Central California Gathers Varieties Of Skiing, Riding Under Sierra Roof


In California, a series of eight ski and snowboard destinations -- from mega-big to oh-so small -- string from north to south, hugging the Sierra Nevada range.

From Kirkwood to Alta Sierra, these ski areas stretch some 250 miles above the Central Valley along the craggy granite pitch of the eastern Sierra Nevada that owes its elevations and terrain to the collision of oceanic and continental plates beneath. And, snowfall regularly tops 400 inches, thanks to storms soaked by the ocean and crystallized at elevation.

Mammoth Mountain (3,500 a., 3,100 vert.) looms above all -- isolated in the middle of east-central Sierra. A favorite for Los Angelinos, it's a five-hour drive from the coast. Kids 12 and under ski free at companion June Mountain (1,500 a, 2,590 vert.).

The others are an eclectic group, starting with Kirkwood (2,300 a., 2,000 vert.) -- as cliffy as anywhere -- and neighbor Sierra-at-Tahoe (2,000 a., 2,200 vert.) that aims squarely at the intermediate and terrain park crowd.

Hop on Hwy. 88 for a scenic winding, switchbacking 100 miles (3 hours) through the gnarly Sierra massif to oddball Bear Valley (1,680 a., 1,900 vert.). On private land, The Bear is upside-down. Parking is at a mid-mountain base, and the easier stuff is higher up, while the tougher terrain down below. And the main village is over the ridge and down a lift-less bowlful of blacks. You have to take a shuttle back to the front side.

More traditional is Dodge Ridge (862 a., 1,600 vert.) that clusters its greens, blues and parks under five fixed-grips out of the main base. Getting to the steeps takes some time, but they are worth it.

One of only three U.S. ski areas within a national park, Badger Pass (88 a., 600 vert.) sits near the Arch Rock entrance to Yosemite NP. Opened in 1935, Badger Pass (briefly named Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area) is proudly compact -- five lifts, 10 runs -- and a must stop if only for the views of Half Dome.

China Peak (1,400 a., 1,679 vert.) is a straightforward as it gets in the central Sierra. Park at the base, ride a couple fixed-grips up to main system, and take any of three that serve the upper mountain. Below, the Park three-seater sets apart for novices and park-ers. Popular as Fresno is close.

And at the southern tip of the range, Alta Sierra Ski Resort and Terrain Park (80 a., 400 vert.) makes no bones about being a community hill, appealing to a casual crowd who dig terrain parks and need no black runs. Saturdays and Sundays only, it's 50 miles from Bakersfield.

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Ohio's Snow Trails Continues Making Improvements


Ohio's oldest ski area Snow Tails, which opened in 1961, continues making improvements after making several just a couple of years ago. Located in central Ohio about an hour north of the state's capital city Columbus it has served a large population of Heartland skiers for over 60 years.

In 2021 they added a beautiful 3,000-square-foot lodge at the base of Competition Slope adding much needed indoor additional seating and restrooms, accommodations for carry-in-food and more space for their popular racing program activities. It included heated outdoor patio seating. They added state-of-the-art lighting upgrades, which included LED tower lights for the Alpine lift and beginner's area, and the triple chairlift for the Competition and Mt. Mansfield slopes. In addition restrooms were redone, improvements were made to the Last Run Deli Kitchen, added new windows and radiant heaters added to the ski lodge deck.

The parking was also paved, which was a great improvement for late season conditions when the ground started to thaw. This past summer another expansion was made to the west end of the parking area adding a new concrete lot with marked parking spaces and additional handicapped spots for the Adaptive Snowsports Center. More LED lighting was installed in special areas of the slopes and parking lots for additional safety and efficiency, according to a Snow Trails news release.

Exciting news for skiers and snowboarders two new trails, Ridgeline and DC Drop were added off the double chairlift, which will add additional access to other trails expanding the unloading area on top. It will allow access to the right for the first time and connect two other trails. An expanded snowmaking system will help implement the additional terrain as well as the rest of the ski area.

Snow Trails, which will be enjoying its 63rd season, offers 19 trails, four terrain parks and lift served tubing runs. They have five chairlifts and two surface tows. Throughout the season they often offer live music on weekends. Their season normally runs from mid-December into early March. Their kick-off party with the Thirsty Travelers is happening December 16. They are hosting an Alpine Ski Racing Camp on December 27, which you need to sign up for.

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North Of Tahoe, A Cluster Of Classic California Skiing Beckons


Skiing and riding in Northern California succeeds because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada Crest (9,000+ feet), which pushes Pacific storms skyward to produce often prodigious snowfalls.

While the Tahoe "big boys" dominate in terrain, vertical drop, lift systems and skier-visits, you can find a less corporate feel to the north around Truckee, where a cluster of some of the oldest ski areas in the nation retain an old-school family ibe.

A quartet ski and snowboard mountains are within 10 miles of each other, each welcoming newbies, novices and casuals with terrain, vertical and mellow atmosphere they require. Take your pick:

  • Opened in 1937, Donner Ski Ranch (500 a.,750 vert.) sits astride Donner Pass -- an "easy" side and "difficult" side each with three fixed grips. One of several "big little" mountains around the pass.

  • Just off the Crest with a 7,701-foot summit, Boreal Mountain (380 a.,500 vert.) presents a laid-back, green-blue, terrain-park paradise. Woodward Extreme Sports at the base, plus five terrain parks and a half-pipe on the hill.

