By: Ann McMullen
Although Minnesota does not have any true mountains, the hilly terrain of primarily the east half of the state makes for great alpine skiing. These hills, combined with the massive amount of snow we get that seems to last for half the year, make skiing a popular winter activity. In fact, there are so many ski hills in the state that it can be hard to choose one to go to. If you’re wondering where you should ski…look no further than this article.
The closest major hill to the Cities is probably Buck Hill, located in Burnsville. There isn’t much variety in their runs, and it’s all condensed into quite a small area. That being said, a huge amount of olympic medalists grew up skiing at Buck Hill, so they must be doing something right! I’d say Buck is a great place to try out skiing, and if you enjoy it, you can eventually go to a bigger, steeper hill.
Afton Alps is arguably the most popular ski hill in the state, located about half an hour east of the Twin Cities. It’s definitely popular for a reason. It’s in a pretty area, has 17 chairlifts, and even a hilltop chalet! However, Afton can get really, really busy. It’s good skiing, for sure, but you’ll probably spend more time waiting in lift lines than actually going down the hill.
Lutsen Mountains is the closest thing to a real mountain skiing experience that the state offers. This resort is located in the town of Lutsen on beautiful Lake Superior, about twenty minutes south of Grand Marais. There are four unique “mountains” with different types of terrain, allowing anyone from beginners to experts to find something they can enjoy. In addition to the great skiing, Lutsen offers a variety of fun activities in the off-season. Their gondola still runs in the summer to provide beautiful tours of the mountains, and an alpine slide is available to ride down the steepest of their four hills.
If you’re looking for beautiful views like those in Lutsen but don’t want to drive the four hours, look no further than Spirit Mountain in Duluth — essentially halfway between the Cities and Lutsen. At Spirit, you can expect to see Lake Superior, as well as cool views of Duluth itself. The only real downside of Spirit is how small it is. If size is what you’re looking for, I wouldn’t recommend it. Otherwise, it’s great! I also feel inclined to share that they have an alpine roller coaster open in the summer, that winds through a forest and provides beautiful views of the lake. And, get this — you can even control your speed!
And finally, my personal favorite: Welch Village. I may be a bit biased because I grew up coming here nearly every winter weekend, but this hill — just under an hour south of the Cities — has a lot to offer. I wouldn’t call Welch a “hidden gem,” but it’s definitely overshadowed by Afton. That being said, Welch isn’t nearly as busy as Afton — there are rarely long lines for the lifts and you’re sure to be able to find a spot to sit in one of their two chalets.
I hope this helped you see how much downhill skiing Minnesota has to offer. See you on the hill!