The Heartland may not have the tallest ski hills in North America, but its 100 or so ski areas scattered across the region have one distinction that western and eastern resorts can't match. This region produces thousands of new skiers and riders every year.
Ski areas in the Midwest have excellent ski and snowboard schools that have added literally millions of new devotees to the snowsports over the decades, and some have gone on to become members of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Teams and Olympians.
Following is a quick look at some of the more outstanding schools across the Midwest, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Every ski area offers ski and snowboard lessons, and many work with area schools.
An old ski scribe friend of mine, Evelyn Fischer, once said, "The Midwest is the breeder and feeder of the snowsports industry. They learn here and head off to tackle the mountains." The many small ski hills that dot our region are part of the foundation of the snowsports industry.
Arguably one of the most famous ski schools and racing programs is located near the Twin Cities at 310-foot Buck Hill where Hall of Fame racing coach Erich Sailer, now in his '80s, has been populating the U.S. Ski Team with his Buck Hill protégés for the last 37 years.
Sailer coached more than 25,000 young skiers, and his program at Buck has produced eight World Cup race winners, 15 U.S. Ski Team members, nine national champs and four Olympians. Kristina Koznic and Lindsey (Kildow) Vonn are two of the most recent Olympic members to come through the program.
The ski school, which started in the late 1950s, has put over a half-million Minnesotans through its program. Koznic came through ski school to the racing program.
Not all ski schools should be measured by the success of their students at the World Cup level. The vast majority are just teaching people a sport that they can spend decades doing and enjoying winter. It is a lifetime sport.
Helmut "Pepe" Teichner, considered the Dean of Midwest ski school directors, founded the ski school at tiny Wilmot Mountain - vertical drop 230 feet - in 1939. His school taught more than 500,000 Chicagolanders to ski over the next half-century. He died in 2001, but the Wilmot ski school, located north of the city along the Wisconsin border, is still going strong and is teaching a whole new generation.
Another tiny hill, even by Midwest standards, with tall teaching values is Hyland. This 175-foot tall hill located just 20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis spreads out over 35 acres and offers a wide variety of teaching programs for aspiring Twin City skiers and boarders. Hyland has a USSA Team program and a freestyle team in addition to providing regular skiing and riding lessons. Its 250 part-time instructors provide more than 30,000 lessons during a normal season; including organized school programs for around 25 local elementary schools.
Mad River Mountain is a learning factory located in the Buckeye State that specializes in turning novices into skiers and snowboarders. "We specialize in new skiers," says GM Bruce Mowery. the ski school normally puts 1,000 to 1,500 new snowsports enthusiasts through the paces each weekend and even more over the holidays.
A couple of Indiana ski areas located in the hilly southern region of the Hoosier State - Perfect North and Paoli Peaks specialize in new skiers and riders as well. In fact, much of the business for these two lower Midwest areas is made up of newcomers.
Both areas are proven "breeders and feeders" for the snowsports industry, with each averaging close to 30,000 lessons a season. At Perfect North, where they keep an inventory of 5,000 pairs of skis and 600 snowboards in stock, 60 percent of their clientele rents equipment.
Further north the four suburban ski areas near Detroit - Mt. Brighton, Alpine Valley, Pine Knob and Mt. Holly - are all within 25 to 45 minutes of downtown, providing easy access. The areas also provide a ski-racing pipeline, serving as the training base for as many as 40 high school racing teams and a venue for countless recreational racing programs. It's not uncommon for the individual ski schools to give anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 snowsports lessons per week during the height of the winter season.
These are but a few of the many fine snowsports schools scattered around the Heartland. The opportunity to get involved in this lifetime sport is close at hand. It will give you a new appreciation of winter.