  • Open Thursday-Monday, Soda Springs (200 a., 650 vert.) is a family extension of neighbor Boreal. Founded in 1931, its two fixed-grip chairs serve a mountain with more than half its runs rated green. Plenty of off-hill stuff: tubing, kids play area and Woodward Start Park.

  • Another green-blue heavy hill, Tahoe Donner (120 a., 600 vert.) rates 90% in the easy-peasy category. A couple of fixed grips reach 7,300-foot summit for runs with few if any trees. Good place for kids to wander.

If the big-mountain urge hits, Sugar Bowl (1,500 a., 1650 vert.) is just down the road. It's got four peaks,13 lifts including five high-speeds. Blacks are more like blues on a hill that attracted Hollywood celebrities when the first chair went up in 1940.

Now, head a couple hours north to find some genuine classic ski slopes that locals love but few others know about. Near Susanville, Coopervale Ski Hill (50 a., 730 vert.) spins a single "poma" platter on Saturdays and Sundays. Owned and operated by nearby Lassen College, this tiny gem even has a half-pipe.

Less than hour away is Stover Mountain, likely the smallest hill in the state at 13 acres. Some 500 feet vertical drop is served by a very long rope tow to a 5,600-foot summit. Another weekend-only operation.

And, in the corner where California, Oregon and Nevada touch, volunteers operate Cedar Pass Snow Park (40 acres) on weekends. A T-bar and rope tow handle uphill transport.

Again, if you just have to get more vertical and ride a high-speed, take a three-hour ride west to volcanic cone Mt. Shasta Ski Park (425. a., 1,390 vert.). There, you'll find conditions more like Oregon -- Sierra Cement, drop-dead views -- without the crowds.


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Time To Apply For Midwest Grade School Kids Ski Passes


The Michigan Snowsports Industries Association (MSIA) and Minnesota Ski Areas Association (MNSAA) offer passport programs allowing elementary age kids the chance to try skiing and snowboarding for free. In Michigan it covers both fourth and fifth graders, and Minnesota’s program covers fourth graders. Now is the time to apply with the Heartland ski season fast approaching.

Michigan’s Cold is Cool Ski & Ride Passport program offers students’ two free lift tickets at 29 participating ski areas scattered throughout the state and additional discounts at participating ski shops. Families obtain a Passport App for their students that gives them up to two free lift tickets or trail passes at participating ski areas. MSIA charges $30 for the passport; $25 covers operating expenses and $5 goes to a new charitable organization Misnow that helps get underprivileged kids out on our slopes during the winter. A paying adult has to accompany the students for them to use the pass. The Passport is an app to download on your phone, making it contactless at the lift ticket window.

There are six ski areas participating in the Wolverine State's Upper Peninsula and 23 in the Lower Peninsula.

All 19 of Minnesota's ski areas are participating this season. The cost of the MNSAA Passport is $34.95, which includes tax, payment processing fee and administrative costs of program. Your fourth grader receives an e-pass which includes a minimum of two free lift tickets for the passport holder at each Minnesota ski area. Some offer more than the minimum of two passes. Additional information on program offerings by area and a link to more details at each member area is provided on the website.

I've always wondered why Wisconsin, which has 18 downhill ski areas, doesn't offer a similar program for the students in their state. It makes sense to promote the sport to future generations of skiers, and what better way than getting them started as grade school youngsters.


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Local Pressure Convinces Homewood To Ditch Plan To Go Private


A radical move to make Homewood Mountain Resort fully private has crumbled in the face of local opposition, and the plan now calls for access to all on the slopes of the Lake Tahoe resort.

Plans right now call for day and season tickets to be sold to anyone, and a lifetime membership program to begin in 2024-2025. In addition, the replacement of the 1982-era triple Madden chair with a gondola now appears possible. According to LiftBlog.com, some of the gondola has been delivered.

The endemic lack of skiers and riders on the hill remains, but owners say construction of base condos, a West Shore shuttle, a 270-vehicle parking garage and lifetime memberships should begin to ameliorate that issue.

In 2022, owners of the 1,260-acre ski and snowboard area that rises out of the west shore of Lake Tahoe said that the inability of non-locals to get to the slopes because of heavy weekend traffic off I-80 had resulted in a precipitous decline in day and season ticket sales. They put much of the blame on multi-mountain passes that drew more weekenders to Squaw Valley, now Palisades Tahoe, and Northstar clogged the shortest route from the Bay Area to Homewood.

The pivot to private was to happen this season, with tickets sold only to property owners at Homewood and area HOA members.

However, community members formed several groups in the past year that protested furiously against the plan. When the local planning commission turned down the design of condos to be built at Homewood, owners acquiesced to keep the mountain public.

Opponents remain skeptical that ownership JMA Ventures, a commercial real estate developer based in San Francisco, will follow through with the new plan.

Opened in 1962, Homewood offered a local alternative to the big mountains around Lake Tahoe. With 1,650 feet of vertical drop and the region's only snowcat tour service, Homewood has one of the oldest high-speed quads in the nation -- installed in 1982 -- three triple fixed-grips and a couple of platters.

Half of the trail map is rated blue, with dozens of hidden stashes to take advantage of 400-inch snowfalls in good years. Plus, the mountain is often sheltered from high-ridge winds because it crouches 1,000 feet below the 8,740-foot-high summit of Ellis Peak.

