Out of the City; Down the Hill

Hokkaido, Japan - December 2019 : Pair of Ski and snowboard equipment ready to use with background on snow in ski area. Skis in snow in winter season on the top mountains in Kiroro ski resort.
Hokkaido, Japan - December 2019 : Pair of Ski and snowboard equipment ready to use with background on snow in ski area. Skis in snow in winter season on the top mountains in Kiroro ski resort.

Photo by BigStock/chayakorn76

Minnesota and our near-neighbors have wintertime fun on tap. It’s hard to beat a day on the hill, or a beer in your ski boots. We may be challenged when it comes to elevation, but Minnesota has no shortage of places to shred (synthetic) powder.

Many of our hometown hills offer season passes that have reciprocity deals with other local facilities. Some offer reciprocity with non-local, Rocky-Mountain-based resorts. Doing a little research before booking tickets or passes could grant you access to other facilities, or flexible ways to use your passes.

For 2020-21, call ahead or check the website of the facility you plan on visiting. Many resorts have implemented COVID restrictions that limit the amount of tickets sold per day. Purchasing your tickets in advance can secure your spot on the hill. 

Buck Hill – Burnsville, MN
Early Season lift ticket: $25 (all ages)

Buck Hill has 15 runs for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities, as well as a multi-lane snow tubing hill. 11 lifts including two quads and a triple chairlift keep people moving uphill. A rope-tow services the terrain park, allowing for quick, back-to-back runs through the park and the halfpipe. Buck Hill’s newly re-opened restaurant Buck 54 serves mostly American fare, and is open to the public year-round.

Trollhaugen – Dresser, WI
All-day lift ticket: $57

Trollhaugen the place is as unique as Trollhaugen the name. 24 runs and ten lanes of tubing, Trollhaugen facilitates fun for any skill level. They have a café and a lounge open through the season, and they host banquets year-round.

To me, Trollhaugen is famous for their Friday nights: For $20, you get a lift ticket that’s valid from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. The late-night sessions are accompanied by live music, or a D.J.— to keep the energy pumping.

Welch Villiage – Welch, MN
All-day lift ticket: $55

Welch Village feels big. 60 runs serviced by nine chairlifts, on 140 acres of skiable terrain. Plenty of room for winter revelers of all skill levels, Welch is a fun place to get lost in the woods. They offer adequate dining onsite, with countless options for dining and lodging in nearby Red Wing, MN. The area has a quaint, old-fashioned feel, and it’s a quick jaunt from the Twin Cities.

Afton Alps – Denmark Township, MN
All-day lift ticket: $TBD

Afton Alps is another of the high-acreage ski areas in Minnesota. 50 runs are serviced by 18 lifts, spread out over 300 acres. Afton gives you the mountain-resort feel, offering five chalets, including mid-mountain stops. Afton takes dining seriously, with a number of food options to satisfy whatever craving comes up.

A few years ago, Vail Resorts added Afton Alps to the Epic portfolio. A $10 million investment in snowmaking equipment and a new terrain park have set this facility up for serious winter amusement.

Lutsen Mountains – Lutsen, MN
All-day flex ticket: $89

1,000 acres carved into 95 separate runs, including a long-run that stretches two miles. Nine lifts service the facility, including a gondola. Lutsen is the largest ski resort in the Midwest, and one of the northernmost ski areas in the U.S. You know it’s massive when they don’t offer night-skiing, and Lutsen does not.

Papa Charlie’s offers good-enough-eats and music during a typical season. Nearby Grand Marais has lodging and food options in case Lutsen has filled up. Lutsen has the big mountain feel, with a staycation price tag.

Spirit Mountain – Duluth, MN
All-day lift ticket: $65

22 runs stretch over 175 acres of skiable snow. Seven lifts with the capacity to move over 12,000 people uphill every hour keep the lines short and maximize your time on the hill. Spirit Mountain has two chalets, one at the bottom and one at the top of the mountain—to give you that mountain resort feel.

Duluth offers endless options for dining and lodging in case Spirit Mountain is outside of day-trip territory for you. Driving two-and-a-half hours after a full day on the hill can be daunting.

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