A Fire Has Destroyed The Historic Lutsen Lodge

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A fire destroyed the 140-year-old historic Lutsen Lodge on Tuesday, the resort reported on Facebook. It set on the Lake Superior shoreline right across the road from the entrance to Lutsen Mountains and was a popular place to stay during winter months for skiers. They offered ski packages and coordinated lift passes with the ski area as well as offering free transportation for guests up to the ski area.

The lodge had been in operation since 1885 and Minnesota Monthly Magazine called it “the most romantic resort in the state.” I had a post on SnoCountry last month listing it as a great consideration for a romantic getaway, considering Valentine's Day, combining some skiing with a romance package.

It was reported that there were no guests staying in the lodge at the time of the fire, and that it is under investigation. Nine local volunteer fire departments along with Cook County Sheriff's department responded to the scene in the early hours of the morning before daylight to find the building completely engulfed by flames.

It was just last summer that Lutsen Mountains' popular restaurant Papa Charlie's, which overlooked Moose Mountain, burned beyond repair and is in the process of being rebuilt. Both were popular with skiing guests and families visiting and staying at the ski area, which leaves a hole in top quality restaurants available for guests considerations. The closest would be in the nearby towns of Grand Marais and Bluefin Bay, which are about a 20 minute drive from the ski area.

Lutsen Mountains, largest ski resort around the Great Lakes with over an 800-foot vertical drop, offers 95 runs that tumble down four interconnected mountains serviced by eight lifts including a high-speed lift and mid-America's only gondola. They routinely are able to ski through the month of April. Lutsen Resort hosted the North American Snowsports Journalist Association in 2009 when they held their annual meeting at Lutsen Mountains. They stayed four nights at the resort while exploring skiing at the Mountains and winter activities in the Grand Marais area.

 

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Tubing Is Popular In The Midwest

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The Midwest has around 120 ski areas scattered across the Heartland several offer snow tubing, especially across the lower Midwest. It’s relatively safe, something easy to do yet can be a bit of a thrill ride depending on downhill tilt of the slope.

There are over 40 ski areas offering lift served tubing parks. Minnesota and Wisconsin lead the way with nine each, and all the ski areas in Ohio and Indiana offer tubing. It’s become very popular drawing thousands of tubers on busy weekends.

Here’s a quick tour around the Midwest highlighting some of the top ski area tubing parks.

Ohio’s Boston Mills/Brandywine, located just south of Cleveland, and has the Polar Blast Tubing park, largest in the Buckeye State. It offers, when fully open, 20 tubing lanes with two conveyor belts for easy access back to the top. The tubing park has its own lodge for easy warm up, snacks and drinks. They limit sales, buy your tickets online.

Indiana’s Perfect North Slopes, just a stone throw away from Cincinnati and not far from Indianapolis, offers one of the largest tubing parks in the Heartland. There are 23 lanes, even a couple of super lanes to accommodate families, which plunge 1200 feet down the slope and a couple of conveyor lifts for the trip back up. Weekends can be busy, but it doesn’t deter fun-loving crowds.

Hidden Valley, near St. Louis, has the only tubing park in the Show Me State. The popular Polar Plunge Tubing Park offers 16 lanes with two conveyor lifts back up.

Wilmot Mountain, just a few miles north of Chicago along the Wisconsin border, keeps Windy City tubers busy with the tubing park’s 22 lanes and two conveyor lifts. A lodge is available for snacks, drinks and warm up.

Sunburst Winter Sports Park, between Milwaukee and Sheboygan, has one of the top 10 tubing parks in the country, according to an article in USA Today. They offer 50 lanes and two conveyor lifts to keep the fun moving. A tubing café is available for snacks and drinks.

Near the Twin Cities Buck Hill offers a dozen chutes for tubing with a conveyor lift back up. Wild Mountain, about an hour east, has Wild Chutes, which offers several lanes of sledding fun and a conveyor lift. An extra-wide lane is dedicated to double-wide chains. It’s popular on weekends, but handles crowds well.

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Combine Midwest Ski Trip And Romance For Valentine's Day

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With Valentine's Day approaching why not combine a Heartland ski trip with a romantic location and enjoy the best of both. Here are some great choices to consider around the Great Lakes for both great skiing and romantic nights.

