Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Having a blast at the Ridge

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 2/21/19

I’ve been re-living my youth the past few weeks at Giants Ridge— and it’s been a blast.

It was my 58th birthday last month that motivated me to make the drive to Biwabik. Some guys reach …

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Having a blast at the Ridge

Posted

I’ve been re-living my youth the past few weeks at Giants Ridge— and it’s been a blast.

It was my 58th birthday last month that motivated me to make the drive to Biwabik. Some guys reach that age and buy a Harley, a sports car, or have a fling.

Me? I went downhill skiing.

As a teenager, I loved to downhill ski. We had a ski club at school and my friends and I were out on the slopes all the time, constantly daring each other to do something ever more crazy. We bombed the steepest hills, lived for the toughest moguls, and looked at every jump as yet another opportunity to kill ourselves. By the end of the season, we usually had bruises from head to toe, but we were young and healed quickly and, more importantly, usually forgot all about our past injuries by the time the snow started to fly the following winter.

We hit most of the local ski hills in the Twin Cities area at various times, although living just north of the Minnesota River in Bloomington, Buck Hill was my usual hangout.

As ski hills go, it wasn’t much, with a middling 262-foot vertical drop, but I lived on the Milk Run, which was short and steep and full of moguls most of the winter.

But my teenage years turned to adulthood and my ski buddies and I went our separate ways. My ski gear was stuck in a back corner of the garage and left to gather dust. Over the years, I hit the slopes once or twice out West, and even a couple times at Giants Ridge, but even that had been at least 25 years ago.

So on a mild Jan. 11 this year I decided to give the Ridge another try with some friends. It was my first time on these newfangled shaped skis, which I rented at the Ridge. I asked for the traditional straight skis, but they don’t even carry them anymore because the industry has gone totally to shaped skis, and after a few runs I understood why. They handle great compared to my 1970s vintage Rossignols, which disappeared somewhere over the years.

A few runs in, it all came back to me, like riding a bike. It was a beautiful day, in the 20s, with sunshine, and I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having. And I especially couldn’t believe how few people were at the Ridge on a mild Friday in January. I’ve been back twice since then, for their $25 evening ski special, which includes rental, and I keep wondering where the kids are these days. Sure, there’s a few out with their snowboards, and some young families teaching their youngsters to ski, but I remember waiting in lines as a kid to get up the chairlift at Buck Hill.

I wonder if folks realize what a fantastic resource our region has in Giants Ridge. Its cross-country ski trails are the best in the state and the downhill skiing blows most other ski areas in the state away. Only Lutsen and Spirit Mountain have a greater vertical drop and only Lutsen has more runs. And with snowmobile and snowshoe trails and a tubing hill, anyone interested in winter recreation is going to find something they like to do— so bring the whole family.

At a time when many ski areas have struggled to survive, with a shorter season, the incredible cost of upgrading facilities, and the shifting interests of young people, it’s great to see that Giants Ridge is continuing to make sound investments for the future, thanks to the ongoing financial support of the IRRRB. If you haven’t ridden the Sarajevo Express to the top of the mountain, you’ll be surprised. It’s smooth and fast, getting you right to the top.

I know I’m gushing a bit here, but I’ve been impressed at all the Ridge has to offer. And $25 for four hours of skiing under the lights, including full rental? That’s crazy cheap.

Even with dinner at the Burnt Onion, it’s an affordable night out for just about anyone.

Of course, it’s like any amenity. If we want to keep it, we need to use it, which is one reason I’ll be back a few more times before the season winds down. They can use the business. Still, there’s that ultimate reason I’ll be back— it’s just too much fun to stay away.

See you on the slopes!

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