Downhill skiing in a face covering at Afton Alps

Where to Find Minnesota's Best Skiing and Snowboarding

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Afton Alps has been one of the Midwest's premier downhill destinations for over 50 years / Afton Alps

Where to Find Minnesota's Best Skiing and Snowboarding

By GearJunkie

Skiers and snowboarders can tackle a variety of terrain throughout Minnesota's 19 ski areas, from backcountry trails to technical parks. Here are some highlights around the North Star State based on its noteworthy slopes, activities and accommodations.

Skier jumps off Bobcat Cliff at Lutsen Mountains

Lutsen is the Midwest's biggest and most varied mountain slope / Lutsen Mountains

Closest Mountain Experience: Lutsen

Lutsen is as close to a Rocky Mountain vibe as you can get in the region. The resort has four mountains, 95 runs and boasts an 825-foot vertical rise.

From the top, there are beautiful views of Lake Superior stretching out across the horizon. There’s terrain for skiers and snowboarders with a range of experience, from easy cruisers to true shredders. It has two mountain chalets and a gondola. In addition, the log drops, halfpipes and multiple skills parks are a great place to test your mettle.

Snowboarder wearing a face mask at Buck Hill

Buck Hill is a local favorite for Twin Cities skiers and snowboarders / Buck Hill

Most Beginner-Friendly: Buck Hill

Buck Hill is legendary for being a small area that (with coaching) has developed a number of Olympic skiers, most notably Lindsey Vonn. It’s a shining example of how Midwest skiing means making the most of what you got.

And Buck Hill really rolls out the carpet for beginners — literally. It has the longest magic carpet in the country and six green runs. It offers lessons for adults and children as well as ski teams and programs to further skills development. It also has six intermediate and two expert runs, so it’s not uncommon to find three generations hitting the slopes together.

Other ski areas with ample green runs to check out are Welch VillageWild MountainMount KatoDetroit MountainAfton AlpsGiants Ridge and Lutsen.

Not to mention The Loppet Foundation, a new member of the Minnesota Ski Areas Association that offers downhill skiing and snowboarding on its Alpine Learning Hill. The Theodore Wirth Park staple also happens to host the COOP FIS Cross-Country World Cup on Feb. 17 - 19.

Ski hill with jumps and grind rails

Hyland Hills has 14 downhill runs, three chair lifts and a large terrain park for tricks / Hyland Hills

Great All-Around Snow Activities: Hyland Hills & Spirit Mountain

There are more ways to play in the snow than just downhill skiing or snowboarding. Cross-country skiing is a close cousin, but several ski areas have dedicated trails for snowmobiles or fat bikes. And we hear snow tubing is a good way to get in touch with your inner child.

Hyland Hills has a reputation for its snowmaking, grooming and a tricked-out terrain park. But that’s not all. The 1,000-acre park made room for cross-country ski trails, snowshoe trails and a Nordic ski jump complex.

Meanwhile, Spirit Mountain has miles of cross-country trail and snow tubing on weekends.

Mount Itasca offers ski jumping as well as a full biathlon complex if you want to take things to the next level.

Taking a break is part of the fun, so unwind in the Riverside Bar and Grill or the Moosehead Saloon.

Other ski areas with more ways to play are Mount Ski Gull and Elm Creek.

Family of skiers at Buck Hill ski area

Buck Hill in Burnsville is accessible to skiers with disabilities

Great for Kids & Families: Andes Tower Hills, Mount Kato & Powder Ridge

One way to grow a family of skiers is to help them have fun at a ski area, even if that means something other than skiing. They can get tired fast, so having some fallback activities can help them stay engaged.

By avoiding the crowds, beginners can concentrate on what they’re doing. Even some of the more well-known ski areas have a few isolated runs. But you may want to consider somewhere off the beaten path to develop your skills.

Andes Tower Hills has 15 downhill runs and two terrain parks. And the whole family can get ready at its pro shop, rental shop and ski school. Or step out of the skis and take on one of its four snow tube runs.

Also, along the Minnesota River Valley, Mount Kato Ski Area makes room for 19 trails and eight chairlifts. It’s a good choice for a family with different levels of ski experience and to get away from the crowds. When the runs are done, grab a bite in the chalet or The Lift Bar.

Powder Ridge has five lifts and runs for different skill levels. Its longest run drops 290 feet over 2,650 feet. There are also three terrain parks, one of which has smaller features. And, of course, there’s the snow tube area with different bumps and dips down controlled lanes.

Teenager with skis outside lodge at Detroit Mountain ski area

Detroit Mountain is a haven for winter activities like skiing, snowboarding and fat biking / Paul Vincent

Great Onsite Lodging & Amenities: Giants Ridge & Lutsen Mountains

Sometimes you want skiing to be part of a full day of enjoyment. With fine dining and onsite lodging, you can extend the pleasure of a ski getaway by enjoying resort amenities and exploring new cuisines or favorite comfort foods.

Yes, Giants Ridge offers 35 downhill runs and a few terrain parks, but we want to focus on the indoor options. The Lodge is an all-suite hotel with a variety of room sizes, some of which include a fireplace or hot tub for unwinding after a long day on the slopes. For slightly more isolated stays, there are the villas and more rustic Green Gate Guest Houses. From most rooms, you can enjoy views of the slopes or the Superior National Forest.

Girlfriends toast on the patio of Papa Charlie's overlooking Lutsen Mountain

Unwind with a drink on Papa Charlie's patio after a big day on the slopes / Lutsen Mountains

Lutsen warrants another mention here for its slope-side lodging options. Eagle Ridge has ski-in-ski-out access and room options like a fireplace, sauna or hot tub—as do several of the suites and lodge rooms along Lake Superior.

There’s no shortage of ways to unwind after an activity. The Strand Waterfront Dining Room provides views of the slopes and the lake.

Carriage ride and chalet at Buena Vista, Bemidji

Carriage ride and chalet at Buena Vista, Bemidji / Jennifer Laitala

Most Unique: Coffee Mill, Buena Vista & Chester Bowl

These ski areas have most of the same services for skiers, snowboarders, and tubers as other areas listed above, yet they offer unique experiences the others don’t.

Coffee Mill is best known for ski runs down long ravines thanks to the area’s unique 'coulee' topography, which was never glaciated. There’s room for the family to ride up together in high-capacity chairs and then take on the long, wide slopes through thick rows of trees.

Of its 16 downhill runs, Buena Vista‘s longest run of 2,000 feet includes a 230-foot drop. The area also has a three-story chalet with fireplaces and a café. While you’re there, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride or walk through the Lumberjack Hall of Fame.

Chester Bowl covers 119 acres in Duluth and can move almost 1,000 skiers and snowboarders in an hour. Other standouts include ski and board races for kids and a 3 km cross-country loop for experienced skiers, with overlooks of the city and Lake Superior.

Check out the current snow report and learn more about cross-country and downhill skiing in Minnesota. 


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