Lutsen Resort, nestled along Lake Superior’s north shore, sits literally just across the road from Lutsen Mountains that rises almost 1,000 feet above the lake. The ski area offers 95 runs that tumble down four interconnected mountains. Minnesota Monthly Magazine calls the 140-year-old resort that sits right on Superior's shoreline “the most romantic resort in the state.” They offer a Ski and Stay package available throughout the winter. Combine your lodging with your ski tickets and save on both. Guests are offered round trip free shuttle service to the ski hill, just minutes away.

Wisconsin’s Granite Peak and the city of Wausau make a nice romantic combo. At night the ski area illuminates the mountain rising above the city. The Jefferson Street Inn, located on the town square, offers a romantic getaway. It's just minutes from the ski area, and after a busy day on the slopes enjoy a soak in their hot tub and a dip in the indoor pool. The Inn's Char Grillhouse is perfect for a romantic dinner. Room rates over Valentine's Day start from around $140 per night. Purchase your lift tickets online from the ski area, and the earlier you reserve the more you save.

Chestnut Mountain, near Galena, Illinois, is perched high atop a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River, and offers some of the best skiing in the Tri-State Region, Trails cut through rock bound cliffs look like they take you right to riverbanks. It's a romantic setting with rooms overlooking the ski slopes and river. The hotel's restaurant the Summit Food & Spirits also offers river views and fine dinning. Room rates midweek at that time are around $120 per night. Purchase your lift tickets ahead of time online from the ski area, and save.

The Inn at Bay Harbor, located in Petoskey between Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, offers twenty-percent off lift tickets at either ski area with their Romance Package. They provide flowers, wine and much more in a romantic setting. All you have to do is cozy in, and celebrate your love. Between the two ski areas, about a half-hour apart, they offer over 100 ski trails, multiple lifts including high-speed, and numerous terrain parks. The Inn is one of the more romantic locations in Petoskey, often called the “Nantucket of the Midwest.”

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Time To Apply For Midwest Grade School Kids Ski Passes

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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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Midwest Ski Areas Starting To Open For The Season

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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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Minnesota's Buck Hill Making Improvements

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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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U.S, Forest Service Nixed Lutsen Mountains Expansion Plans

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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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New Lifts Being Added At Some Big Midwest Resorts

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Three of the Heartlands largest ski resorts have added new high-speed lifts to improve uphill access and one also for comfort. The new lifts will be operational for the 2023/24 ski season.

Boyne Highlands is installing the Midwest's first six-person bubble chairlift. It's replaced three older, slower three-person lifts—Camelot, Valley and MacGully. It extends to the top of Upper Camelot slope, which will allow for quicker access to a variety of scenic, popular terrain. The Camelot slope is being extensively regraded to also allow progressing beginners to enjoy the benefits of the new lift. The new lift will be the ultimate in comfort ride. It will have heated, extra wide seats that are ergonomically designed, plus individual footrests. You'll be warm and protected from the elements with a quick three-minute ride to the top in what the Highlands is billing as the fastest ride in the Midwest.

Snowriver Mountain Resort is installing the first six-seat, high-speed lift in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. A much needed improvement it will be replacing three old double chairlifts that took about a 10-minute ride to climb the 630-foot Jackson Creek ski hill, largest in the UP. It's an upside down resort where you start from the top of the ski hill and take the chairlift back to the top where the day lodge and all the lodging is located. The new lift will make it a quick ride back up in about three-and-half minutes, which will mean more slope time.

Lutsen Mountains is installing a new high-speed, six-person chairlift called the Raptor Express on popular Eagle Mountain, which will be their second high-speed, six-seater. Their first was installed a few years ago on Moose Mountain. They also operate the only gondola in the Heartland that takes passengers from Eagle up to Moose, which rises over a 1,000 feet above Lake Superior. It offers 1,000 skiable acres, an 860-foot skiable drop and 95 runs off four mountain peaks, each offering breathtaking views of Lake Superior. Eagle Mountain offers some of the best bump skiing around the Great Lakes.

