6 Best Minnesota Ski Resorts for Beginners

by Simon Knott | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Best Ski Resorts

So, you’ve narrowed down your search area to Minnesota, but how do you find the best resorts for beginners? Finding easy and progressive slopes and lessons that don’t cost the earth isn’t that easy. So, which is our top pick?

Weighing up all the pros and cons Powder Ridge comes out as the winner of the Best Minnesota ski resort for beginners. It’s a smaller resort so it’s less crowded, has state-of-the-art lessons, and night skiing as well.


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Our Top Picks

6. Coffee Mill Ski Area


Coffee Mill ski area has a grandstand view across the Mississippi River and over the State line to Wisconsin.  If you follow the river north-west, you will enter Minneapolis after 90 miles. The resort is ideal for beginners as it is a compact area and won’t tend to attract crowds like some other resorts.

What’s the Skiing like?

The bowl or ravine shape of the resort acts as a natural feature to achieve several benefits, including more interest on the trails, easier lift ascents, and shelter from cold winter winds.

Coffee Mill has excellent snowmaking, and the trails are groomed daily to make life easier for beginners. Down near the base by the chalet, you will find a simple beginner area with a rope tow to get you to the top. The green run, Singing Hill, is well away from the other runs to give you a bit of peace to practice.

When it’s time to move on, it’s best to stay on the left-hand side of the mountain and use the Barnstormer Chair to the top. If you turn right at the top and take Chippewa Connect, this will eventually fork into two further greens, Chippewa and Kitty Walk.

These will provide good practice, and you are already using the full height of the hill.

When you’ve built some confidence, you can turn left at the top of the same lift and set out on the blue run, Nellie’s Pass, which turns into Barnstormer.


Learning to Ski

Check for opening times as the resort is open Thursday and Friday afternoons, Saturday, and Sunday only. Skiing and snowboarding lessons can be booked for individuals or groups, lasting for 50 minutes, starting throughout the day at 11 AM, 1 PM, 3 PM, and 5 PM. Enquire about discounted ‘learn to ski packages’ for first-time skiers and snowboarders.

Group lessons don’t necessarily need to be booked, but telephone beforehand to organize individual private lessons.

There are two chairs on the resort opposed at 90° to reach the farthest limits. The surrounding forest of birch, oaks, and pines make a dramatic backdrop to the trails.

Off the Slopes

There is no resort accommodation, but the nearby towns of Lake City and Buffalo City offer a range of reasonable lakeside cabins and hotels.

What We Love About Coffee Mill:

  • The mountain provides sheltered skiing on cold, windy winter days
  • The ski area is quiet, as it’s small and won’t attract crowds
  • Amazing views across the Mississippi River

Coffee Mill Stats

Summit Elevation:1150 ft / 350 metres
Skiable terrain: 40 acres

5. Mt. Kato

Ski Resort 4

When you’re standing in the beauty of the mountains around Mt. Kato it’s difficult to believe that Minneapolis is only 90 miles up the road. The three main rivers here, Le Sueur, Blue Earth, and Minnesota, join together and, over hundreds of thousands of years, have carved the fantastic terrain of today.

What’s the Skiing like?

Although Mt. Kato is a compact skiing area, there is still plenty of potential for beginners to stretch their legs and take in most of the terrain on the hill. If you walk in the direction of the tubing park from the lodge, you will come across the beginner area.

Here, you can practice getting on and off Chair lift 4 without the added pressure of other skiers around. Two simple green runs start from here, Timberwolf Trail and Little Beaver, and you can check out the activity at the tubing park at the same time.

When it’s time for more of a challenge, take nearby Chair 3, turn left at the top and join the upper section of Timberwolf Trail back down to the base. In addition, you can take the green Sleepy Hollow, which starts on the opposite side of the hill, not far from where the chairlift arrives.

This is a long, winding route down through a tree-lined trail, which will give you plenty of variety to build your confidence.

Mt. Kato has a good combination of green and blue trails through the forest with a handful of black runs. The elevation is modest at 840 feet (260 m), but that still gives enough vertical fall for 240 feet (73 m), enabling the longest run of 2800 ft (853 m). In total, there are 8 chairlifts and two surface lifts.


