Mt. LaCrosse, perched atop a rugged bluff overlooking the scenic Mississippi River Valley in western Wisconsin, is turning 50 this season. It offers some of the toughest and steepest terrain in the Heartland with a large - for this region - 516-foot vertical drop. Runs, cut through rocky, wooded bluffs over sheer headwalls and down narrow chutes, provide the intimate feel of a mini-Stowe; probably not by accident. The original owner, Ted Motschman, who first opened the area in 1959, was from New England.
The first glimpse you get of the mountain when you arrive is Damnation, arguably one of the Midwest's steepest slopes and a true double-black diamond. It's been lauded in national ski publications as, "one of the steepest runs between Stowe and Jackson Hole." It's steep and normally rock-hard. Nestled in a natural bowl that seldom sees the sun, some say it doesn't soften until June. Even the terrain park is expert rated.
Relief, for those that don't like steep and deep, is found on two other rambling cruisers. Mileaway and Thunderation, a couple of the longest runs in the Badger State, are both nearly a mile long. A random sprawl of runs, knolls, chutes and headwalls keep skiers and riders on edge. Novice terrain is limited, but a few years ago a beginner area was added complete with its own surface tow.
The charming, old time base lodge houses one of the Heartland's truly great après ski bars, the St. Bernard Room. The Old World accent is German, part of the regional heritage. This is Wisconsin after all. The rich, warm woods of the room highlight a unique beer bottle collection. It's a great place to end the ski day with a grog from the local City Brewing Company.
The city sits at the confluence of the Mississippi, Black and La Crosse Rivers. It's a scenic area with large bluffs overlooking the river valley. It's part of a region called the Driftless Area, a geological oddity of terrain that was spared the crushing Ice Age that flattened much of the Midwest thousands of years ago. The bluffs and valleys have a quality and appeal as timeless as the land itself.
Motschman recognized that when he arrived here over a half-century ago and built this New England-like ski area. Heartland snowsport enthusiasts have been glad ever since.