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New Lifts Scheduled For Some Big Midwest Resorts

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Three of the Heartlands largest ski resorts are going to be busy this summer adding new high-speed lifts to improve uphill access and one also for comfort. The new lifts will all be operational for the 2023/24 ski season.

Boyne Highlands will be installing the Midwest's first six-person bubble chairlift. It's replacing three older, slower three-person lifts—Camelot, Valley and MacGully. It extends to the top of Upper Camelot slope, which will allow for quicker access to a variety of scenic, popular terrain. It will also serve as the primary lift for summer chairlift rides and expanding mountain bike trails. The Camelot slope is being extensively regraded to also allow progressing beginners to enjoy the benefits of the new lift. The new lift will be the ultimate in comfort ride. It will have heated, extra wide seats that are ergonomically designed, plus individual footrests. You'll be warm and protected from the elements with a quick three-minute ride to the top in what the Highlands is billing as the fastest ride in the Midwest.

Snowriver Mountain Resort is installing the first six-seat, high-speed lift in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. A much needed improvement it will be replacing three old double chairlifts that took about a 10-minute ride to climb the 630-foot ski hill, largest in the UP. It's an upside down resort where you start from the top of the ski hill and take the chairlift back to the top where the day lodge and all the lodging is located. The new lift will make it a quick ride back up in about three-and-half minutes, which will mean more slope time. Lutsen Mountains and Granite Peak owner Charles Skinner, Jr. purchased the old Indianhead/Black Jack ski hills last fall renaming it Snowriver Mountain Resort. Look for many improvements over the coming years.

Speaking of Lutsen they are installing a new high-speed, six-person chairlift on popular Eagle Mountain, which will be their second high-speed, six-seater. Their first was installed a few years ago on Moose Mountain. They also operate the only gondola in the Heartland that takes passengers from Eagle up to Moose, which rises over a 1,000 feet above Lake Superior. Travel Blue Book calls Lutsen Mountains one of the “Top Five Ski Resorts You May Not Have Heard Of.” It offers 1,000 skiable acres, an 860-foot skiable drop and 95 runs off four mountain peaks, each offering breathtaking views of Lake Superior. Eagle Mountain offers some of the best spring bump runs around the Great Lakes.

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Skiing Continues Into Mid April At Four Upper Midwest Resorts

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Minnesota's Lutsen Mountains is holding their Meltdown April 14-16, which will feature seven bands over the weekend. You can save up to 40-percent off lift and lodging packages. Three of their four mountains will be open to offer 50-plus runs for your skiing pleasure. They will be open daily through April 9 and reopen for the Meltdown. They originally had planned to stay open weekends through the month as in past years, but due to the installation of their new six-seat Raptor Express Chairlift on Eagle Mountain they will close for the season after skiing on Sunday April 16. The slopes are in prime spring skiing condition having received over 12 feet of snow so far this season, and more is on the way. It's a party on the North Shore.

Ski Brule, located in Michigan’s UP, plans to stay open Saturday and Sundays through April 15. They just received 18-inches of snow on April 1, no fooling. They are fully open and trails are in great shape. Sunday, April 16, is Carload Day. Pack the car as full as you can and everyone in the car gets a free lift ticket for the day. That is supposed to be their last day of the season. With all the snow they have received and the possibility of more during the month they say, on their website, that the operational schedule is subject to change, which leaves the possibility of staying open weekends later in the month. They have skied weekends through April in past years. 

Mount Bohemia, also located in the UP, plans on remaining open weekends through April. Their Nordic Spa will also remain open weekends through the month, which makes the perfect winter weekend getaway. Skiing and spa time afterwards a great combination. All the backcountry skiing is fully open and conditions are in excellent shape. Lift tickets are $87.

Boyne Mountain, in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, is staying open daily through April 9, and possibly longer on weekends as long as the snow holds out. A couple of past years they stayed open weekends into May and often the end of the month.

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Upcoming Fun Events Around Upper Midwest Ski Areas

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April Fools Day may be on the horizon, but no fooling there is still some fun to look forward to on upper Midwest ski slopes. Don't put those skis and snowboards away just yet. Get out and enjoy some of the best slope time of the season with prime conditions and longer daylight hours.

