Coffee Mill Ski and Snowboard Resort, south of Red Wing, Minn., offers some of the best "coulee" skiing along the Mississippi River, which is home to no less than four major ski areas scattered across four states.

Coulee is applied rather loosely to different landforms, all of which refer to a kind of valley or drainage zone, according to the dictionary.  The ski areas are perched along craggy bluffs that rise 400 to over 500 feet above the valley floor.

Coffee Mill is open Wednesday through Sunday with lifts starting up at 4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 1 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. over the weekend. It stays open until 9:30 p.m. except on Sunday when they shut down at 7 p.m.  A weekday lift ticket is $20 and weekends an adult ticket is $30 and a junior ticket (6-12) is $26.

Weekend lift and lodging packages with Wabasha, Minn., area motels start from $148. The package includes a night's lodging, two lift tickets, two $5 gift certificates to the Coffee Mill Café, and one large two-topping pizza the night of check-in.

Coffee Mill is in a unique bowl arrangement, a kind of horseshoe-shaped canyon. Views from the top of the bluff cover the river valley and two states. Like the Little Engine That Could the ski area overcame rough times causing it to close years ago, but chugged back to life under a local citizens group that now operates it.

The ski area offers a 425-foot vertical, 14 runs, terrain park, two chairlifts and two surface tows. It's strong on intermediate cruisers, but the collection includes a couple of long, easy green runs that stretch almost for a mile and one of the best advanced runs in the Heartland. O'Chute, a Western-like run with a constant steep pitch, starts out narrow at the top and slowly widens as it drops down the bluff.  It requires constant, precise turns; almost jump turns at the top.

Coffee Mill is simple and cheap. It's a real bargain in today's high-speed, high-priced market. It's a delight to ski and won't deflate your billfold. Check out their Spring Fling scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 27. Lots of contests, prizes, live music, and food and drink specials all day long.

Other ski areas located along America's longest river are Chestnut Mountain, Ill., Sundown Mountain, Iowa, and Mount La Crosse, Wis.

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