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.
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.
Frost Fire Park, located just six miles south of the Canadian border near Walhalla, was seeking help through a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $50,000 in order to repair its ski and mountain bike trails this past summer. Spring flooding caused hundreds of thousands of dollars to the park's downhill trails. The area where skiers lined up to board the area's only chairlift was reported to be a ravine this summer.
They are planning on being open this winter at last report, which is good news for skiers in that region. The small ski area, popular with with Canadian skiers from Winnipeg and nearby Grand Forks, North Dakota, is not immune from adversity, but has always managed to overcome problems.
The Pembina Gorge Foundation purchased the ski area the summer of 2017 and found the old chairlift needed to be replaced right after the purchase and lost the ski season of 2017/18 while raising money for a new lift. There are only three ski areas in the state. Skiers don't have a lot of choices in this part of the Midwest. Bottineau Winter Park is located in the nearby Turtle Mountains, and Huff Hills is located four hours south near Bismarck.
Frost Fire, which first opened in 1976. The ski area has a 350-foot vertical, which is decent for this part of the Midwest. It offers a quad chair, seven runs and a terrain park. When the Pembina Foundation bought the ski area they opened a day lodge with restaurant to stay open year round. Summer activities include an outdoor amphitheater, hosting a youth arts camp, and offering eight world class mountain bike trails, racing and lift service. Long range plans when they took over the ski area also called for brining kayaking, canoeing, a campground, fossil digging, and educational programs to the Pembina Gorge Recreation Area.
North Dakota has only three operating ski areas and all are located more in the center of the state and not along the more populated eastern border with Minnesota. Bottineau Winter Park is located along the Canadian border and Huff Hills Ski Area is near Mandan along the western slope of the Missouri River. Frostfire is located north of Fargo on the Canadian border. Fort Ransom's Bear Den Mountain, located south of Fargo, had closed several years ago.