The snow is ready at Huff Hills
Having worked most of his life in, around and preparing for the snow season, Andy Beck knows there are a couple different types of snow.
There is the fluffy white kind that coats the slopes at Huff Hills Ski Area above the Missouri River south of Mandan. And there is the kind that falls in the cities of Bismarck and Mandan. Beck likes both.
“We can compensate for a lot,” Beck said of Huff Hills’ ability to enhance natural snowfall to make good skiing conditions. “But at the end of the day, we need to have snow in town. We call that ‘marketing snow’ and it gets people thinking about it.”
Beck’s Huff Hills opened the second weekend in December and turnout was good despite cold temperatures. It was near the long-term average for opening weekend, dating back to his family’s decision to reopen what had been known as Twilight Hills in the 1960s.
Beck says advancements in snowmaking technology from when his family took over the hills in 1992-93 have given Huff Hills an edge its predecessor never had. And that’s what makes it able to withstand some snow-challenged winters.
“We have leveled the rollercoaster out a little bit in the last few years with snowmaking technology improving,” Beck said. “The worst thing is those completely open winters because you’re trying to get people into that winter frame of mind. As long as there is a little snow, people are thinking of it.”
Beck says the good news is that more and more people seem to be thinking of Huff Hills when they plan their outings. That might be school groups, church groups, former residents and even oil workers from Dickinson.
Beck acknowledges that Huff Hills isn’t the Rocky Mountains, but it’s not trying to be.
“If you’re going out West or somewhere, bring the kids out here first to make sure the equipment fits and get everybody loosened up. You’ll get more out of your vacation,” Beck said. “We don’t compete with those areas, but it’s kind of like an add-on.”
Huff Hills’ season passes will get you a full day for the price of a half at Red Lodge Mountain in Montana. Its passes are accepted on par at Bottineau Winter Park, Frost Fire near Walhalla and Great Bear in Sioux Falls S.D.
For the time being, Huff Hills is open weekends until Saturday, Dec. 21, when it opens daily through the first of January as an outlet for kids who are out of school or home from college and looking to burn off some Christmas calories. Or just to meet up with old friends.
Beck says he has met a lot of good people hanging out in the snow. “It’s a cool industry to grow up in.”
Those who go to Huff Hills are surprised by the 80-acre facility that includes 16 runs, four lifts, a terrain park and a 450-foot vertical drop.
Some runs are wide open, others are more tame and still others, like the terrain park, are gnarly.
“The green lift was predominantly a terrain park for snowboarders,” Beck said. “That freestyle (skiing) is really crossing the line. There are as many kids out on twin-tipped skis as there is on snowboards.”
Twin-tipped skis allow freestyle skiers to do flips and jumps and land backward on skis instead of snowboards.
Beck said the most exciting addition this winter is snowtubing, which he says is a craze sweeping the nation.
“It’s really for people who aren’t skiers or snowboarders who want to be able to enjoy outdoor recreation in the winter,” Beck said.
A handle tow pulls the tuber and tube to the top of the hill and they come down a 300-foot run. “It’s an illusion that you are out of control, but in reality, the lane controls you, like a bowling alley,” Beck noted.
“People always think there’s no opportunities in North Dakota, but there are. It’s one more thing you can do to get outside and beat those winter blahs. We know there are people who aren’t skiers and snowboarders — it ‘s just adding an extra activity for them.”
Beck said Huff Hills has 50 tubes to start with. “We’d like to double the tube fleet this year,” he said. “I think there will be a lot more demand once we get going. Talking to other people, once you open it up, the floodgates get going.”
Beck said the season generally runs through most of March.
Go to www.huffhills. com for more information.
By Scooter Pursley
For the Mandan News