A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
You’ll find lots and lots of skiing and riding opportunities at Minnesota ski resorts. Most ski areas are relatively good, small, fun and genuinely family-oriented. Most are good places to learn the sports.
It’s somewhat a Snow White and the seven Dwarfs kind of thing in Minnesota, however. The big bopper is Lutsen Mountains, the largest ski resort in the Great Lakes area and a true destination in many ways.
But, no matter where you live or where you visit in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, you can ski and ride to your heart’s content, day and night. Just keep your expectations in check when it comes to size.
Afton Alps sits along the rolling hills of the scenic St. Croix River Valley, close to all those Twin Cities residents. This sprawling area surrounded by Afton State Park offers enough runs to keep a skier or snowboarder busy exploring the full layout. Skiing and riding are spread out along a wedge-shaped ridge overlooking the river valley. There are 50 trails, terrain parks, 18 lifts and a tubing park. The vertical drop is a modest 350 feet and the ski and ride school is superb. Afton Alps was one of the first feeder ski areas acquired by Vail Resorts back in 2012. Get out your Epic Pass.
Buck Hill, located in the Minneapolis suburb of Burnsville, has a well-earned reputation when it comes to producing top-level racers and riders. The ski area, a stone's throw from the interstate, has delivered multiple Olympians, dozens of U.S. Ski Team members and literally hundreds of junior champs. Think the legendary Lindsey (Kildow) Vonn. Buck Hill has 16 different runs for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities as well as snow tubing. Buck Hill includes 45 skiable acres, 15 trails (40 percent rated easy) and 9 lifts.
Hyland Hills Ski Area is located five minutes from the Mall of America, just south of Interstate 494 and Highway 100 in Bloomington. The ski area is nestled within the 1,000-acre Hyland Lake Park Reserve, which offers extensive winter recreational activities including lighted cross-country ski trails, snowshoe trails, and a Nordic ski jumping complex. Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area is known for its snowmaking and grooming, and its terrain park is full of progressive and innovative features. There are 14 runs, 3 chairlifts and 5 surface tows. 44 percent of the terrain is marked for intermediates.
Welch Village sits in the densely wooded scenic Cannon River Valley, a 40-minute drive south of the Twin Cities. It has been family-owned since 1965. It offers a nice variety in the 60 trails spread out over 140 acres of skiable terrain that cater to all skiing and snowboarding levels, and a quartet of black-diamond, front-face runs that are among the steepest in the region. Two well-spaced day lodges along the bottom of the ski hill offer lots of dining and lounge choices. Skiable terrain covers 180 acres with a vertical of 360 feet. There are 50 trails with 8 chairlifts and 3 surface tows.
Wild Mountain is about an hour north of the Twin Cities in Taylor Falls on the St. Croix River border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. This family-owned ski area is generally battling for the publicity of being the first resort to open for the season in the U.S. with Killington in New England and Loveland in Colorado. Some years it wins. There are 26 runs (the longest is 5,000 feet) on 100 acres served by 4 chairs, 4 rope tows and a surface lift. The vertical is a substantial 866 feet. The ski area is best suited for intermediate and advanced skiers and riders.
Elm Creek Winter Recreation Area is located in the Northwest region of Minneapolis-St. Paul and offers a lighted tubing hill with lifts and snowmaking, a beginner-level downhill ski and snowboard hill and almost 18K of cross-country ski trails.
Andes Tower Ski Area is a small, locals ski area at the little town of Kensington in Douglas County. You’ll find 15 runs, 3 chairlifts and 1 surface lift. The vertical is 290 feet. 48 percent of the terrain is marked for advanced skiers, but that should not scare you.
Buena Vista Ski Area is located near Bimidji, the so-called birthplace of Paul Bunyon in Northern Minnesota. The ski area straddles the Great Divide. There are 16 runs through pine and hardwood forest and a 260-foot vertical drop. Some 55 percent of the runs are marked for intermediates and Earl’s Happy Trail is 2,000 feet long. There’s a terrain park and tubing hill, in Buena Vista Ski Area.
Powder Ridge in St. Cloud, Stearns County, is totally lit for night skiing and riding. It offers a modest 290-foot vertical drop with 22 trails, 3 chairlifts and 2 surface tows.
Lutsen Mountains – the kingpin of Minnesota ski areas and, for that matter, Midwest skiing and riding—may not be the easiest resort to get to, situated 90 miles north of Duluth, but it is by far the best. Lutsen is located where the Poplar River meets Lake Superior.
Lutsen was home to Cindy Nelson, one of America's best ski racers, who broke onto the World Cup circuit in the 1970s as a 17-year-old, impressing older and more experienced Europeans with her toughness. Nelson's career over many years made her one of America's winningest World Cup and Olympic racers ever, before anyone ever heard of younger Minnesota skier Lindsey Vonn. Nelson is now an entrepreneur in Vail, Colorado.
Cindy's home area was Lutsen, owned at the time by her family. It is quadruple the size of most Great Lakes ski resorts. There are 4 peaks, more than 1,000 acres, over 1,000-foot vertical drop, 95 runs, and the region's only gondola. This New England lookalike also gets rave reviews from skiers for scenery, thanks to its spectacular views of Lake Superior from just about anywhere on the mountain. The resort is located on four separate peaks of the Sawtooth Mountain range: Moose Mountain, Eagle Mountain, Ullr Mountain, and Mystery Mountain. Some trails are 2 miles in length. All are interconnected through a system of lifts.
