Local ski resorts bring taste of mountains to the Midwest

By Shannon Smith

Snow bunnies and boarders alike are gearing up for the winter season. These avid snow-carvers await an abundance of fresh powder to meet them as they travel to ski resorts across America.

Winter fun isn’t just for people who live in mountainous areas – there are several ski areas in the heart of the Midwest that are open throughout the winter season.

Sundown Mountain Resort – located just west of Dubuque, Iowa – is one option for a short trip.

Mark Dietz, general manager of the resort, said it’s great to have high-quality ski areas close to home.

“People in the Midwest are fortunate that we have skiing at all,” Dietz said. “The technology of being able to make snow is really great.”

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    Dietz said Sundown is busy with students for the entire break.

    “A lot of the students that go to school here go home over break, but there’s an equal influx of students that come back,” he said. “We see anywhere from 100 to 300 college students daily, depending on the weather.”

    Sundown has 21 trails that run down 475 vertical feet and a nine-acre terrain park. The park offers a special throughout the season known as “Thursday College Days” to entice young skiers. If students bring a valid school ID during regular skiing hours on Thursdays, they will receive discounted prices on lift tickets and equipment rental.

    Although Sundown is not equipped with on-site lodging, Dietz said there are about 1,500 motel rooms within a 10-minute drive.

    If students aren’t looking to commute and want a resort that has all the amenities on site, Devil’s Head Resort in Merrimac, Wis., is one place to look.

    Derek Hellenbrand, director of guest services at Devil’s Head, said many people enjoy the convenience of the resort.

    “It’s nice,” Hellenbrand said. “They come, check in and don’t have to go anywhere for a few days.”

    Devil’s Head offers multiple bars and restaurants within the premises. Hellenbrand said the indoor pool, three outdoor hot tubs and the outdoor fire pits are very popular among the guests.

    “It’s what a lot of people are looking for,” Hellenbrand said.

    Students from the Chicagoland area may find it easiest to travel to Chestnut Mountain Resort in Galena, Ill.

    Stuart Stoffregen, sales and marketing director at Chestnut, said the resort is located just two hours from the west suburbs.

    “Nearly 80 percent of our market is from the Chicagoland area alone,” Stoffregen said.

    Another reason for Chestnut’s popularity is its positive reviews – Stoffregen said Ski Magazine recently ranked Chestnut second out of 150 resorts as the best ski resort in the Midwest.

    “Chestnut has a lot to offer,” Stoffregen said. “We have 17 downhill trails – about 30 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate and 30 percent expert. We also have a seven-acre terrain park, including two half-pipes and tabletops.”

    Sundown, Devil’s Head and Chestnut ski resorts all offer slopes for beginning skiers and snowboarders. In addition to the easier slopes, most resorts offer lessons for first-timers.

    “We’ve got more than 100 ski instructors at Sundown, all nationally trained,” Dietz said.

    For those skiers who don’t want to venture out on their own, WildCountry Outfitters in Champaign has planned a number of mid-week ski trips to local resorts across the Midwest.

    Steve Smith, owner of WildCountry, said the trips are open to anyone.

    “These trips give you the chance to try skiing for a day if you never have,” Smith said. “But it’s a long day.”

    Smith said if the weather cooperates, he believes this skiing season will be a strong one.

    “Over the Thanksgiving holiday, people decided it was safe to travel again, just like pre-9-11,” Smith said. “If people are out traveling to grandma’s house, they might just think to take some time and go skiing.”

    Skiing is not the only form of winter fun this season. Snowboarding continues to be a popular alternative.

    “Snowboarding is growing, but it’s still smaller than skiing,” Smith said. “Young trendsetters are going back to skiing. You can do more on twin-tip skis on a half-pipe than you would be able to on a snowboard.”

    Students on campus find enjoyment in both skiing and snowboarding through the Illinois Ski and Snowboard Club.

    Carl Salamone, senior in aviation and president of the organization, said the main purpose of the club is to plan one large trip a year out to the Rockies.

    “We go with an organization that puts this trip together for thousands of college kids,” Salamone said. “We take about 80 people a year and have sort of a college week at these resorts. There are usually about 1,500 college kids there all together.”

    Salamone, a 20-year-veteran, said the club rotates their trip every year. This year they are going to Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado.

    “Any student can be a part of this trip,” Salamone said. “Our major advertising started on Quad day, and this year we filled up by Oct. 10.”

    While the club’s trip is full, Salamone said he still encourages people to go out this break and try the winter sport.

    “Skiing is fast-paced, exciting and it’s great exercise,” Salamone said.