Learning to Ski

At the resort of Mt Kato, it’s clear a lot of thought has been put into their lesson program. It covers all eventualities, starting with four-year-old beginners and progressing right through to coaching the Mt Kato race team.

There is a hard-to-beat deal at Mt Kato for adult beginners, where you will pay only $10 per person for a lesson. Aimed at those aged 13 and older, you are expected to rent a complete set of ski equipment. Check out the first-timers section on the Mount Kato website.

Off the Slopes

The nearby towns of Mankato and Silverline offer plenty of budget-priced family accommodation in motels, inns, and hotels.

What We Love About Mt. Kato:

  • It’s a rural location but only 90 minutes from Minneapolis
  • Very competitive $10 first-timer lesson
  • Interesting trails through the trees

Mt. Kato Stats

Summit Elevation:540 ft / 164 metres
Skiable terrain: 55 acres

4. Spirit Mountain

spirit mountain
Photo by MarLeah Cole licensed under CC BY 2.0

Unusually, Spirit Mountain ski resort was the brainchild of the planners at the nearby City of Duluth, where it was founded in 1974. Literally minutes from downtown Duluth the area has become a popular local attraction throughout the year.

The terrain is ideal for beginners; in fact, the majority of the trails are greens and blues which run down through wooded terrain. In addition, the altitude is enough to enable you to enjoy panoramic views of Lake Superior and St Louis Bay.

What’s the Skiing like?

The beginner’s area at Spirit Mountain has been recently upgraded, and you can find it by the Skyline Chalet at the top of the hill. Here you will find two shorter lifts to transport you up the beginner area, which is wide open to give you plenty of space to practice.

From the beginner area, you can move on to the left-hand side of the mountain, where you will find numerous green and blue runs through the trees. From Grand Avenue Chalet, you can take the Spirits Express II Chair or the Double Jaw Chair up towards the summit.

The summit at Spirit Mountain tops out at 1298 ft (396 m), giving a vertical fall of 678 ft (207 m) down the tree-lined runs. Covering 175 acres, the resort has 23 runs, the longest of which is 5400 feet (1600 m). Five chairlifts span the mountainside giving access to primarily green and blue runs with just a few blacks.


Learning to Ski

For younger children, Spirit Kids offers youngsters between the age of 7-13 the chance to take part in a two-hour lesson where they can begin or advance their skills in the snow. The lesson includes equipment and a helmet.

For older kids, the Learn to Ski & Ride Package gives new skiers and snowboarders aged 13+ a 1.5-hour group lesson. These ski and ride packages are specially designed to accelerate learning by using specific beginner equipment, along with easy-to-follow teaching techniques. Spirit Mountain offers private and semiprivate lessons for individual tuition.

Spirit Mountain also offers a well-established adaptive ski program, which has been in operation since 1979. The adaptive skiing and snowboarding program provides one-to-one tuition and techniques that include people of all ages with a variety of disabilities.

Snowfall averages around 90 inches a year, although partial snowmaking helps to make up any deficit. There are two terrain parks, the Large Big Air, for those with lofty plans, as well as Progression Park. Spirit Mountain is a popular destination for snowboarders in the Snow Park. Some runs are floodlit for night-time skiing.

Dining during the day couldn’t be simpler, where you have the choice of the Riverside Bar and Grill and the Moosehead Saloon serving filling family staples.

Off the Slopes

There is no resort lodging but ample choice of reasonably priced hotels and inns nearby Duluth and the surrounding towns. Some of the nearby accommodations offer competitive ski and stay packages.

What We Love About Spirit Mountain:

  • It’s operated by the city of Duluth and aimed to be family-friendly for beginners
  • It’s a compact resort, so everyone knows where they are
  • There are plenty of green and blue runs for beginners

Spirit Mountain Stats

Summit Elevation:1320 ft / 402 metres
Skiable terrain: 175 acres

3. Giants Ridge


Giants Ridge is a perennial favorite for many of Minnesota’s inhabitants, with its celebrated golf course for the warmer months and the local hills giving beautiful views across Wynne and Sabin Lakes. The resort is only an hour north of Duluth and is set in the expanses of the Superior National Forest.

