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5 reasons Midwest slopes are great for beginners

Keri Wiginton, Special to the American-Statesman
Snowboard down 500 vertical feet at Devil's Head Resort in Merrimac, Wis. [Contributed by Keri Wiginton]

I’m pretty good on a pair of skis. I can make it down any black diamond in Colorado. But I’m new to snowboarding. And I’m terrible at it. After a year, I can’t even get off the lifts without falling. That’s why I’m glad I learned this snow sport in Wisconsin, where the mountains are more like hills and the hotels are much cheaper.

Here are five reasons why you should think about learning to ski or snowboard in the Midwest.

It’s less crowded

If you go to big resorts like Colorado’s Breckenridge or Vail Mountain, it’s highly likely that you’ll have a lot of company on the lifts. But in the Midwest, you may ride up alone. That gives you more space to get on and off — or plenty of room to faceplant, in my case.

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Fewer people on the lifts also means more space on the mountain. When you’re still learning to control your turns, it’s nice not to worry about running into someone every few feet. You can spread out and take your time getting down.

It’s easier to breathe

When lowlanders ski out West, it can take a few days or more to adjust to the high altitude. This can lead to sleepless nights and exhausting days. And the higher the mountain, the less oxygen you’ll be able to pull out of the atmosphere. My favorite Colorado resorts keep me well above 7,000 feet; the highest peak at Arapahoe Basin reaches above 13,000 feet.

The Rockies far surpass the vertical drops of the Midwest — where runs start out at several hundred feet high, not thousands — but your lungs can get plenty of air. And if you visit for multiple days, you’ll have more energy for the whole trip.

The mountain is manageable

I prefer difficult terrain on my skis. But the moderate mountains of the Midwest are more my speed for snowboarding. Since I live in Madison, Wis., I’m only about an hour south of Devil’s Head in Merrimac — the third largest resort in the Midwest. It offers a 500-foot vertical drop with 30 ski trails. Another popular Wisconsin ski spot is Granite Peak in Wausau. It’s steeper with more runs, offering a 700-foot descent with 74 trails.

For even more options, my husband and I head to northern Michigan. There are two resorts about 30 miles apart: Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands. Some lift ticket packages let you visit both places on the same day. Combined, they offer more than 120 runs with plenty of doable trails for beginners.

Lift tickets are cheaper

You can often ski or snowboard for a third or half the price of anything out West. You can get discounts if you purchase in advance or pair with lodging. The price goes down if you ski during the week or for multiple days. For the 2019-2020 season, one-day adult tickets at my favorite resorts are: $45-$65 at Devil’s Head, $64 at Granite Peak and $60-$100 at the Boyne resorts.

The two most popular national lift ticket passes — Ikon and Epic — both feature Midwest resorts. Depending on which Ikon Pass you have, you can get five or seven days (total) at Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands. For Epic Pass holders, you can ski an unlimited amount of days at Wilmot Mountain. It’s a small resort in southern Wisconsin, about an hour and a half north of Chicago. Epic also includes Afton Alps in Minnesota or Mt. Brighton in Michigan.

There’s something for everyone

Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota are great options if you’re a beginner or if you want to introduce the sport to a timid friend or family member. And since lodging and lift tickets are cheaper, you can learn on a budget.

If you’re an advanced skier or snowboarder, the terrain in the Midwest probably won’t challenge you. But it can still be fun. Plus, you can après ski anywhere.