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It's Not All About Acreage Or Glamour At Utah's Outlier Resorts


Often upstaged by their more famous neighbors, a half-dozen lesser-known ski and snowboard resorts in Utah thrive on the same powder while emenating a distinctive town-hill, laid-back vibe.

Up in the north Wasatch, Beaver Mountain (828 a., 1,700 vert.) is a winding 30-mile ride from Logan. Known as The Beav, it's the "school hill" for Utah State with decidedly blue-rated trail map with smattering of trees. Little Beaver learning area sits separate from main mountain, with top-to-bottom terrain park.

Utah's newest area, compact Cherry Peak (200 a., 1,650 vert.) is 30 miles up-valley from Logan. Mostly moderate terrain spills off either side of main ridge. Easy access from growing Cache Valley means weekend crowds.

Nordic Valley (200 a., 960 verts.) fills out Utah's northern tier of day-trip mountains. New ownership put in first high-speed chair in 2020. Two distinct sections each offer array of trail difficulties. It's gaining traction, especially with 700,000 folks over the hill in greater Ogden area.

The southern end of the Wasatch Front is home to Sundance Resort (450 a., 2,150 vert.) -- Robert Redford's eco-baby until recent sale. New owners addressed awkward, double-ridged layout with three new chairs, including first high-speed. Tons of steeps up top, easy stuff on lower half. Can be crowded, as it's a local favorite for Brigham Young University and busy Provo-Orem metroplex. Parking is limited and mostly paid.

Head to southwest Utah for a pair of ski and snowboard outliers. Closer to Las Vegas than Salt Lake, both Eagle Point (650 a., 1,500 vert.) and Brian Head (650 a., 1,548 vert.) look westward for their skiers and riders. With the highest base elevations in the state, they grab light powder from south-trending storms for 200-400 inches a season.

Formerly Elk Meadows, Eagle Point puts all its blacks in one section, its cruisers in the other. But the resort has some oddities: It has two base areas that are connected roads, not lifts. The four fixed-grip chairs spin only Friday-Monday. Access road Utah 153 winds right through the trail map. Some on-hill lodging.

Finally, Brian Head is Utah's southernmost ski and snowboard destination. It's trail map is bifurcated, with a full baker's dozen of green trails on a one mountain (Navajo Mountain) offset by a full plate of blues and blacks on another (Giant Steps). Each has its own parking lot and base area, with limited lodging. And, don't miss the most counter-intuitive views in West -- the snow-capped Tushars and red-rock Cedar Breaks National Monument.






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Trollhaugen Nears Completion On New Chairlift


Trollhaugen, one of the Badger State's oldest ski areas is nearing completion on its latest improvements. It was the fourth ski area to open in Wisconsin in 1950. Only Granite Peak,1937, Wilmot Mountain 1938, and Mont Du Lac in 1948 opened earlier. Located just across the Wisconsin/Minnesota border the storied ski area has long been a favorite for Twin Cities skiers and riders, which is about 50 minutes northeast of downtown.

“The Summit Expansion is getting closer to the finish line! New chair, new trails, new snowmaking, new lights, new memories to be made. Bring on the cold. SKOL,” is a current post on the ski area's Facebook page.

Two summers ago they removed the old two-person single-speed chair 1 and installed a new variable speed four-person chairlift that greatly improved uphill capacity. They also began clearing three new trails on the east side of the summit area and added snowmaking. The following summer saw them finish that project with lighting added to the new runs. This past summer 2023 they started construction on another new, variable three-person chairlift on the southeast side of the summit area and added more new trails in that area.

Trollhaugen currently offers 30 runs, four quad chairs, four surface tows, three terrain parks, 10 snow tubing lanes, and a 2.5km cross country trail.. On Friday nights throughout the season, they remain open until 3 am. with live music in the lounge.

They were able to open a couple of runs for about three days earlier last weekend, one of the first to open in the Heartland. That drew some snowboarders from Chicago, over a five hour drive, to make the trip and kickoff the season. They are currently making snow when temperatures allow and anticipate reopening before Thanksgiving for the season. They are offering a Thanksgiving race camp November 24-26.

It's been called a time machine, hearkening back to the Heartland's older, smaller ski areas, and a true Midwest gem.

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Two Michigan Resorts In Running For USA Today Best Ski Resort Poll


Once again Mount Bohemia, located in the uppermost portion of Michigan's UP, is in the running for USA Today's Best Ski Resort in the U.S. poll, which concludes on November 20. It's not unfamiliar territory for them since they have appeared in past polls.

New this year is that ABR Ski Trails, also located in the Wolverine State's UP, is in this year's running for Best Cross Country Ski Resort in the U.S. It's their first time to appear in the poll. A panel of experts selected the top 20 cross country ski resorts across the U.S. to appear in the poll, which is voted on by the public. It also concludes on November 20.

Bohemia is an anomaly for the Heartland. A big vertical drop for the Great Lakes Region, 900 feet with cliffs, chutes, trees, steep drops and all natural snow. They have no snowmaking, and don't do any grooming. Bohemia claims all expert terrain and, they aren't exaggerating. The terrain is typical of what you find out west in the backcountry. There is nothing else even remotely like it mid-continent. Find another line through the trees, boulders and cliff drops spread out over 600 acres. Beginners aren’t allowed and wouldn’t enjoy it anyway.