Wisconsin's Granite Peak is hosting an April Fool's Festival, Saturday, April 1, which includes clowns, a circus atmosphere and a cardboard cup race on the slopes in view of the historic deck. Sleds can only be constructed of cardboard, zip ties, & duct tape. The Peak's Pond Skim event took place Saturday, March 25.. Competitors who made it across had a shot at a 23/24 Season Pass, based on judges choice. They remain open daily through April 8.

Mount Bohemia, in Michigan's UP, which remains open weekends through April, is hosting a Beach Party on Saturday April 1. It includes a pool party, and an egg hunt for prizes. Dress up in your best Fools Day costume to hit the slopes. The winner with the best costume will receive two seats for a day in the Voodoo Mountain snowcat next season. There's also a bikini race with the winner receiving a two year season pass. The winner is voted on for both form and the best bikini. An egg hunt also takes place with prizes involved.

Minnesota's Lutsen Mountains is hosting it's infamous and long running Sweetwater Shakedown March 31-April 2. Cool nights and warm spring sun push the North Star State maples into producing sweet maple syrup. It also produces some of the finest spring corn snow skiing around the Great Lakes. Hence the celebration of the sweet water run (maple syrup) with sweet skiing and sweet music with eight bands performing over the three days, day and night. It's one of the best spring skiing events in the Heartland. Lutsen remains open daily through April 19.

Also open daily into April are Michigan's Boyne Mountain open through April 19, Crystal Mountain and Snowriver Mountain Resort through April 2.

All are in good shape with most of their slopes and trails open heading towards April.

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Handful Of Midwest Ski Areas Celebrating Milestones This Season

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Five Heartland ski areas are celebrating significant milestones this season. All have been in business at least 65 years and a couple started in 85 and one 75 years ago, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Pine Mountain, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and Wilmot Mountain, just north of Chicago along the Wisconsin border, opened in 1938, and celebrate 85 years this season. They opened just a couple of years after Sun Valley in the west and Bromley Mountain opened in the east, both credited with kicking off the North American ski resort industry. That first chairlift installed at Sun Valley 87 years ago was purchased by Everett Kircher in 1947, moved to Boyne Mountain and introduced the modern era of skiing to the Heartland. It's still in use hauling visitors to the top of Mountain to hike across the world's longest timber towered suspension bridge that was opened last fall. It's available to walk across year round.

Wilmot Mountain, located just north of Chicago along Wisconsin’s border, also turned 85 this season. Its unassuming vertical drop of 230 feet is offset by its stature with the million or so skiers that have skied here since it opened in 1938. It offers 25 trails, seven lifts and two surface tows to accommodate the large weekend crowds.

Pine Mountain is also home to the Kiwanis Ski Club jumping tournament that draws the best jumpers worldwide every year. Jump Weekend is where the US jumping record was set at 140 meters/459 feet and is still held here. The ski area offers a 500-foot vertical, 27 runs, three chairlifts and two surface tows.

Lutsen Mountains, 75 years old, opened in 1948. It's the largest ski resort around the Great Lakes with a nearly 900-foot vertical, the only gondola in the Heartland, and 95 runs scattered across four mountains. It lives up to its namesake “Mountains of the Midwest.” It's located in Minnesota's Arrowhead offering gorgeous views of Lake Superior from most of it's trails.

Michigan's Nubs Nob and Wisconsin’s Tyrol BasinPine both opened in 1958 and celebrated 65 years in business this season.

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Wild Mountain Keeps Improving Under New Owners

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Minnesota's Wild Mountain, which came under new ownership two seasons ago, has announced plans for improvements again this summer to be done in time for the 2023/24 season.

This summer they are installing a new Skytrac four-person chairlift, which will replace the tired old Chairlift 3 as the main way up the slopes. It was Wild's very first lift installed in 1972. It has served the ski area well, and, in response to several inquiries, they plan on selling the individual chairs to the public. Details aren't available yet as to when and how that will take place. Keep checking the Wild Mountain Facebook page.

They also plan on updating the entrance in a big way. Plans are to modify the entrance into the base lodge with larger doors, windows and a new modern exterior. They also plan on adding landscaping and removing the old schoolhouse building creating a new guest drop-off zone and roundabout.

Last summer the added the new Corduroy Club Bar, a large sun deck and patio. They also proudly announced that they had become a carbon neutral company.

