a superpipe and two terrain parks, Buck Hill is a perfect after school playground. The fastest rope tows we’ve ever seen make park and race laps easy. The ski and ride school always seems to be busy and the tubing hill has 12 lanes and an outdoor fire pit.
In 2016, Buck Hill installed a year-round surface for all-season race training.
Buck Hill is the only Minnesota ski area on the MAX Pass. Add a MAX Pass to your Buck Hill season pass (or get a MAX Pass by itself) and enjoy five free days with no blackouts at 39 resorts in Canada and the US.
Five times bigger than Buck Hill (250 skiable acres, 48 runs and 5 terrain parks, with 350 vertical), Afton Alps is Vail Resorts midwest outpost.
While you can purchase an Afton Alps pass if you plan to ski only in Minnesota, we used our Epic passes when we visited, reversing the flow of Afton Alps skiers using their Epic passes when they go west.
We skied Afton Alps on the morning of a high school sectional race and the energy was fantastic. Outstanding skiers were warming up, inspecting and racing on the mountain. Below them, a village of team tents and smoking bar-b-ques added to the atmosphere.
Afton Alps is large enough that we spent a couple of hours skiing from one end of the ski area to the other. The views over the St. Croix river were pretty and there was enough variety to keep us happily occupied.
Located between the Twin Cities and Rochester, the drive to Welch Village takes you through flat farmland before dropping into a rolling river bottom.
From the top of the ski area, the views are of wooded hills and furrowed fields, which nicely mimic the perfectly furrowed groomed runs.
Welch Village was our “must-ski”, as it is my niece’s favorite hill. Parking in the empty lot on a weekday, we were stoked to see run after run of untracked corduroy. The day was sunny, the snow was soft, the turns were fast and we had a blast with our family.
We also got to lay down first rails on many of the runs.
Welch Village has some steep pitches, along with plenty of forgiving beginner and intermediate terrain. The only bummer for us was that the ski area’s Back Bowl wasn’t open when we were there. This section of the mountain is exclusively black and double black runs.
All told, Welch Village has 50 runs on 125 skiable acres with a 360 foot vertical drop.
And since we’ve been talking passes, a Welch Village season pass provides discounts at Big Sky, Grand Targhee and Lutsen Mountains.
My Minnesota friends and family may laugh at my largely uninformed take of Minnesota snowsports.
if you’re among the laughers, please leave comments letting me know what I’ve gotten wrong and what you think is right about skiing and riding in Minnesota.
More Midwestern Skiing and Riding
- Why Our Family Loves Skiing at Mount Bohemia, Michigan, January 11, 2017
- Why I Love to Ski Blackjack, Michigan: An Interview With The Wisconsin Skier, March 13, 2013
- Buck Hill, Minnesota: A Legend In Ski Racing, This Urban Area Has Year-Round Plans, April 18, 2016
- Why My Family Loves to Ski Granite Peak, Wisconsin, March 28, 2012
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