298-feet of pure frozen fun. Is that a ski hill or just the other side of the ditch? I can’t tell, but they keep the lights on till 10 pm and my mom gave me $5 for a chicken sandwich and fries.
I grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin just across the St. Croix River from Saint Paul/Minneapolis. And up north there, smackdab in the flat hinterlands of America, we have winters that are cold, dry and long. I live in California now for good reason, but I firmly believe my Himalayan and Alaskan mountaineering pursuits have been achievable due to my Northern blood. You’d think skiing would be unpopular when your skin can suffer permanent nerve damage with exposure of 5 minutes or more, but the spirit of skiing is alive and well in Minnesota.
Growing up skiing in Minnesota goes like this: There’s only enough space to set up a terrain park, or a slalom course. Some resorts could squeeze in GS gates, but Super G and Downhill were just out of the question. So you’ll either be a Jib Lord or learn how to turn real quick on ice.
Besides that, it was mostly about having your parents drive you 15 minutes down the river after school, gromming it up with that child-like imperviousness to cold, and then doing it all again as soon as possible. That child-like wonder about ditching school and homework to play in the hills is something that has never left me, and it all started with sliding down those Midwestern rollers.
In my opinion, East Coast skiers get too much cred. Sure they’ve got racing pedigree out the wazoo from their collegiate series and ski academies who compete on legendary Ice Coast proving grounds. But Minnesota has produced a fair crop as well, including Lindsey Vonn (Burnsville), Kristina Koznick (Apple Valley), and Jamie Pierre (Minnetonka). For those adventure fans, Jimmy Chinn grew up skiing at Buck Hill too.
Top 5 Minneapolis/St. Paul Ski Resorts:
- Afton Alps: The best terrain within a convenient drive of the metro. Best chicken sandwiches, best french fries.
- Buck Hill: Closest to Minneapolis. Best programs for racing, they also had the best halfpipe and a tow rope for hot laps. One year the race team put an inflatable tunnel over the course so athletes could practice in the extreme cold.
- Hyland Hills: Definitely the best terrain park in the metro. The best park edits come out of here.
- Trollhaugen: Troll was 40 miles up the river on the Wisconsin side. The terrain park was open late with a tow rope, and it was always super icy for the sketchiest landings. Troll was punk and had a grungey scene. When you skied Troll, it was all about the Bad Boy Line.
- Lutsen: The best mountain in Minnesota, but all the way up by the Canadian border. 1,000 feet of unheard-of-vertical. Possibly rivaled by Mount Bohemia up on the Yuper, but Michigan is not included in this list.