They offer one of the best early season pass sales in the Midwest. The $99 pass sale takes place for only a little over a week from Nov. 22 through December 2, and the only way you will be able to ski or ride Saturdays throughout the season is with a season pass. A daily lift ticket will be $92 this season.

USA Today said of ABR Ski Trails, “It is an 1,100-acre Nordic ski center, which boasts 100km of cross country trails in the beautiful Montreal River Valley. In addition to classic striding trails, combination skate and striding trails and an additional 13km of snowshoeing trails and trails for dog-pulled skijoring.” They even have cabins along the trail that you ski back into and spend the night.

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Washington's Cascades Draw Snow, Crowds But Plenty Others To Try Out


In the state of Washington, skiing and snowboarding choices divide up neatly east and west, with some of the nation's largest and smallest areas spinning lifts each season.

The Cascade Range hovers over the Tacoma-Seattle-Bellingham corridor, with some of the tallest peaks in the Northwest. They push Pacific storms skyward, whereby dumping lots of the heaviest snow on the slopes, and produce clouds and fog much of the season.

Along its crest, you'll find five of the state's best. As standard-bearers of Northwest resorts, they are also the most popular because they sit within three hours' drive of the greater Seattle-Tacoma metroplex and its four million people.

Northernmost Mt. Baker gets the most snow -- average 600-plus inches a season -- but only 1,000 skiable acres. Crystal Mountain is the biggest at 2,600 acres, and the only one with on-site lodging. New parking lot and local bus service aimed to ease endemic crowding.

Fatboy haven Summit at Snoqualmie (2,000 total acres) is four mountains in one. "Shaggy soul" Stevens Pass (1,125 a.) lays out bowls, chutes and trees, and local-focused White Pass (1,400 a.) gives lower mountain to novices with deep discount tickets. At all, expect weekend crowds, overcast skies, and tons of untracked heavy powder.

Up in Olympic National Park, Hurricane Ridge (220 acres, 800 vertical) is funky-local: Upside-down access, main lift poma snakes up the hill, open Saturdays and Sundays, limit 175 vehicles.

Over on the eastern front of the Cascades -- the Inland Northwest -- snowfall declines because of the "snow shadow" for a cluster of lesser-known mountains, big and small. Mission Ridge -- 2,000 acres, 2,280 vertical drop -- is by far the largest; a new high-speed has spruced up a clunky, limited lift system. Loup Loup Ski Bowl (550 acres), with decent drop at 1,240 feet, opens Wednesdays and weekends. And, Sitzmark Ski Mountain's 80 acres and 650 vertical sits near the Canadian border.

A group of tiny local hills round out the eastern roster: Badger Mountain (50 acres), Echo Valley (20 a.), and Leavenworth Ski Hill (15 a.) --  with a hand-drawn trail map online.

The Rockies poke into Washington's far northeastern border. There you'll find somewhat drier snow and a trio of Spokane-centric mountains. 49 Degrees North looms over all, with an astounding 2,350 skiable acres, 1,851 feet of vertical, a very efficient lift system and family amenities.

An hour from its eponymous city, Mt. Spokane's 1,700 acres crunch up for 1,800 vertical drop. Open Wednesday-Sunday, expect lots of snowboarders. And, in the secluded southeast corner is local-secret Bluewood, with 400 acres underfoot and 1,125 feet of drop to slide down.


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Purchase Of Bear Valley Fills Out Cali Pass Coverage


The purveyors of the multi-mountain Cali Pass have added a fourth ski and snowboard resort to its portfolio with the purchase of Bear Valley in the central Sierra.

Located two hours from Stockton, Bear Valley fits nicely into Cali Pass' 400-mile south-to-north stretch from Mountain High above Los Angeles, China Peak above Fresno and Dodge Ridge above Modesto -- now all owned by Mountain High-based California Mountain Resort Company.

Opened in 1967 as Mt. Reba Snow Bowl, Bear Valley boasts 1,900 vertical drop on 1,680 acres. It catches tons of snow in good years, like 2022-23 when snowfall came for 55 days totaling 428 inches.

The layout of the mountain is awkward -- somewhat upside-down -- with no lift out of the main base village and the steepest runs on the lowest sections of the mountain. Traditional "front-back" distinction is blurred, vertical drop isn't continual, and moving around the mountain's four distinct sections takes time.

A 2.5-mile shuttle ride gets to the mid-mountain day lodge where the lift system and the more modest terrain begins. Parking is limited there.

The lift inventory includes two high-speeds to serve the moderate terrain on the upper mountain, and four of the mountain's original fixed-grip chairs (1967-1970). The vast majority of trails are rated intermediate or advanced, making the mountain a playground for laid-back cruisers and unhurried families.

The new owners told Storm Skiing Journal that the first order of business will be putting up a lift out of the base village to connect all sections of the mountain: "That's been the biggest hurdle that's probably held Bear Valley back for 40 years." 

It's unclear whether any or all of the mountains will retain current participation in the Powder Alliance or Indy Pass. Owners did hint at the possibility of future resort purchases.


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Midwest Ski Areas Starting To Open For The Season


Minnesota's Wild Mountain is always, if not the first, one of the first Heartland ski areas to open for the season. They opened Monday and already have top to bottom runs open as well as one of their chairlifts.

 Andes Tower Hills, in northern Minnesota, was actually the first Heartland ski area to open this past weekend with limited terrain and just a surface tow. However they are currently closed, and on their website they list November 11 for their opening date. They are also routinely one of the earliest to open in the Midwest. When fully open they offer 15 slopes, three chairlifts, and three surface tows.

