Of all the ski areas in the Twin Cities, Wild Mountain does the most to offer activities in the off-season. You might classify them as air, land, and sea options.
Take a flying leap into the air
If someone says “air” in the context of a ski area, you may think of freestyle tricks such as jumps off kickers or spins in a halfpipe. But in the summer at Wild Mountain, “air” comes from taking a flying leap.
The Freefall XP is a wooden structure at the base of the hill, nestled against the end of some woods that separate two different ski runs.
The structure, a large square, resembles a two-story observation deck, but with a twist. On each level, a portion of the railing is “closed” only by a rope. Remove the rope and you can jump to a giant airbag from U.S. Airbag. The lower deck is 18 feet off the ground, while the upper deck is 27 feet off the ground. The bag itself is 9-10 feet tall, so your actual drops are 8-9 feet and 17-18 feet, but you may find that those drops are big enough.
Your first jump must be off the lower deck. If the attendant sees something not quite right–perhaps you landed standing up–you can have the chance to jump again. Once you jump to the attendant’s satisfaction, you’ll be free to go to the top deck for another jump. You’re supposed to land on either your back or your behind, though people do manage to land in other positions. Landing while standing up would injure your knees if your legs get twisted up when you make contact with the bag. In fact, twisting will put you at further risk, which is why the attendant called me back from gripping the handrail as I contemplated my jump from the high platform. If I had pushed off from the railing, he explained, it’s likely I would have twisted my body during the take-off.
One thing I have liked about skiing and snowboarding is the chance to face some fears and challenges and then overcome them. I have followed several rules for staying safe, and they include “take instructions” and “build up to the more challenging activities.” I also try to listen to my fears, distinguishing minor warnings that can be ignored from major ones that must be obeyed.
The ski industry advocates a gradual approach, too, but unless you’re a child who regularly jumps off objects at the playground, you may find that jumping straight down is anything but a gradual process. I approached the lower platform with some fear, but put that fear in the category of “this is just a warning sign to be sharp when you head out.” After my initial awkward jump off the lower platform, followed by a much better one (let’s call it a 5.7 out of 6), I was ready to go to the top. Or so the attendant told me.
The top platform is another two flights of steps up, which was the first clue I was heading to the big leagues. As I stood near the edge, I contemplated the various calamities that might come my way. Would I suffer a torn ACL, or even worse, a back or neck injury? Or would I do just fine?
I momentarily balked. It’s good to push yourself beyond the comfort zone. But there’s a limit. I’ve skied on some black diamond trails on major mountains, but lately I’ve been dialing it back. Had I come to the summer equivalent of the 30-degree winter slope–“Looks good, but I’m not doing it?”
You see, I’ve been doing some reading about fear, uncertainty, and risky situations such as climbing mountains. The people who go “too far” beyond their comfort zone end up in serious trouble. Sometimes they die.
For some reason I thought jump was scary, but doable. It was beyond my comfort zone, but not too far out. So I decided to stop looking down at the bag. Somehow, looking off into the air — remember, 27 feet off the ground, a space I would soon be in with no scaffolding or wires — calmed me. I looked straight forward, walked off the platform, and concentrated on straightening my legs so I could land in a semi-reclined position.
Once I walked off the platform, it was all over before I could scream. The air pressure in the bag is very low, so you will be hitting a very soft surface. A friend of mine who has jumped off cliffs in the Boundary Waters was pleasantly surprised that the bag was much more forgiving than water. The bag felt much squishier than a jump house that children play in. In fact, it’s so squishy that I found it difficult to walk to the edge of the bag after I landed. I ended up rolling over to the edge, and slid down to the ground.
As for jumping, I’m glad I did it, but I don’t need to do it again. At least not from the top level. Your mileage may vary, though, so take a look at it yourself.
Rules for using the Freefall XP include no diving, one person at a time, and no running off the platforms. It’s also recommended that you remove loose jewelry and tie down your eyeglasses. Jumpers must be at least 46 inches tall, which was no barrier to a 6-year old son of a friend of mine, and everyone must sign a waiver. The waiver, a collection of boilerplate language, warns of risks of “awkward or unintended landings.”
Get some speed on the land with go-karts
Land-based activities at Wild Mountain include go-karts and alpine slides. The ski area’s base is transformed into a picnic area with plenty of picnic tables, charcoal grills, a volleyball court, a horseshoe area, and large canopy tents to shelter guests who want a break from the sun.
There are two go-kart areas, a kiddie one and another one for adults and accompanied minors. The child course is much smaller, with a few items in the middle to define an oval course. The adult course has plenty of twists and turns for channeling your inner NASCAR driver.
The larger course has two lanes defined by paint, and the karts have both a break and an accelerator pedal. If you want to pass your children/parents/siblings/friends while on the course, you’re free to do so. Just don’t crash into the walls. By the way, the karts are surprisingly quiet.
If motor sports don’t appeal to you, head to the chair lift that will take you to the start of the alpine slides, which rely on gravity for their speed.
