By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Lindsey Vonn's My North
With four World Cup overall championships and an Olympic gold medal under her belt, Lindsey Vonn is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished alpine skiers of all time. And although she first burst onto the international scene while racing the mountains of Colorado, she cut her teeth while carving hills in Minnesota. And she’s not the only one—Minnesota has a long history of producing exceptional winter athletes. Here are five Minnesota resorts where some of our state’s best skiers and snowboarders first launched their careers.
It might not look like much from a distance, but don’t underestimate the slopes at Buck Hill: it’s home to one of the most storied ski racing teams and programs in the country, if not the world. The home hill of Lindsey Vonn, Sterling Grant and Kristina Koznick to name a few, Buck’s intense racing pedigree comes from coach Erich Sailer. An Austrian Olympian lured to Minnesota in 1969 by Buck’s owners, Sailer helped form the now-infamous Buck Hill Ski Racing Team, and has since been enshrined in the National Ski Hall of Fame. Aside from being able to ski the run that Vonn learned to race on, Buck Hill offers a solid mix of greens, blues and blacks, plus a snow-tubing hill right next door.
Spirit Mountain may only be the second-tallest ski hill in Minnesota, but the views at this Duluth resort are second to none. Perched on the scenic bluffs above downtown Duluth, overlooking both the city and the endless expanse of Lake Superior, Spirit’s epic views and cruiser slopes were the one-time stomping grounds for pro snowboarding siblings, Mason and Molly Aguirre. Although the Aguirres moved to Mammoth Lakes, California to pursue pro careers, the vast snowboard park at Spirit Mountain was instrumental to discovering their talents.
Located just down the road from the Mall of America in Bloomington, Hyland Hills is one of Minnesota’s most urban ski areas. Constrained by the Minneapolis-St. Paul area’s urban fabric, Hyland isn’t a particularly large resort, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of Minnesota’s most prolific hills. Not only does Hyland Hills serve as the home base to Minnesota’s esteemed Team Gilboa, which produced Olympian-turned-Warren-Miller-movie-skier, Kaylin Richardson, its snowboard park has also launched the careers of pros Jake Olson-Elm and Chad Otterstrom. Among other reasons to visit, Hyland is home to the Bush Lake Ski Jump, the only ski jump in Minnesota, which boasts 70-, 25- and 10-meter jumps and unmatched views of downtown Minneapolis.
Founded in 1948 by George Nelson, Lutsen is about the closest you can get to “real” mountains in Minnesota. Located just off Lake Superior, about an hour north of Duluth, Lutsen is the only Minnesota resort with a vertical drop of more than 1,000 feet and features nearly 100 runs. But Lutsen isn’t the only Minnesota skiing icon George Nelson brought into the world—his daughter Cindy Nelson was Minnesota’s first World Cup skier, winning a bronze medal at the 1976 Winter Olympics and a silver at the 1982 World Championships.
When people think of central Minnesota, they don’t necessarily think snowboarding. And yet it was the park at Powder Ridge, just outside of St. Cloud, where Cold Spring resident-turned-pro-snowboarder Dan Brisse got his start. Aside from having a terrain park good enough to spawn an X-Games competitor, Powder Ridge has a scenic mix of 15 other runs totalling 290 vertical feet. And, like a lot of the ski areas on this list, Powder Ridge also offers illuminated night skiing, plus “laser light” tubing at their on-premise tubing hill.