 Wild is open top to bottom with Chair 1 and their Expressway Trail. Plus, they have the Front Stage rope tow and one of their terrain parks open with eight features. They point out it's still early season conditions and guests should expect some bare spots, rocks, thin coverage, man made obstructions and other spooky impediments. Tickets are $25 and season passes are valid (Night Passes start at 4 pm. as usual). They say on their Facebook page they plan to remain open daily 1-7pm as they keep expanding terrain or the snow melts.

 They have had the distinction of being the first area in the Midwest to open for several years running, and a couple of times the first ski area in the nation to open in early October. They guarantee season pass holders at least 100 days of skiing and riding during the season. When fully open the ski area offers 26 trails, including the double-black Wall and an easy trail from top of the Mountain, four terrain parks, and eight lifts including four quads. It has a 300-foot vertical.

 Other planned openings in November include Lutsen Mountains, which has a target date of opening the weekend of November 18-19. They will be open Thanksgiving weekend and the first weekend in December with December 8 as their target date for staying open on a daily basis.

 Ski Brule, in Michigan's UP, has also kicked off their snowmaking with a target date of November 10 to open daily for the season.

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Skiing, Riding In Oregon Means Plenty Of Snow, Lots To Choose From


Blessed with some of the nation's heaviest snowfall, Oregon's 11 ski and snowboard offerings range from volunteer-run quirky to corporate huge -- and a bunch of duct-tape "ski areas," fixed-grip chairlifts and local rope tow bumps in between.

Less than a 100 miles from the Pacific Coast, the volcano-stuffed Cascades produce an "orographic lift" off the ocean whereby air rises quickly and freezes into predominately heavy snow. U.S. record snowfall for a season, 1,140 feet, was set at Washington's Mt. Baker.

The treeline ranges as low as 7,000 feet, meaning tons of wide-open lines. As for conditions, base depths trend above 100 inches. Deep and heavy snowfall prevails -- bring your fatties for legendary "Cascade concrete" -- although light powder can be found on the highest slopes. Expect high winds and frequent trail closures.

Extinct volcanoes Mt. Hood and Mt. Bachelor rise to the top of Cascade Range skiing and snowboard. Mt. Hood has four resorts on its flanks. Mt. Hood Meadows dwarfs them all with 2,150 acres and 2,777 vertical feet. Mt. Hood SkiBowl (weekends and weekday nights only), Cooper Spur and the recently joined Timberline Lodge and Summit round out the Mt. Hood roster.

About 150 miles to the south, Mt. Bachelor is even bigger: 4,600 acres, 3,365-foot vertical. So big that it wraps around the 9,600-foot-high peak. An angle of repose consistent with volcanic cones produces about 75% similarly pitched blue runs on the mountain. Snow conditions vary widely because of 360-degree aspect.

Across the southern tier of the Oregon Cascades, you can check out four smaller, community mountains that are close enough to be road trip material: mellow Hoodoo Ski Area (800 acres); newly purchased Willamette Pass (555 acres inbounds,1,300 sidecountry); classic Mt. Ashland (240) -- what skibum.net calls the "Mad River Glen of the Pacific Northwest"; and, county-owned Warner Canyon (300), which opened in 1938.

Moving up to the northeast corner of Oregon you will find the westernmost outlier of Rocky Mountains in the glacier-carved Wallowa Mountains, and a pair of outlier ski and snowboard hills nestle among peaks that poke above treeline. 

Surprisingly big, Anthony Lakes has 1,100 acres, 900 vertical feet, one triple chair -- and no black-rated runs. It operates Thursday-Sunday, and has snowcat tours.

You want quirky? Volunteer-run Ferguson Ridge, aka Fergi, operates Friday-Sunday, doesn't take credit cards, and has neither food service nor running water at the hill. A T-bar ticket costs $20, and rope tow is free. Volunteer four days and get $50 season pass. Trail map doesn't rate its runs.



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Indy Pass Best Midwest Ski Pass For Multiple Resorts


For Heartland skiers and snowboarders that like visiting multiple resorts during the ski season the Indy Pass is your best choice. Many of the 26 Midwest ski areas and resorts included with this year's pass are located near each other, which presents an excellent opportunity for several multi-day road trips across the Heartland.

The Indy Pass went back on sale earlier this month. You have to sign up on a wait list to be contacted, but after signing up on the list it doesn't take long to be contacted to purchase a pass for the 2023/24 ski season.

 Many buy a season pass for convenience at a ski area near them that they enjoy skiing or riding, which is fine. If you like to visit a variety of ski areas throughout the season rather than just staying with one you might consider purchasing the Indy Pass, which offers the most choices of any multiple ski area pass in the Midwest. It's good at 26 ski areas scattered across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, South Dakota, and one in Thunder Bay, Ontario just across the border.

 The pass is currently on sale $399 for adults and $199 children (12 and under) for the regular Indy Pass that does have blackout dates at some of the areas. The Indy+ Pass is $499 adults and $249 children with no blackout dates. The pass is good for two free days of skiing or snowboarding at each ski area and 25% off the daily rate for a third day on the slopes. Passholders will be mailed an RFID-enabled Indy Pass with a photo for a $10 fee. It gives you direct-to-lift access at select Indy resorts, and expedited lift ticket pick-up at all Indy resorts.