What’s the Skiing like?

Giants Ridge is well set up for beginners and beginner families. There is a dedicated beginner area to start off on, and it’s easy to use the higher lifts to access the numerous green runs on the right-hand side of the mountain.

The beginner area is located near Parking Lot A and South Chalet. Here you’ll find a rope tow and a conveyor lift, which will take you to the top, and you can choose between Greely’s Way and St Moritz.

When it’s time to move on to something more challenging, you’re beside the new, high-speed Sarajevo Chair, which will whisk you to the summit and give you the choice of several greens and blues as you become more confident.

Although lower than some resorts in the State, Giants Ridge has the advantage of a higher latitude close to the Canadian border. The annual snowfall is 62 in, but this is backed up with comprehensive snowmaking on 100% of runs.

There are 35 runs in total running down two flanks of the mountainside, where the trees have been thinned. Runs vary from a few greens to blues and a few blacks.

There are five chairlifts including a new fixed-grip quad and the high-speed Sarajevo to minimize lift lines. advanced. There are two terrain parks, one for beginners and Garmisch Terrain Park for the more experienced.


Learning to Ski

A range of lessons is available at Giants Ridge, both for kids and right up to adults, which can be booked on a private or group basis, and beginners are always welcome. Giants Ridge has a helpful questionnaire on the website if you are a complete beginner or a returning beginner. This helps you to identify your skiing ability so you can choose the correct level of lesson.

Giants Ridge is proud to promote its Learn to Ski Program for youngsters and adults with physical disabilities and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The program is free to participants who meet the requirements.

There are plenty of activities beyond skiing including Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, tubing, and ice fishing among others.

Off the Slopes

Accommodation at Giants Ridge can be conveniently close to the slopes. The Lodge is a condominium hotel, where sizes range from 1 to 4 bedrooms along with a comfortable living space with cable TV and a well-equipped kitchenette for eating in.

Alternative lodging is available at Northwoods, where 1-to-4-bedroom suites are styled for the mountain with feature log furniture and rustic décor.

What We Love About Giants Ridge:

  • On resort accommodation in well-equipped condos
  • 33% of trails are suitable for beginners along with a revamped beginner area
  • Plenty of activities beyond skiing and snowboarding

Giants Ridge Stats

Summit Elevation:1972 ft / 601 metres
Skiable terrain: 202 acres

2. Powder Ridge

Ski Resort 2

Powder Ridge is a popular and compact resort making it ideal for families. The night skiing every night of the week is an extra bonus.

What’s the Skiing like?

Powder Ridge Ski Area has been operating since 1954 and is a compact resort offering plenty of terrain for beginners and beginner families. It’s within easy reach of Minneapolis so that the crowds can descend on the weekends, so if you’re looking for a quieter stay, it may be worth checking out a weekday booking.

Night skiing is available every night of the week, and the tubing park is also open in the evening, with its own laser lights and strobes.

33% of the runs at Powder Ridge are classed as beginner, giving plenty of opportunity to beginners to build up their experience. The beginner area is just in front of The Market Place at the foot of the resort, so it’s easy to break off from practicing and go and grab a coffee.

The beginner area has two lifts, one a conveyor and the other a short, two-person chair, giving access to a larger than usual area to practice. Once you’ve cut your teeth in the beginner area, you are well placed to take the larger lifts, Middlefield and 747, up to the summit.

Keep left at the top, and you can find your way down via green or blue runs as your confidence builds.

There are 15 regularly groomed runs and three chairlifts. Powder Ridge has three terrain parks, Northpark and Southpark, with large features for experienced riders and skiers, while Cedar Park has medium features and jumps.


Learning to Ski

Skiing lessons at Powder Ridge are based on the proven technique of Terrain Based Learning. Students are taught to negotiate specially shaped snow features, which helps them to learn the skills of skiing much faster and also reduces their fears at the student at the same time.

For adults, a learning package of three lessons is offered at a reduced rate. Different from many other resorts, the package at Powder Ridge is all-in. So, it includes three lift tickets, three equipment rentals, and three lessons, and when you complete the course, you get a free season pass.

At the base Lodge, there is a bar and restaurant, while Wi-Fi is free throughout the resort.