As you load the chairlift, you will notice attendants loading large plastic, wheeled sleds to the back of the chairs. Walk up to the lift when an attendant tells you and then sit down in the chair. As you make the six-minute trip up, you can scout out Ego Alley, a black diamond trail that runs underneath the chair.
At the top of the hill, employees remove the sleds from the chairs and carry them to a staging area, which is about 60 feet from the top of the slides. The sleds weigh about 25 pounds, so you may need to carry the sleds for younger children. Children who are over 36 inches tall may ride, but if they are under 54 inches tall, they must ride in the lap of an adult.
Two slides/tracks, made of concrete, snake their way down the hill, offering a number of banked turns. A dip of about three feet gives you a chance to feel your stomach rise slightly. A sign at the top of the track warns that there will no racing, but you know it’s going to happen. There tracks are identical in design, but for safety and the flow of customers, guests who are going to be taking it slow or riding with children need to be in the left-hand track.
A joystick-like rod controls your speed. Pull it up and you’ll slow down. Put it in neutral and you’ll move forward. Move it forward some more and you’ll go faster. It does take some effort to push the lever forward from the neutral position, so you you may find yourself using two hands.
By my estimate, you could easily reach 10-15 miles per hour, though a representative of Wild says the average speed is more like 5-8 miles per hour. Either way, speed is relative, and given that you’re sliding inches away from road-rash-inflicting concrete, that may be enough.
Get wet and refreshed on the sea
The water features are divided into two distinct areas. One, furthest away from the lodge, is a cross between a splash pad and a water-infused playground. Two small enclosed slides and one larger open slide are douse with water, as are steps, a rope-rigging net, and other elements. A giant bucket periodically dumps 350 gallons of gallons on bystanders. Fountains, meanwhile, spray water into the air. All of these features sit in a zero-entry pool that reaches a maximum depth of 2.5 feet. There is also a separate, shallow pool nearby for the younger of children. Guests can take up inner tubes and ride them around the two playground, in a lazy river (2.5 feet deep). If you associate tubing with loud, drunken adults, fear not: Alcohol is not permitted within the water area. An employee oversee it all, overseeing the rules and providing another level of safety.
In addition to the splash pad/playground/lazy river combination, Wild has a set of water rides. Most involve an inner tube, and all require walking sets of stairs.
The Big Country ride requires the highest walk up the hill, and in some ways it’s the most disappointing. You’ll carry an inner tube to the top and then descend through 9 chutes that are separated by ponds. The ponds are about 10 feet long, and the flow of the chutes. Several times I got “stuck” in the pond and had to scoot from a rectangular pond to an open chute. As I later described the scene to a friend, she started laughing, picturing me helplessly bobbling on the water like a Ty-D-Bol man hoping to get flushed down to the next level of pipes. As someone from Wild Mountain put it, “the heavier you are, the easier it is to get stuck.
There are three other rides. The highest one is the super chute. It’s an open-flume inner tube ride. Hang on and learn to balance, or you may be flipped off your tube.
The hydrotube is similar. It’s totally enclose, but you’ll have so much light that seeing won’t be a problem. It’s narrower than the super chute, so you won’t get lateral sloshing as much. But it has a small drop that you won’t have in super chute.
But when it comes to drops, the hydrotube is no match for the “black hole speed slide,” another enclosed slide. It requires the shortest walk up the hill, but don’t let that fool you. There were screams during my descent. Oh yes there were screams. Soon after you start sliding away from the entrance, you drop at what feels like an 80 degree angle. If you wear glasses, the ride takes on another challenge. The rules posted at the entrance say “no eyeglasses.” Even though I wore retaining straps on my glasses all day, I took the glasses off for this read. The result was that I didn’t have to fear losing my glasses, but I also couldn’t see very well where I was going. On all water rides, I was afraid that I would get my legs or arms torqued by hitting the side of the slide. Riders are advised to cross both their arms and their ankles before starting out in this ride.
Pricing and other details
If you’re used to skiing or riding at Wild Mountain during the winter, you’ll notice a few changes besides the obvious lack of snow. The ticket counter is moved so that you can conduct your business while outside the building. Also, there are two changing areas inside the chalet. It takes several people four to six weeks to convert the summer activities over to the winter season.
There are a number of options when it comes to purchases. You can buy rides on the alpine slide or go-karts one at a time, or in a three-pack. As with many transactions, you save if you buy in bulk. A “SuperDay” pass gives all-day access to the slides and go-karts, while a season pass extends those privileges for the summer. Water rides are sold on a per-day or per-season basis only. There is special pricing for children, who are restricted in what they can do depending on their height. Children who are under 46 inches tall must wear a water vest (supplied free of charge if you need one). There are no season or day passes for the Freefall; tickets must be purchased one at a time, or as part of the dryland three-pack. If, though, you have a season or day pass, you can make those purchases on a buy-one-get-one basis.
The water features close down for the season after Labor Day weekend, while the alpine slides, go-karts, and Freefall jump continue for a while after that.
Photos courtesy of Wild Mountain