Fresh snow makes for incredible terrain
The runs are short
My first trip to Big Powderhorn was a real treat. First of all, I was spending a day off from my real job, staying in Hurley WI (just across the Wisconsin border) and relaxing with some friends. Second of all, I got a chance to ski some of next year’s skis too. Then, the real kicker: 8" of fresh snow on top of an already fantastic base of all-natural snow. The stoke level was high as I clicked in to ski Big Powderhorn for the first time.
It had been almost 24 hours since the 8” (this is the resort’s estimate…in actuality, I think it was closer to a foot of snow), but my friends and I could see from the parking lot that there was still fresh snow or minimally-tracked snow to poach. It was Monday, and the parking lot was empty. We got tickets from the friendly staff (a mere $40 as well, not a bad price at all) and headed up the chair immediately to the right of the chalet. The old center-pole lift scooped us up and slowly dragged us to the top of the main peak. We dropped in and skied some of the softest corduroy this side of the Rockies. There wasn’t a single scrapping noise of skis-on-ice as we sliced down the run. We got to the same chair, gave each other a nodding approval, and headed back up. We know the groomed snow was great…but could we find some fresh stuff?
The answer was yes, and a big freaky yes at that. We got off the same lift and cut further to skiers right, coming down a run that had not been groomed on one-half of a split at the top of a steep ridge (the run is called “Double Barrel” I believe). Located right to skier’s right of the lift we were lapping, the trail peaks out at the top of a ridge, and splits into two forks (hence the “Double Barrel” I would assume). The shorter, less-steep skier’s left fork was groomed out, but the longer, slightly steeper skier’s left was all fresh with no tracks. We bombed this run—getting a little more air than expected over the ridge—and tracked through fresh snow, as powder shots came up to our knees. Big Powderhorn was quickly ranking high as one of my favorite Midwest ski resorts.
We lapped Double Barrel a few more times, then headed to chair 4 and skied the chute under the lift (a nice, rolling steep) and Katie’s Catwalk: a narrow, slightly snowed chute next to chair 4. We found a few mini-stashes of fresh snow, but for the most part, the chutes were icy at most parts. My only assumption for this was that the wind was whipping directly up this part of the hill, leaving the chutes barren. It was no matter, however, as the runs here were a nice change to Big Powderhorn’s relatively flat terrain. While we were able to thus far find steep runs, most of Powderhorn’s terrain is flat, or slowly rolling out, so you don’t get up to the speeds you may want. By the time you do, your run is over and it’s back to the chair. So we continued our quest to find fresh snow and steep terrain.
We pushed all the way to skier’s right and found a long, wide green run. It was pretty flat, but we gained enough speed to poach fresh snow on the bottom half of the run. We took the chair up and repeated a few times. We hadn’t found anything steeper than the chutes or the front run we hit earlier, so we soon returned to lap these instead.
Big Powderhorn is an excellent beginner’s mountain, with plenty of terrain to challenge any entry-level to high intermediate skier. The terrain is also varied, which adds to the challenge. But skiers looking for steeps may want to look somewhere else. There’s also no tree skiing available, so you’ll have to look somewhere else in the UP for that as well.
What Powderhorn lacks in terrain is instantly made up by the staff and the staff’s attitude. I was put off originally by the rental shop at Big Powderhorn: they were renting old, nearly unshaped skis with rear entry boots. I was appalled. I thought for sure that this was going to reflect an old-school mentality among the staff: that shaped skis and kids skiing in baggy pants were what’s going wrong with the sport (when, in essence, it’s these people who hold the sport back). So you can imagine my surprise when the liftie took a look at our next-gen shaped skis and said “awesome sticks.” Right away, I knew that this place was different from all the other old-school ski resorts out there. The other thing that set aside Big Powderhorn from all the other old, crusty resorts was their policy on grooming: unlike Lutsen, MN and Spirit Mountain, MN, Big Powderhorn decided to give you an option on what you want to ski. They smartly groom the flat runs that are mostly beginner runs, and then groom half of other runs and leave the other half available for those of us who wish to ski fresh snow or naturally-occurring bumps. What a great surprise this was. Giving the consumer a choice—what a fresh concept of thinking.
The décor of Big Powderhorn may make you think that you are stepping into a time machine. But essentially, this is the idea. By giving off a throw-back to the golden age of skiing, Powderhorn pays tribute to itself and it’s rich history. It’s a little frighteningly tacky at times, but once you realize what you are surrounded by, you mind it less and less. The fact that the prices are reflected by this old-school mentality is also welcomed. $40 for a day pass, and only $9 to eat lunch (that’s a bowl of chili, a hot ham ‘n cheese sandwich, and a Powderade)…these prices are unheard of at many ski resorts. Additionally, the staff isn’t narrow-minded…they are friendly and very welcoming. Big Powderhorn does everything right on the consumer end.
My only gripes are minimal about Big Powderhorn. While the terrain may be flat, it’s varied enough to keep you interested and steeps can be found—short as they may be. The staff and prices are very friendly as well, and this could be an excellent family ski location as the terrain is highly conducive to beginner and intermediate skiers. The fact that the resort makes great use of it’s lake-effect snow—which pummels the resort starting in mid-January—is also very important to the overly critical skier (that’s me!). Big Powderhorn is well worth stopping at if you are on your way to the UP. You’ll enjoy the prices, terrain, and most of all: the snow!