Many ski areas are grouped within easy driving distance of each other, which means you can take road trips to visit two or three different resorts on one trip. There are trips like that in northwestern Lower Michigan, Upper Michigan, northern Wisconsin and Minnesota around the Great Lakes. The Indy Pass is good at two of the Heartland's largest ski resorts, Granite Peak, at 700 feet, in the Badger State, and Terry Peak, over a 1,000 feet, in South Dakota's Black Hills, and one of the most scenic Chestnut Mountain overlooking the Mississippi River in Illinois.

It's also good at around 70 other ski areas across the Lower 48, which means it’s easier than ever to road trip west or east as well.

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Wyoming's Winter Choices Bring It Home On The Range, In The Mountains


Wyoming is among the largest, least populated and geographically diverse states in the Union, meaning if you don't mind putting on some miles, you will find just about any kind of skiing and snowboarding you want.

Most skiers and riders know that the mighty Grand Tetons host major skiing and snowboarding slopes. Jackson Hole has long been a bucket-list destination, albeit an expensive one. Its 2,500 acres and 4,139 feet of vertical is home to renowned steeps, like Corbet's Couloir. A tramway delivers to the summit where an array of bowls, chutes and famed Hogback ridges that corn up in the spring.

Weather can get severe, with north-trending storms latching onto the Tetons and high winds funneled by the Snake River valley. Regulars say that snow can go from powder to slush and back in a matter of hours.

For those looking for a bit less glitz, just up the road sits Grand Targhee near the Wyoming-Utah border. It's big -- 2,220 vertical on 2,700 skiable acres -- and sprawls beneath two 9,800-foot peaks. Powderhounds head to the short, steep chutes on the upper mountain, but it's the cruisers who get most of the hill (70% blue) to carve. Plus, location draws an average of 500 inches a year.

Lesser known in the northern Wyoming Rockies are Sleeping Giant just east of Yellowstone National Park in true cowboy town Cody, and White Pine and Pine Creek tucked away on the southern arms of the Tetons. The latter two fall into the mid-sized, local/family category; White Pine was once known as White Pine Family Ski Area, and Pine Creek is only open Friday-Sunday.

If a "locals' hill" appeals, trundle over the Snow King for the most extravagant townie bump in the West. It's got 1,500 of vertical on just 500 acres, and the only gondola on a town hill in the West. Plus, the city has turned the base area into a full-on recreation area.

A number of isolated mountain ranges dot the eastern High Plains of the state. These are remnants of ancestral Rockies that have eroded more slowly than the surrounding landscapes. However, they are high enough to get consistent snowfall for skiing and riding -- all with a homey feel, lots of night skiing, municipal and non-profit ownership, and few crowds.

Antelope Butte and Meadowlark Ski Lodge in the Bighorns (a rare same-day pairing in this part of the state), Laramie's home hill Snowy Range in the Medicine Bow range, and Hogadon on the northern tip of the Laramie Mountains outside Casper. The latter has experienced a renaissance as the city has committed public funding like Jackson has for Snow King.

As a sidelight, Beartooth Basin is one of two places in the U.S. with lift-served summer skiing.

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Minnesota's Buck Hill Making Improvements


The Gopher State's Buck Hill has been busy over the summer making a couple of upgrades for the coming season.

The biggest improvement is the addition of a new quad chairlift on the main slope replacing the ancient triple that was nearly a half-century old. It will improve uphill capacity greatly. It will also be able to take people back down the slope, which the old chairlift couldn't do. That will provide a big uplift to their off-season events, like weddings, that are held on top of the ski hill. The new chair is scheduled to be ready for the 2023/24 winter season. Another plus is that the support poles will take up less space than the old lift poles did, which will add additional terrain for skiing and snowboarding. They have also put a new ski patrol building on top of the hill, and it includes an area for visitors to overlook beautiful Crystal Lake.

They are in the process of auctioning off the old 52 triple chairs, which runs through Wednesday, October 25. The chairs are expected to be in high demand. They are part of the historic legacy of Buck Hill where World Cup ski racers Kristina Koznick and Lindsey Vonn learned to ski and race and spent a lot of time riding the old lift.

Buck Hill is known as the “Legendary Capital of American Ski Racing.” The ski hill with a 310-foot vertical, is well known throughout the Midwest. It offers 16 runs, three quad chairlifts counting the new lift, and seven surface lifts.

Skiers from Erich Sailer's legendary Buck Hill ski racing program, which he started in 1969, have won twelve World Cup Races, fifteen have made the U. S. Ski Team and four the U.S. Olympic Team. Today everyone knows of Buck Hills reputation and accomplishments. Sailer put the tiny ski area on the map.

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Oldest In New Mexico, Sandia Peak Gets New Operator, Joins Power Pass


Chalk up another New Mexico ski and snowboard mountain for the Power Pass network, as its parent company will take over operations of Sandia Peak this season.

Located above Albuquerque, Sandi Peak has been closed since 2021, due to meager snowfall and a labor shortages, according to the previous operators.

Mountain Capital Partners announced it will take over operation of the 300-acre mountain with its 1,700 vertical-foot, two fixed-grip chairs and modest base area. Sandia Peak will join the Power Pass family that has been Mountain Capital's multi-mountain season pass since 2012.