If you are looking for the best in Midwest skiing and riding, closely resembling major New England ski resorts with some kinda-sorta-like Western slopes, make the effort.
Spirit Mountain in Duluth, is tucked in between Lake Superior and a towering forested ridgeline, creating long, often legendary winters. One of the best "suburban" ski areas in the Midwest, Spirit offers a substantial 700-foot vertical drop, 8 lifts including a high-speed quad, 22 runs and 4 completely separate free-wheeling terrain areas located in various areas of the park spread out over close to 200 acres. Spirit's assets include a host of some of the finest "blue cruisers" around the Great Lakes and its views of the city of Duluth (particularly at night) and harbor.
Giant’s Ridge Ski Area is found north of Duluth in the Superior National Forest on 207 acres of skiable terrain. The vertical drop is 500 feet and there are 35 runs (50 percent intermediate). There are 5 lifts, a terrain park and 60 km of cross-country skiing. The ski area enjoys 100 percent snowmaking coverage.
Mount Kato can be found just one mile from Mankato in a river valley. There are 19 trails covering 55 skiable served by 8 chairlifts and 2 surface lifts. The vertical drop is only 250 feet.
Coffee Mill Ski Area is in Wabasha, said to be the oldest town in the state. This is where “coulee skiing” calls home (gully built into side of the mountain). The bowl is unique in that it protects skiers from those nasty winter winds. There’s a 425-foot vertical drop and skiing is on 28 acres. Play on 10 trails served by 3 lifts. The terrain is marked for 30 easy skiing.
OnTheSnow reports snow conditions and information on 14 resorts in Minnesota. There are a total of 17. Not covered are nonprofit Detroit Mountain at Detroit Lakes; ski club-owned Itasca Winter Sports Center and Mount Ski Gull at Gull Lake in Nisswa, also a nonprofit.
Lutsen Mountains, located in Northeast Minnesota, is the biggest ski resort in Minnesota. Vertical Drop is 1,088 feet. It is located off Lake Superior's North Shore. In addition to Lutsen's 95 runs and terrain parks on 4 mountains, skiers and boarders enjoy spectacular views of Lake Superior. As Minnesota’s only geological mountain range, Lutsen Mountains sits among The North Shore’s unique Sawtooth Mountains. This means it has by far the most vertical and longest runs of any of our state’s ski areas.
Beginners and intermediates should discover why skiing in Minnesota is a different kind of adventure. In fact, cruising the slopes among Minnesota's scenic hills and forests is the best way to enjoy the winter season.
When you need a weekend or quick midweek getaway, skiing in Minnesota is worth considering. This is a place where your entire family experiences all levels of skiing and riding fun. If you are looking for a destination resort, however, Lutsen Mountains is the obvious (and truly only) choice.
Minnesota is blessed to be a state where visitors can enjoy themselves to the hilt no matter what the season. Local skiers and snowboarders in Minnesota have the chance to ski on the decent-sized ski hills that are located within striking distance of many of the state’s major cities.
Some of the larger resorts of Minnesota are centered around Duluth, making it easy for visitors to base themselves in one city and then explore multiple resorts on their ski vacation. Many other resorts are clustered around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, making these accessible to people who want to plan easy day trips or those who want to indulge in some awesome nighttime skiing after finishing work.
Minnesota is the third-coldest state in the U.S. Located in the Upper Midwest region and touching Lake Superior to its northeast, the state's climate is greatly affected by its latitude and proximity to to the lake.
Winter in Minnesota is characterized by cold (below freezing) temperatures. Snow is the main form of winter precipitation, but freezing rain, ice, sleet, and occasionally rain are all possible during the winter months. The month with the most snow in Minneapolis is December, with an average snowfall of 4.5 inches. Minneapolis averages 52 inches ofsnow per year. The U.S. average is 28 inches of snow per year.
February has a reputation as a cold month, and Minnesota's lowest temperature on record, -60 F, was recorded on February 2, 1996. February warms quickly, however, and deeply cold air masses are much more likely at the beginning than at the end of the month. The cold season lasts for 3.3 months, from November 26 to March 4, with an average daily high temperature below 36°F. The coldest month of the year in Minneapolis is January, with an average low of 10°F and high of 24°F.
Mass transit is not really an answer outside of the Twin Cities (and not particularly a good one there), so driving is the only choice. If you want to fly in to ski and ride (and really only Lutsen Mountains justifies that), there are tons of flights into Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth International Airport is about a two-hour drive.
The best bet, though not known particularly as a ski town, is Grand Marais, about a 20- minute drive from Lutsen Mountains. It’s been called one of America’s coolest small towns and sits right on the shore of Lake Superior. The little town of Lutsen itself is certainly convenient with some shops, restaurants and lodging choices. Minneapolis-St. Paul isn’t what anyone would classify as a ski town, but if day or night skiing is your choice, it works just fine.
Minnesota has plenty of ski and snowboard resorts, and all are on the small to mid-size side with an exception or two. The vertical drops are mostly modest and there is but one excellent, non-glitzy destination experience. But, you can play in Minnesota and take off for that big vacation West or East.