Hyland Ski & Snowboard area is small even by the standards of the Twin Cities ski world. It has fewer than 50 acres of terrain, making it one of the smallest lift-served areas anywhere. Still, Hyland has its charms and it serves as a convenient place for many Twin Cities residents. If you’re nearby, it’s worth a visit.
The chalet and parking lots
The word “small” applies to Hyland in many ways, including its parking. There are about 130 parking spots near the chalet, so the lot will fill up early on busy days. There is, though, an overflow lot about a mile down the road. A mini-bus shuttles customers between the two lots as required. At most other ski areas in the Twin Cities, there’s a good chance you’ll have to park on dirt, which means that spring skiing can mean a muddy trek to the lodge. You won’t find that at Hyland, as both lots are paved, and slated for improvements in 2014.
To get from the parking lot to the chalet, you must walk up 19 steps, which are separated into two flights. It’s not ideal, but about the same that you’ll experience at the main lodge at Welch Village. (Here’s a pet peeve for staircase travelers: If the stairs are divided by a handrail, walk up — or down — with the handrail to your left. Thank you.) On busy days, you may have to get your ticket at windows near the curbside; otherwise, head up the stairs and hang a left.
The rental shop is next to but separate from the chalet, so if you have your own gear, you can avoid some of the crowds by skipping it. The interior of the chalet feels dark and could use some lighting. But it has some good qualities, too. The water fountain works well, and even has a helpful dispenser so that if you carry a water park or water bottle with you, you can easily fill up. The seating is cafeteria style, with seats attached to the tables. Boxes of facial tissue are placed throughout the chalet, including near the doors.
You’ll find small wooden cubicles at your disposal, but storage hogs who bring in a tub o’gear (like me) will feel the pinch. Rental lockers, leased by the season, are outside. The property is fenced and gated when it’s not in use, so the lockers should be safe. The ski areas is part of a park district that has its own police force.
If you want to mix some business and pleasure, there is free wi-fi in the chalet, though be prepared to run on batteries. If you want some locked storage inside (say, for a tablet or small computer), head downstairs, where you’ll find some small lockers. They cost either 50 or 75 cents, based on size, and you’ll have to pay for each time you close the locker. Prices depend on size.
There’s a small loft that you can use to get away from the hustle and bustle. When the ski school isn’t using it, it makes for a smaller space with good views onto the slopes.
The food service is easily accessible from within the chalet. On the day I was there, the staff was cooking bacon. Alas, they weren’t selling any, but stockpiling it for use in hot breakfasts that are served on weekends. On weekdays, you can choose from muffins, bagels, cold cereal, or peanut butter crispy bars. For breakfast I ate some breakfast cereal and a peanut-butter bar. At lunch I ordered a chicken sandwich that was large, breaded, and about what you would expect from a ski lodge. My only complaint with the sandwich was that barbeque sauce wasn’t among the free condiments available: I had to return to the cold case to pick out a too-large package of sauce that cost fifty cents. If you’re cheap, remember this: You’ll have to pay for an empty cup for your water.
The restrooms are not fancy, but better than those of comparable ski areas. You don’t have to walk down a flight of steps to get to them, which is always a bonus, and they’re pleasantly lit.
One quirk of the chalet is that suffers from a surplus of choices when it comes to disposing your lunch stuff. One rack of “trash” bins offers five choices, and at least once I had to stop to read the labels to find out which one I was supposed to use. Is that a cup that has been drained of pop but still holding some ice trash, paper, or compost? Also, there’s no bar on site.
Whatever you think of the chalet, hold your opinion lightly. Hyland has plans to raze it at the end of the season, and build something new. It has set up a website that offers floor plans, plus drawings for new parking lots, and other information about the $14 million project.
Once you get outside the chalet, you’ll have to go up a couple of steps, which isn’t ideal, but isn’t bad, either. Right outside the chalet is a free equipment check, which provides peace of mind and an uncluttered base.
Hyland has three chairlifts. As you look at the hill from the chalet, you’ll be looking east. On your left is the south chair, with the north chair on your right. As is usual for the Twin Cities and most of the Midwest, the lifts are fixed-grip (steady but slow). Each seats four passengers. On the day I visited, the unloading area of the northern chair (which serves more advanced terrain) was the steepest of the three. I can see that it might cause problems should it turn icy. The lift attendants were friendly; two of them asked by the resort stickers on my snowboard, while the third politely and adequately answered some of my questions about the area.
Hyland also has three rope tows. One, at the extreme northern end of the area, is dedicated to racing teams and events. Two other ropes, side-by-side, serve the two terrain parks. If you’re one of the rare freestylers who like to avoid rope tows, you can get to the parks by taking the north chair and then sliding back south to the top of them. Just know that you’ll have to skate back to the chair, however. For beginners, there are two carpets between the south and center lifts. That’s good; beginners and ropes should not mix.
