If the weather permits, Minnesota's ski resorts can open at the end of October (at the very least with artificial snow). Otherwise, most are up and running by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. The ski and snowboard season typically extends through March in this northern state and many of its best resorts are within driving distance of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
Hyland Hills Ski and Snowboard Area
Hyland Hills Ski and Snowboard Area in Bloomington, just west of the Mall of America, is the closest resort to Minneapolis and St. Paul. It's right in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, which means it's almost always busy. It's part of the larger Hyland Lake Park Reserve, which offers even more downhill skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoe trails, and a Nordic ski jumping complex. This is a good spot for beginners or for freshening up skills.
This resort in Burnsville, about a 30-minute drive from Minneapolis or St. Paul, offers skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing. Buck Hill is most famous for its ski racing teams and has produced Olympic medalists like Lyndsay Von and World Cup champions like Kristina Kozick. Winter tubing parties can be customized for private parties of 40 or more. When it's warm, you can mountain bike, camp, and attend music concerts at the resort.
Afton Alps is one of the largest snowboarding and snow tubing areas near the Twin Cities. The resort is in Hastings, about 45 minutes southwest of St. Paul. Skiing and snowboarding lessons are available for all ages and levels; group lessons are available for kids as young as 4 years old. Ski and snowboarding equipment, including high-performance ski equipment, can be rented by the day.
Welch Village Resort, about an hour southeast of the Twin Cities, is popular among the local snow sports enthusiasts. Lessons are tailored to all experience levels. Special rates for lift tickets and equipment rentals are available for groups. Welch Village Resort also offers a Night Club Membership, which provides skiers with a free lift ticket after 4 p.m. The events and concerts that are regularly held here are an added draw.
Wild Mountain Ski and Snowboard Area
Wild Mountain is in Taylors Falls, on the Wisconsin border, about an hour northeast of the Twin Cities. It offers skiing, snowboarding, and a separate area for snow tubing that's fun for the whole family. The terrain accommodates all levels from novice to expert with 26 trails spread over 100 acres. Snowmaking and daily grooming ensure action even when there's no snow.
Just over the state line in Dresser, Wisconsin, Trollhaugen is a small resort that's popular for its Friday nights, when it stays open late into the night with reasonably-priced lift tickets and live music. It has a small halfpipe for snowboarders, a bunny hill with a rope tow for beginner skiers, and a long, fast hill for an advanced run.
In Mankato, just under a two-hour drive southwest of Minneapolis, Mount Kato Ski Area offers 55 acres of skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing. There are 19 runs with the longest being 2,800 feet, eight chair lifts, two conveyor surface lifts, and a 240-foot vertical drop. Discount rates are available for kids 12 and under and seniors 62 and up.
Near Duluth is Spirit Mountain, a four-season Adventure Park that has the second tallest ski hill in Minnesota. In addition to the slopes, it has a 3,200-foot elevated coaster ride that winds through the forest and down the mountain at speeds of up to 26 mph. Chair lifts provide beautiful views of Lake Superior and the surrounding area, too.
Lutsen Mountains is a fully-equipped ski and snowboard resort on the north shore of Lake Superior, north of Duluth in the scenic Sawtooth Mountains. It has four interconnected mountain peaks, 95 runs, a high-speed chairlift, and live music and dance parties on the regular. Progression Parks offer jibs and jumps on all four mountains, and the resort boasts the longest slope-style run in the Midwest. There's even freestyle terrain with halfpipes and terrain parks if you're looking for a challenge.