Wild 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. Season passes are currently on sale through April 3. An adult pass is $314, and will be going up $85 on April 4. For those that are currently not existing pass holders they can ski the remainder of this season for $59 with a new purchase. They make $1 donation for each season pass sold to help environmental causes in the area.

Presently they are 100-percent open and don't plan on closing until March 20. If conditions remain prime they may extend the season, which will be determined at a later date. They were one of the first ski areas to open in the Midwest this season, and normally are one of the last to close.

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Midwest Indy Pass Holders Have Until March 21 To Purchase 23/24 Pass On Sale

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It's just been announced that the Indy Pass for 2023/24 is currently on sale through March 21, but only for current and former passholders. The adult base price is $279 and the Indy + Pass is $379 for zero blackout days, according to press release from Doug Fish.

I wrote in an October post, “The Indy Pass for Heartland skiers and riders, with the new ski areas that have joined, is a great choice. Many of the ski areas and resorts are located near each other, which presents an excellent opportunity for several multi-day road trips across the Heartland.”

If you didn't purchase a pass for this ski season the best you can hope for now is to be placed on a waitlist to reserve access to passes before the general public. The waitlist can be joined on the website, according to the press release. The waitlist member opportunity begins on March 24 and ends six days later on March 30. General public sales begin on April 1 if any passes are available at that time.

The popularity of the Indy Ski Pass, according to Fish, led to restrictions being placed on the number of passes to be sold for next season.

“Our passholders choose the pass because it offers access to a fantastic lineup of independent resorts with less crowded slopes. As we grow the last thing we want to do is overwhelm the resorts and ruin the experience for their guests.”

Many Midwesterners buy a season pass for convenience at a ski area near them that they enjoy skiing or riding. If you like to visit a variety of ski areas throughout the season rather than just staying with one you considered purchasing the Indy Pass, which offered the most choices of any multiple ski area pass in the Midwest. It's good at 30 ski areas scattered across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and South Dakota.

It's good at three of the Heartland's largest ski resorts, Lutsen Mountains, near a 900 foot vertical in the Gopher State, Granite Peak, at 700 feet, in the Badger State, and Terry Peak, over a 1,000 feet, in South Dakota's Black Hills.

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Upper Midwest Ski Resorts Offers Great Spring Break Opportunities

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Looking for some opportunities to ski over spring break? You don’t have to head out of the Heartland to find plenty of opportunity across the upper Midwest. Save on travel time, expense and enjoy some prime late season slope conditions as well as some great activities.

 Lutsen Mountains along Lake Superior’s north shore has good snow depth and plans on staying open daily into April. With its nearly 1,000-foot vertical drop and 95 runs scattered over four mountains it offers plenty of choices to keep you exploring for days. It lives up to its namesake “Mountains of the Midwest.”

 They are offering a couple of family packages that are good through the end of March. A family spring break package offers 40-percent off on a five night stay. Family Festival Weekend, March 24-26, free rentals are included with adult and child family festival lift tickets. There's family entertainment, a pizza party and fireworks over the mountain.

 Ski Brule, located in Michigan’s UP, is fully open and plans to stay open through April. They are offering College Spring Break, March 16-26. Show your College ID and your lift ticket is $60. It also includes, from $282 per person, a weekend that includes two night's lodging, lift tickets, breakfasts, Lunches, and one dinner. Lodging package is valid for college students.

 In Michigan’s Lower Peninsula Boyne Mountain is putting a new spin on there Carnival Weekend, March 17-19, also well known as Crazy Days among Heartland skiers. There will be plenty of music with mixologists spinning beats from top to bottom of the Mountain. It includes a St. Patty's Day party in the Snowflake Lounge Friday night, a costume contest on Saturday at Disciples Overlook, and the Slush Cup Sunday at the base of North McLouth.

Crystal Mountain is offering a Hot Lodging Dates with up to 25-percent off on select dates through the months of March and April. Daily activities will be taking place. For families staying at Crystal, kids six and under sleep and eat breakfast free (up to two kids eat free, per paying adult). They are fully open with 59 trails. During the month they are hosting some great weekend activities including Spring Carnival March 11, St. Patrick's Day March 18 that includes a kayak race down the Mountain, and Retro Party Day March 25. Bring back your decade in costume and win a prize.

