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Need a winter pick-me-up? Try going downhill.
Like the famous Zen koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” the question of “Why ski without mountains?” cannot be answered fully. Unless, of course, you spent childhood winters on the Hills (Buck, Hyland, and the long-gone Cedar). Only then can you truly understand that skiing is the purest form of winter joy, no matter what the vertical drop.
•So what if the term “alps” is a Matterhorn-size hyperbole? With 18 chairlifts that overlook the bucolic St. Croix River Valley, a gnarly terrain park, and new snowmaking and grooming equipment, Afton is where it’s at. 6600 Peller Ave. S., Hastings, 651-436-5245, aftonalps.com
•At just 310 vertical feet, Buck Hill is proof that attitude is more important than altitude. After all, where else in the Twin Cities can you carve up the same slope as Jean-Claude Killy, Alberto Tomba, Tommy Moe, Lindsey Vonn, Kristina Koznick, and other Olympians once did? 15400 Buck Hill Rd., Burnsville, 952-435-7174, buckhill.com
•The next time you hear a dude bragging about the Bugaboos in British Columbia, ask him if he’s skied on top of the Continental Divide. A short drive from the shores of Lake Bemidji, you can ski the divide on 16 runs, including a Bunyan-sized 2,000-foot run with a Babe-sized 230-foot drop, plus miles of scenic cross-country trails. 19276 Lake Julia Drive NW, Bemidji, 218-243-2231, bvskiarea.com
•Los Angeles has the Hollywood sign; we have the Hyland ski jump to remind us of what life in Minnesota is really all about. Beloved by young skiers and grommets (and the parents who drop them off on Saturday mornings and school holidays), Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area is the epicenter of suburban winter fun. 8800 Chalet Rd., Bloomington, 763-694-7800, hylandski.com
•Just one mile south of Mankato, “the Mount” is tucked into the bluffs of the Minnesota River Valley. With 19 runs, five quad and three double chairlifts, a terrain park, and plenty of lodging nearby, this small but comprehensive ski area is a great place to spend a winter weekend. 20461 State Hwy. 66, Mankato, 800-668-5286, mountkato.com
•For decades, Powder Ridge has been embracing skiers and snowboarders with central Minnesota–style warmth and service. Here, the snow is constantly being groomed and the homemade donuts are always fresh. And, if you’re wondering whether you can rent a helmet, bring a box lunch, or use a laptop in the chalet, the answer is yes, of course. 15015 93rd Ave., Kimball, 320-398-7200, powderridge.com
•Over the St. Croix River and through the Wisconsin woods is charming Trollhaugen (Hill of the Trolls). An easy hour’s drive from the Twin Cities, this family-friendly ski area features a rustic Norwegian-esque lodge, an appealing mix of easy, intermediate, and advanced runs, and one of the area’s best ski and snowboard shops. 2232 100th Ave., Dresser, Wisconsin, 800-826-7166, trollhaugen.com
•Nestled among five ridges with views of the Cannon River and Belle Creek valleys, Welch just may be our prettiest local ski area. And, with 140 acres of terrain and 60 trails served by five quads, one triple, and three double chairlifts, it’s also the most interesting for seasoned skiers and snowboarders. 26685 Co. 7 Blvd., Welch, 651-258-4567, welchvillage.com
•It’s not Crested Butte, but wending your way through Taylors Falls on the way to “Wild,” as regulars refer to it, is a delightful beginning to a day on the slopes. For adults who want to improve their technique both on and off the slopes, Wild offers race leagues, race camps, gate training, and fiercely competitive après-ski festivities. 37200 Wild Mountain Rd., Taylors Falls, 651-465-6365, wildmountain.com
"The fact that you can night ski in Minnesota is such a cool thing. There's no after-school skiing in Colorado." —Three-time Olympics slalom racer Kristina (Koznick) Landa, who went on from Buck Hill to win the world Cup six times. She and her husband, both Minnesota natives, live near Vail with their 1-year-old daughter.
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