The new operators did not announce any other changes for the time being, but New Mexicans and visitors should expect on-mountain upgrades -- such as snowmaking and grooming -- as is the company's wont when it buys a new property. The mountain currently has about 30% coverage of snow guns.

The nation's third-longest tramway opened in 1966 to bring sightseers and skiers to the 10,378-foot-high Sandia Crest. The tramway and a ridgetop restaurant will remain in the hands of previous operators. An access road comes up the east side -- about 40 minutes' drive from the downtown of the Duke City.

Getting enough snowfall to open has always been a tricky proposition for Sandia Peak operators. Winter storms tend to hug the northern mountain ranges and bypass Sandia. Also the mountain rises out of the high desert where snowfall is skimpy, at best. Since 2014, only three seasons have had more than 10 days when the snow fell -- topped by 2019-2020 when a 51-inch base built up.

Sandia Peak becomes the third New Mexico holding for the Durango-based partnership, joining Sipapu near Taos and Pajarito above Los Alamos. Similarly small day-trip resorts in its portfolio include Colorado's Ski Hesperus, Utah's Nordic Valley, Nevada's Lee Canyon, and Oregon's Willamette Pass.

Others under the Power Pass are flagship Purgatory outside Durango, Arizona Snowbowl above Flagstaff, Brian Head in southern Utah, and Valle Nevado in Chile, and a bike park in Austin, Texas.

Sandia Peak has nurtured New Mexico skiers since 1936, when the Albuquerque Ski Club put up a rope tow and opened it La Madera -- the first ski area in the state. In 1958, a partnership led by international hot-air balloonist Ben Abruzzo bought ski area. The Arbuzzo family still operates Ski Santa Fe, about an hour north of Albuquerque.


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Wisconsin's Mt. Telemark Village Becoming A Reality


The old Telemark Resort, near Cable, Wisconsin, hadn’t been open for winter activities for over 20 years, and the lodge since 2013. A couple of attempts to reopen the lodge and ski hill in recent years fell through, but the nonprofit American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation that puts on North America's largest Nordic ski race each February is in the process of successfully reopening it as Mt. Telemark Village.

It purchased the old ski area property, more than 500 acres a couple of years ago, tore down the old Telemark Lodge and has created a new village and added trails for hiking, skiing and mountain biking. When fully completed there will be over 17 miles of trails available. They have also added a five-kilometer paved trail. The purpose is to make it a year-round destination for silent sports. A 12,000-square-foot multipurpose building will anchor Mt. Telemark Village, which serves as a community center, shopping and rental area, coffee shop, and changing/shower area, is expected to open in the spring of next year. It will also include a Tony Wise Museum to honor the roots of the facility, according to an article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

An overnight lodging option, which is not owned by the Ski Foundation, is also located on the property. Called Home Base at Mt. Telemark Village it will offer 10 private rooms.

The Kawabaming Observation Tower at the top of Telemark Mountain was opened to the public in July and offers a panoramic view of the countryside around the mountain. It's especially vibrant with the fall colors.

Telemark began when Tony Wise and H.B. Hewitt opened it the winter of 1947. A chair lift was added in 1964 to supplement the rope tows and, over the years, more improvements came, such as townhouses and a network of cross-country ski trails. When the $6 million lodge opened in December 1972, it included fine dining, a nightclub, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and outdoor tennis courts. At the time it was considered a major player in the Midwest downhill ski scene. It was eclipsed by larger resorts with bigger verticals and more ski runs. Since the mid-1980s the resort has opened and closed and been sold several times. This was where the first American Birkebeiner was held in 1973

Today one of the largest cross country ski races in the world it attracts over 6,000 participants to the annual event in late February each year. This winter the Slumberland American Birkebeiner will be held Saturday, February 24, 2024— Skate 50K and Classic 53K. It now begins in Cable, Wisconsin, and ends in Hayward.


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Off The Beaten Track, Idaho's Mountains Have Something For Everyone


The Rocky Mountains in Idaho spread uninterrupted north off the Snake River into the state's upper regions where a strong menu of skiing and riding awaits those who are willing to go an extra mile.  

Though not the highest in the Rockies -- treeline hovers around 7,000 feet -- this landscape is among the most persistent: Seemingly endless ranges, steep and remote, with many roadless sections. Rural townships nestle in tight quarters. Only 10% of municipalities in Idaho have five-digit populations, and the largest wilderness area in the Lower 48 -- 2.2 million-acre Frank Church River of No Return -- anchors the state's midsection.

This crinkled topography in the Gem State produces as diverse a collection of ski and snowboard mountains as anywhere in the West -- and some of the least familiar. Nearly two dozen dot the road-trip map from Boise to Coeur d'Alene, big and famous like Sun Valley, local treasures like Little Ski Hill -- and plenty in between.

After first dumping "concrete" on the Cascades, Pacific storms have plenty left for Idaho's northern tier resorts, like at Schweitzer that averages 400 inches a season. Snowstorms dry out a bit as they head across the high ground toward the Grand Tetons, dropping a lighter variety of powder as they go.

Idaho mountains can give skiers and 'boarders all they want, need and can handle. There are the "big boys" like Sun Valley, Soldier Mountain, and Schweitzer. Then an array of solid mid-sized mountains sprinkled about, such as Tamarack, Lost Trail, Pomerelle, and Lookout Pass.