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Indy Ski Pass Road Trip To Michigan's Western Upper Peninsula

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In the 1980s and early 1990s one of my favorite Michigan road trips from the Lower Peninsula was to the western side of the Upper Peninsula. You had four nice Midwest ski resorts to visit. Spending at least four days skiing all of them was a treat, and at that time they cooperated so that staying at one allowed you to ski all the others. Sometime in the 1990s they ceased to cooperate. You could ski all four, but it was all individually and no more cross ticketing.

The resorts are still there, although with Lutsen purchasing two of them, Indianhead and Blackjack, and re-branding them as one under Snowriver Mountain Resort you now ski them as one resort. Big Powderhorn and Whitecap Mountains are still independently operated. With the Indy Ski Pass, which all are part of, you can again enjoy skiing all four with one road trip. That means at least six days of interrupted skiing bliss. 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.

Nearby Ironwood, Michigan, which is in the middle of the resorts, offers several lodging choices, or you could stay at one of the resorts. They all offer lodging and restaurants. The driving distance between all three is less then a half-hour.

Snowriver Mountain offers two ski areas, Black River Basin and Jackson Creek Summit, that operate as one resort. They offer over 400-acres of terrain, a 670 vertical drop, 15 lifts, 55 trails, and multiple terrain parks between them.

Big Powderhorn offers a 600-foot vertical, 45 trails, terrain parks, and nine lifts. They ski and ride off two mountain peaks.

Whitecap Mountains is located just across the border on the other side of infamous Hurley, Wisconsin, which was known for its rowdier days during prohibition as a popular getaway for Chicago gangsters. The town still has a party atmosphere. Whitecap offers a 400-foot vertical, 43 trails, five lifts, and skis off three Penokee Mountain tops. It's got some of the most western-like terrain in the Heartland.

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Skiing Along The Big Muddy And Its Tributaries

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When those outside the Midwest think of the mighty Mississippi River they think riverboats, gambling and long barges hauling grain. Heartlanders know there's also a few ski areas, Chestnut Mountain, Sundown Mountain, Mt. La Crosse, Coffee Mill, Welch Village and Afton Alps located along the northern reaches of the river and its tributaries in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Perched along craggy bluffs and ridges overlooking the wide Mississippi River valley and its tributaries these ski areas provide some of the most interesting terrain in the Midwest from long blue cruisers to surprising steeps.

Chestnut Mountain is the only full service resort and sits right above the river offering stunning views, a hotel, restaurants and lounges. Located above historic Galena, Illinois it offers a 475-foot vertical, 19 trails cut through rocky bluffs and the seven-acre Far Side Terrain Park.

Sundown Mountain is perched on a river escarpment above Dubuque, Iowa, from which you can see three states, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. A couple of day lodges sit atop the upside down ski area with a 475-foot vertical overlooking a scenic valley once a tributary of the Mississippi. The majority of its 21 trails and slopes are rambling cruisers with a few quick, steep shots. There are also two terrain parks.

 Mt. La Crosse, located just south of La Crosse, Wisconsin, is a delightful sprawl of knolls, chutes and headwalls with a 512-foot vertical. It's home to some of the steepest runs in the Midwest and some are nearly a mile long. With its quaint day lodge, the ski area feels much like a New England mini-Stowe.

Coffee Mill, located about a half-hour south of Red Wing, Minnesota, is a small community run area with a 425-foot vertical offering some great skiing with long runs. It sits back in a horseshoe shaped canyon with nice views of the river valley. Some of the best advanced ski runs in the Heartland, long and western like.

Welch Village, located just 10 minutes north of Red Wing overlooking the Cannon River valley, skis much bigger than its 360-foot vertical. They ski off off two peaks with a nice variety of 50 runs and eight chairlifts. It even has a back bowl.

Afton Alps, located just minutes north of Welch near Hastings, Minnesota, is another sprawling Midwest ski area offering 48 runs, 18 chairlifts and a 360-foot vertical. It's only about 20 miles south of St. Paul. It overlooks the scenic St. Croix River valley. Nicely spread out it absorbs crowds easily.

