The Midwest is associated with a lot of things — wind-tousled cornfields, football, and charming towns, but mountains? Not really. However, the region is known for formidable winters and heaps of lake-effect snow — meaning there are still plenty of winter wonderlands to ski in America’s famously flat heartland. And, of course, the town of Ishpeming in northwestern Michigan is credited with being the so-called birthplace of organized skiing in America, as the original home of the National Ski Association, created in 1905 — and now known as US Ski & Snowboard.
And then, tap into the region’s rich winter sports history, and check out the slopes at some of the best spots in the Midwest:
Situated in the village of Boyne Falls, just east of Lake Michigan, the ski area at Boyne Mountain was inaugurated in 1949, with a single run and a lone warming hut. But these days, the year-round resort looks a lot different. In the winter, skiers are treated to 415 acres of terrain, featuring 60 slopes and seven different terrain parks. And, beyond the downhill slopes, the winter sports haven features more than 20 miles of cross-country ski trails, along with tracks for snowshoeing and fat-tire biking.
At Chestnut Mountain, in northwest Illinois, the ski slopes spread over panoramic headlands presiding over the Mississippi River. During the winter, the 220-acre ski area offers 19 trails and a 7-acre terrain park — headlined by a 475-foot vertical drop. Beyond the slopes, the photogenic ski haven is located just ten miles south of the historic mining town of Galena. Once the home of the Civil War general Ulysses Grant, most of Galena’s buildings are in a National Registrar Historic District, and the town offers a spectacular collection of historic houses and museums, along with plenty of cafes and bed and breakfasts perfect for après ski pampering.
Just southwest of Traverse City, Crystal Mountain dishes up 103 skiable acres, spread over the Buck Hill Range in northern Michigan, overlooking the Bestie Valley. The ski hub first opened in 1953 as the Buck Hill Ski Area, with just three downhill runs — and over the last half-century, has expanded to include 58 downhill slopes, six glade areas, and five terrain parks, including a 375-foot vertical drop. For cross-country enthusiasts, the resort also offers more than 15 miles of trails. To maximize time spent on skis, 27 of the resort’s slopes are lit for night skiing, along with 2.5 miles of cross-country trails.
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Situated just outside the town of Wausau, Wisconsin’s Granite Peak Ski Area is among the oldest resorts in the country, luring winter sports aficionados for more than 80 years. The resort first opened in 1937, as the Rib Mountain Ski Area, with just a half dozen slopes. The Rib Mountain retreat continued to expand, becoming the first ski spot in the Midwest to added lighting for night skiing, in 1955. Today, the resort has bulked up to 55 runs, garnering 225 skiable acres of skiable terrain. For thrill-seekers, the resort also offers six tree-studded glades, four terrain parks, and a 700-foot vertical drop, the longest in the state. And, post slope, Wausau offers plenty of creature comforts, from breweries and cafes to boutique hotels and atmospheric ski lodges.
Thanks to generous masses of lake-effect snow courtesy of Lake Superior, at northeastern Minnesota’s Lusten Mountains, skiers are guaranteed plenty of pillowy powder. Nestled into the Sawtooth Mountain range within the limits of the Superior National Forest, the ski area serves up more than 1,000 skiable acres spread over four linked mountains, offering 95 downhill runs and two terrain parks, treating carvers to heady views of Lake Superior. The alpine playground also offers more than 275 miles of trails for cross-country skiers, along with local outfitters offering full or half-day dog sledding tours.
Cradled in Afton State Park within the St. Croix River Valley, and within easy reach of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Afton Alps is one of the most expansive ski spots in the Midwest. The resort first opened in 1963, and has continued to expand, being added to the portfolio of Vail Resorts in 2021. Today, there are almost 300 acres to ski, with 50 runs, along with three terrain parks and five chalets. And, for cross-country enthusiasts, the adjacent Afton State Park offers 12 miles of cross-country trails, along with camping cabins and yurts available for rent year-round.
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