Southern Indiana has a couple of good ski areas - Perfect North Slopes and Paoli Peaks - that cater to Nap Town (Indianapolis) skiers and riders and those further south all the way to the Dixie States, but where do those living in the northern half of the Hoosier State ski and ride?

Swiss Valley, located in Jones, Michigan, just across the Indiana border from South Bend and Elkhart, is located within an hour's drive of over a million people. It's not big; even smaller than those two southern Indiana ski areas, but - with a staff of around 60 to 70 instructors - annually introduces approximately 10,000 new Hoosiers to the sport of skiing.

With 11 unnamed runs, a 225-foot vertical drop and seven lifts including two quads and a triple chair, the area is a cruising delight. Wide blue cruisers and expansive beginner runs allow you plenty of room to carve long, lazy GS turns. The "base area," located along a ridge overlooking the ski runs at this upside-down ski area, is a collection of quaint Swiss-like chalets giving it the appearance of a miniature Swiss village; hence the name.

Although you might not think it from the above description, Swiss Valley also has an "extreme" side. It was one of the first ski areas in the country to embrace freestyle skiing and has sponsored the Swiss Valley Extreme Team since 1975. John Riopel a few years ago became the first alumni to become a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team and finished his first season as the number one ranked male aerialist under the age of 18 at the time.

Other notable Swiss Valley ski alum includes Joe Montana, who learned to ski there while attending Notre Dame, and former SKI Magazine editor Andy Bigford. Who needs named runs with that kind of pedigree? Sometimes big surprises come in small packages.