The snow was nicely groomed the day I was there, and even as noon approached, I was carving into fresh corduroy. I expect that the situation would be a bit different once school let out for the day and traffic on the snow increased.
If you’ve never been to Hyland and would like to get a good feel for it all, start at the south chair and work your way toward the north. You’ll find several routes away from the top of the south chair, including a winding green slope and a more straight-fall-line blue slope. There’s a bit of a slideslope toward the south of the blue slope, so keep that in mind as you descend. In addition, you can make a lap on the other side of the lift towers by taking Tattle Tale, but riders may find the sideslope there a bit awkward. Tattle Tale is also subject to some cross-traffic, so watch your surroundings during busy times. Sitz is a black slope served by the same lift. Be sure to keep your eyes on, as it merges with some other trails as you approach the loading station.
To be truthful, this isn’t the best part of Hyland. Take a few laps here, and then move on. Moving on, though, is a bit of a chore, whether you’re on skis or a board. The loading station of the south chair sits downhill from the area just outside the chalet (and the loading area for the center chair), so you may have to use ski poles or a skating technique. Granted, you could try tearing it up down the slopes and then carrying some speed up the incline, that’s a risky proposition. The channel between the the base of the slopes and the ski patrol/instructor building (next to the chalet) is narrow and sometimes filled with skiers and riders making their way around.
You could try getting from the top of the south chair to the chalet or the loading area of the center chair by taking Ridge Run. But that trail, oddly enough, has a slight uphill. The day I was there I saw a ski patroller resort to polling in that area. It also has a sideslope that drops you into a ravine, and I found myself heading in that direction as much as I did going toward the base of the area. On my two trips down Ridge Run, I came to a stop and had to scoot myself with my hands. So while it’s worth checking out the South chair, don’t expect to easily go to and from it and the rest of Hyland.
The terrain served by the center chair isn’t that interesting, but make a few laps anyway before heading toward the terrain park. Even if you’re like me and avoid riding or skiing in parks, stand below them and watch the action for a few minutes. You just may see some of the best freestyle riders and skiers in Minnesota performing tricks working on new moves or even strutting their stuff.
Head north, snow slider
Assuming you’re not going to linger in the park, the place at Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area awaits for you from the north chair. If there’s not a ski team at work, make some laps on Big Moe (blue), which is near and under the lift. Use chair lift towers as pylons, or take tighter turns. Even further north than Moe is French Cliff, which provides a hint of of a steeper pitch. (If the snow happens to be icy, of course, the challenge level will go up.) On the day I was there, it was a delight to ride. It felt open and briefly reminded me of some much longer descents I have taken in Colorado, California, and other locations. The only problem with French Cliff is that base of the chairlift is such that you’ve got to either take a traversing descent or quick and speedy cut-over at the end to get there. Opening up the rope tow at the northern edge of the slope to the general public would expand the perceived width of the slope.
The northern chair has a couple of curiosities, by the way. There is not one but two race houses, straddling either side of the top tower. The top-of-the-hill control shack, meanwhile, is located uphill from the unloading area, not, as is common, adjacent to it. The placement of the shack has no implications for the guest experience, but it is something that caught my eye.
The bad thing about using the north chair, unfortunately, is that you will most likely have to pole or skate to get to the loading area for the first time. The land at Hyland doesn’t funnel the slopes into a common area that allows for the chairs to be placed in close proximity, and the walk from the center to the north chair can feel just too long. If you’re OK with using ropes, you could take one of those along the side of the terrain park, and then make a slight uphill walk to the top of Big Moe.
I could fly
I’ve already mentioned the two start houses, but the top of the north chair features two other unusual sights. First, there’s a substantial view of host city Bloomington, which is the fifth largest city in the state and third largest in the metro area. A second and more unusual feature, though, is the Bush Lake Ski Jump facility, operated by the Minneapolis Ski Club, and on the same piece of property as the downhill area. A short video from a local TV station, complete with a reporter who has never had skis on her feet in her life, gives you an idea of what it’s like.
While you’re probably not going to see anyone use the jump while you’re standing at the top of the north chair, the sight of the jump is a good reminder of how broad the world of snow sports is.
As you’d expect from anyone in the lift-served business, Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area has a number of programs, including lessons for all ages, racing programs, contests, and various clinics. It’s one of the few places where you can take lessons in telemark skiing. Women snowboarders may appreciate groups lessons specifically designed for them. Hyland is located in the Hyland Lake Park Preserve, which also offers some good opportunities for Nordic skiing, complete with snowmaking and lights for night skiing. You’ll have to get in your car to drive to a spot roughly southwest of the downhill area, but it’s worth the drive for a good place for skinny skiing. There is, though, no tubing area around.