Volunteer-operated Bogus Basin should be on the top of anyone's list for skiing and riding at the edge of town. Opened in 1942 by the famed Engen brothers, Bogus is 16 miles from Boise and has 1,790 vertical feet on a surprisingly large layout of 2,600 acres. As a non-profit operating on private and public leases, ticket prices stay reasonable and lights up five days a week for night skiing.

And, Idaho likely as many nook-and-cranny town bumps as any state in the West -- and each with their own quirks and foibles. For those of us who grew up lapping the town hill after school, this sample of oddball little hills should bring back plenty of memories.

  • Cottonwood Butte's main lift is a 3,000-foot-long T-bar.

  • Little Ski Hill is open 3:30-9:00 p.m. on weekdays.

  • Chipmunk Ski Area has the longest rope tow in America, 300 feet, and $5 tickets.

  • All of Rotarun Ski Area's 485 feet of vertical are treeless.

  • Snowhaven's T-bar was put up in 1972 -- and still running.




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U.S, Forest Service Nixed Lutsen Mountains Expansion Plans


Late last month the U.S. Forest Service rejected the expansion plans for Lutsen Mountains, which were announced in 2014, to expand onto 495 acres of Superior National Forest so it could add more runs, lifts and other facilities, which would have nearly doubled its skiable terrain, according to a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The article cited reasons that included potential environmental effects and treaty concerns that were raised by Native American tribes that live in the area. An 1854 treaty with the tribes gave them hunting, fishing and other rights for the land. Tribal leaders commended the Forest Service's decision.

“Lutsen Mountains is planning to revise its proposal and come back with a new plan that will account for the tribal and Forest Service concerns,” said Jim Vick, Lutsen's spokesperson and GM, in the article.

The permitting process, which started two years ago, must still go through an objection period, according to the Forest Service. But a change to the decision typically doesn't occur without substantial new information being brought forward they pointed out. A final decision is to be made in 90 days, which includes 45 days to submit objections and another 45 days for Superior National Forest to try and resolve them.

“Lutsen Mountains respects the Forest Service decision process,” said Charlotte Skinner, chief of staff for Midwest Ski Resorts, which owns the ski area, in a statement. “We are committed to being an active and constructive member of our community, and will work collaboratively with sovereign tribal nations, local elected leaders and others to improve our area.”

The decision doesn't “impact the resorts existing operations or ongoing improvements on Lutsen Mountains private land,” the release added.

The new terrain was expected to provide more novice and intermediate runs, reduce crowding on busy runs during weekends and holidays, and include new skier service buildings and more parking. Over the last few years Lutsen has had several days on busy winter weekends where they have sold out lift ticket sales. The ski area, which covers 1,000 acres, offers 95 runs, the longest two miles, that fall off four mountain tops. The ancient Sawtooth Mountain chain rises over 1,000 feet above Lake Superior, which is often in sight on many of the runs.

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If Storms Cooperate, New Mexico Can Bring A Full Winter Menu


Nine ski and snowboard mountains in New Mexico drop the ropes each season in hopes of coaxing Pacific storms to sag to the south and bring what can be some of the lightest and deepest snow in the Rockies.

The Rocky Mountains southernmost arm is the Sangre de Cristo Range. It begins in Colorado near Salida, crosses into New Mexico just below LaVeta Pass, and stays elevated past Santa Fe to its terminus at Pecos. El Nińo and La Nińa storms that veer to the southern tier of the Rockies get captured by these mountains and drop some of the fluffiest stuff around. If they veer more northerly, not so much.

So it's clear why most of New Mexico's ski and snowboard resorts cluster in the Sangres. The northern range around Taos holds four destinations. The choice ranges from tight snowboarder haven Sipapu (215 skiable acres); easy-peasy Angel Fire (560 a.); pitchy but gentle Red River (209 a.); and, steep and bulky Taos Ski Valley (1,300 a.) above town of Taos.

All of these are within an hours' drive of each other, with Taos as the "big city" hub with beds, bars and classic red-sauce cuisine. Taos Ski Valley is an Ikon Pass partner, Angel Fire is Powder Alliance resort, and Sipapu takes the Power Pass.

Across the Rio Grande, Pajarito Mountain's 750 acres sprawls along a ridge above the town of Los Alamos. Originally cut for scientists working on the Manhattan Project, it remains a town hill but has gotten some upgrades as a member of the Power Pass family.

Near the south end of the Sangres, Ski Santa Fe pokes up above treeline to 12,075 feet at the summit. A windy access road out of "City Different" Santa Fe reaches a tall and tight hill: 660 acres with 1,700 vertical drop. Expect weekend crowding.

Just off the range, Sandia Peak (200 acres) is an on-again, off-again enterprise on the back side of the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque. Reached by a winding access road or a tram ride from town, the east-facing trails rarely get more than two weeks' of snowfall as season, but 30% snowmaking and a recent infusion of operating capital can offset that.

Owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, Ski Apache nestles on the shoulder of Sierra Blanca Peak (11,981), the most southerly mountain in the U.S. of that elevation and the only real snow-catcher in the region. To augment its locale, Ski Apache covers about a third of its terrain with manmade snow. The summit gondola drops off at timberline, and winds can be high.

An hour-and-a-half drive south, Ski Cloudcroft's 9,100-ft summit rises out of the Sacramento Mountains. A true "town hill," it sits five minutes from the artsy tourist town of Cloudcroft with 70 acres, 750-ft vertical drop, a nice mix among 25 trails, one chairlift, and plenty of snowmaking.



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