My first season pass was at Buck Hill, a place so small that boredom from doing laps on skis made me look into snowboarding. The “Buck Hill” name precedes the ski operation, allegedly stemming from–you guessed it–the bucks that could have, at one time, been seen grazing on the hill, with today. You won’t find any bucks around today, though from many points on the hill you’ll be able to see Interstate 35, which travels from Minnesota, down through the center of the country, and into Texas.
Buck Hill is a day (and night) area where residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area can get some quick turns. Once out in the sticks, it’s now easily accessible from both major cities as well as the southern suburbs that have expanded over the last 40 years.
Its claim to fame is not its terrain (100 acres, 300 vertical feet) but its ski racing heritage. Many adults race in leagues and high school teams seem to take over the place from 3pm until 6pm. Buck has been the training ground for World Cup downhill skiers such as Kristina Koznick (now retired) and Lindsey Kildow Vonn.
The best time to visit is mid-day during the week. Thirteen dollars will get you four hours of riding or skiing, which is more than you’ll need to cover all the slopes if you’re a freerider. An hour will be enough to let you visit all the named slopes, so use the other two to revisit favorite slopes or experiment on various parts of your ski or riding technique.
If you want to try the terrain park or halfpipe mid-day, you’re (mostly) out of luck. Those areas are open mid-day, but they’re not too accessible. The easiest way to lap the halfpipe is to take a dedicated rope tow, which doesn’t start running until 3pm. When the rope isn’t working, you may find yourself having to hoof it uphill to a chair. As far as the park goes, you can get there on a lift at any time, but you may have to be careful to keep your speed at the end or you face a short uphill walk.
I’ve mentioned skiers. How about snowboarders? Steve Fisher, a noted halfpipe competitor, got his beginning at Buck Hill.
Buck Hill claims to have the country’s longest moving carpet, and it may be right. The carpet replaces both a rope tow and a j-bar lift, and gives beginners a nice long, sheltered area to work on their game.
A portion of the carpet is covered, to keep kids (and anyone else) from falling off onto the trail below.
Approaching the covered portion:
And inside it:
One thing I like about Buck is its modesty, starting with the name: not Buck Mountain, Buck Alps or Buck Highland, but Buck HILL.
The folks also have a self-depreciating sense of humor, too. On one of my visits there, I noticed a lift attendant having a conversation with a person who had a “Vail” sticker on his gear.
“We’re like Vail,” the liftie said. “They’ve got snow. We’ve got snow. They’ve got an interstate, we’ve got an interstate.” He laughed.
Finally, a tongue-in-cheek sign that I spotted (I’d love to include it, but I refuse to let it take up your whole screen and I’m giving up on trying to reduce its size after 15 minutes of fruitless labor.) It must have been put in place a couple of years ago, after they added some height to one of the “peaks” and created a couple of new named slopes.
Moose Pass Summit
Buck Hill isn’t Keystone, Vail, or Jackson Hole it isn’t. On the other hand, it has done its share to introduce people to the joys of sliding. Doing laps on a 300-foot hill is better than sitting on the couch eating Cheetos.
If you’d like to try tubing, Buck has that covered, too, with many lanes that are a short walk from the building that houses the ski school and bar.
* Not only does Buck Hill lack the vertical height to have avalanche-prone snow, but the staff grooms everything on a daily basis.