Person Snowboarding at Sunset
Snowboarder at Lutsen Mountains

Skip the Mountain Crowds: Find the Best Skiing in Minnesota This Winter

Minnesota’s 18 ski areas have just what you need, whether you’re an expert or just starting out. Here, we highlight the different ski areas around the North Star State based on its noteworthy slopes, activities, and accommodations.

Skiers and snowboarders can tackle a variety of terrain throughout Minnesota, from backcountry trails to technical parks. Many of the state’s scenic slopes are a short drive from different Minnesota cities, making them accessible add-on adventures to any plans to explore the state this winter.

Find Your True North Adventures at the Minnesota Slopes

Afton Alps Skier Face Covering 1
Skier at Afton Alps

As with most travel plans this year, it’s best to check on any COVID-related updates before driving to a ski area. Explore Minnesota also has a roundup of information regarding indoor and outdoor policies and safe travel practices.


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Bobcat Cliff at Lutsen Mountains

Ski Minnesota: Where to Go

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.

Most Beginner-Friendly: Buck Hill

Buck Hill Ski Area at night Burnsville
Buck Hill at night

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.

Hyland Hills Park
Hyland Hills Skills Park

Great All-Around Snow Activities: Hyland Hills and 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.

Great for Kids and Families: Andes Tower HillsMount Kato, and Powder Ridge

Snowboarding in Minnesota
Snowboarder at Buck Hill

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.

Detroit Mountain; photo credit: Paul Vincent

Great Onsite Lodging & Amenities: Giants Ridge and 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.

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 activity. The Strand Waterfront Dining Room or Papa Charlie’s, which has indoor and outdoor seating, both provide views of the slopes and the lake.

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Papa Charlie’s at Lutsen Mountains

Most Unique: Coffee Mill, Buena Vista, and 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 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 horsedrawn 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 3km cross-country loop for experienced skiers, with overlooks of the city and Lake Superior.

Find Your True North Adventures at the Minnesota Slopes

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Lutsen Mountains at night

This article is sponsored by Explore Minnesota and the Minnesota Ski Areas Association.