Like the “Old Man River that just keeps rolling along,” these ski areas have been catering to Heartland skiers for over 60 years. The deep river valleys gouged out by retreating glacial waters centuries ago provide some of the best skiing in the hinterland.

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Skiing Will Be Available In Upper Midwest For Thanksgiving Holidays

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Recent snow and cold weather are providing an early start to the Heartlands ski season, which is a nice departure from last year when ski areas mostly remained closed over Thanksgiving weekend and had a rough start even in December making enough snow to be fully open over the Christmas holidays.

An early arrival of winter and temperatures cold enough for snowmaking across the upper Midwest are going to allow some ski areas to be open for the Thanksgiving holidays. Minnesota will be offering the most openings with a few in northern Wisconsin and a couple in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The Lower Peninsula ski areas at this point have not announced opening dates, but some have already fired up the snowmaking and hopefully that will come soon.

A couple of ski areas, Wild Mountain in Minnesota and nearby Trollhaugen across the border in Wisconsin have already opened for the season. Afton Alps, Powder Ridge, Andes Towers Hills and Lutsen Mountains are planning on being open this weekend Nov. 18 and 19. Buck Hill is opening on Nov. 22, with Spirit Mountain and Giants Ridge scheduled Nov. 25.

A couple of other Wisconsin ski areas, Cascade Mountain and Christie Mountain are planning on opening over Thanksgiving weekend.

 n the Wolverine State's UP both Snowriver Mountain Resort and Ski Brule are planning to open this coming weekend, Nov. 19, for the season.

Huff Hills Ski Area, located near Bismarck in North Dakota, is opening for the season on Nov. 20, which will mark their earliest opening ever in the 30 years it has been a ski area. Illinois' Chestnut Mountain plans to open Nov. 26, also one of their earliest openings.

In early season it's always a good idea to check the ski area for conditions before making a long drive. Weather can change in just a few days. You can also log onto Snoountry Snow Reports for an up to date review of what's open and conditions.

 

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Midwest Ski Associations Offer Grade School Kids Ski Passes

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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.

Michigan’s Cold is Cool Ski & Ride Passport program offers students’ three free lift tickets at 29 participating ski areas scattered throughout the state and additional discounts on the slopes and at participating ski shops. Families obtain a Passport App for their students that gives them up to three 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 & trails in the winter.

The Passport is an app to download on your phone, making it contactless at the lift ticket window. Once the application is complete, you will receive an email with instructions on how to download the app. You can also show proof of grade at a participating ski shop and gain instant access to the Cold is Cool App. The Passport also includes a coupon for 20% off a helmet purchase and $20 off the purchase of $100 at participating ski shops across the state. Some ski areas have also included coupons for equipment rental and free or discounted lessons.

All Minnesota 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.

Kudos to the associations. It bodes well for the future of Heartland snowsports programs.

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The Indy Pass Is An Excellent Choice For Midwestern Skiers

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The Indy Pass for Heartland skiers and riders, with the new ski areas that have joined, is a great choice. Many of the ski areas and resorts are located near each other, which presents an excellent opportunity for several multi-day road trips across the Heartland.

Many buy a season pass for convenience at a ski area near them and 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 30 ski areas scattered across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and South Dakota.

Several of the 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 over a week long trip. There are trips like that in northwestern Lower Michigan, Upper Michigan, northern Wisconsin and Minnesota around the Great Lakes. The Indy Pass is also good at three of the Heartland's largest ski resorts, Lutsen Mountains, near a 900 foot vertical in the Gopher State, Granite Peak, at 700 feet, in the Badger State, and Terry Peak, over a 1,000 feet, in South Dakota's Black Hills.

The pass is currently on sale through November at $329 for adults and $149 children for the regular Indy Pass that does have blackout dates at some of the areas. The Indy+ Pass is $429 adults and $199 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. Once your Indy Pass has been registered you simply go to the ticket window, get your lift ticket with your driver's license or photo ID for each day you wish to ski or ride.

For Midwest road trips it doesn't get any easier to combine ski areas for easy access and multiple days of skiing and riding. Of course it is also good at 70 other ski areas across the Lower 48, which means it’s easier than ever to maximize both your turns and your season.

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