Off the Slopes

Powder Ridge doesn’t have any on-resort lodging, but the local town of Kimball has a good selection of reasonably priced inns and B&Bs.

What We Love About Powder Ridge:

  • A good range of beginner and intermediate runs
  • Night skiing is available every night of the week
  • Terrain Based Learning is an ideal technique for beginners
  • Only 70 miles from Minneapolis

Powder Ridge Stats

Summit Elevation:790 ft / 241 metres
Skiable terrain: 60 acres

1. Lutsen Mountain

Photo by Jereme Rauckman licensed under CC BY 2.0

This largest ski resort in Minnesota was originally founded in 1948 and has remained family-owned to the present day.

The beauty of the nearby Sawtooth Mountains, close to Lutsen Mountain, reminds many of New England landscapes, but this is a wilder territory, especially when you take in the spectacular drive to Lutsen Mountain along the Shore Road of Lake Superior.

What’s the Skiing like?

Both young and old are always impressed with the surroundings of Lutsen Mountain. Whether looking inland over the Superior National Forest of birch and pine or over the quiet waters of Lake Superior spreading to the horizon.

Beginners are best to start on Ullr Mountain, which has a beginner area at the base and then a higher lift, which will give you access to a selection of green runs on the same face of the mountain.

When you’re feeling more confident, you can progress across to Eagle Mountain, which has a selection of green and blue runs which you can use to progressively make your runs more of a challenge.


Learning to Ski

Lessons for kids are kept under the reins of Kinderschool, which offers two levels of lessons for the youngest skiers. Level I kids learn to put on their skis properly and how to ski a gentle slope. Lesson 2 moves on to stopping, turning independently, and improving confidence.

The Mountain Rangers classes enable older kids to choose between four different difficulty levels, which have progressively more challenging activities. Private and semi-private lessons are also available where more individual tuition is required.

Lutsen also offers a first-time package, which includes a restricted trail pass, ski rental, and the lesson.

The Lutsen mountains may not be the highest at 1088 ft (331 m), but they make up for it with a vertical fall of 825 ft (251 m). The skiing ranges over a massive 1000 acres offering a total of 95 runs.

Snowfall for the season stretches to 120 inches, while snowmaking can easily maintain 231 acres. Regulars say the best-kept secret is the 60 acres of tree skiing runs.

For a break from skiing, you visit one of the two terrain parks, where you can observe or take part in jibbing, finding banked corners, rollers, and jumps.

Off the Slopes

Featuring a variety of studio and condominium units, the ski-in ski-out Eagle Ridge Resort, is set amidst the flanks of peaceful Sawtooth Mountain. With a restaurant, swimming pool, and sauna, you probably won’t ever want to go home again.

Other local hotels and lodges are available, many of which line the shores of nearby Lake Superior.

What We Love About Lutsen Mountain:

  • It’s a larger, wilder resort but still suited to beginners
  • Beautiful setting with the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior
  • Varied ski in ski out accommodation

Lutsen Mountain Stats

Summit Elevation:1688 ft / 515 metres
Skiable terrain: 393 acres

Why Choose Minnesota for Skiing?

Minnesota has very varied terrain, which lends itself to the individuality of its ski resorts. The largest resort in the State, Lutsen Mountain, can still offer plenty of scope for beginners, while at the other extreme, rural Coffee Mill is fine for beginner day trips. The lower mountains of Minnesota are no longer an issue when it comes to snow coverage, where comprehensive snowmaking in most resorts is now routine.

How Did We Order This List?

To help rank our top selection of ski resorts for this list we compared the following ranking factors:

👨‍👩‍👦 Ranking Factor📈 Power to affect Rank
Amount of Beginner Trails (Mi) 4x
Amount of Skiing Area (Mi) 3x
Cost of two adult tickets + child ticket1x
How many magic carpet lifts1x

We gave each factor its own weighting depending on how important we feel it is for family fun across all ages. For example, a resort with more beginner trails is higher ranked than a resort with a lower-priced family ticket - with all else being equal. That's because while cost is a factor, it's not a primary one. We may also use our editorial judgment to remove or add resorts that we believe should make the list.

When taking all of this into account, it gives us our awesome list above. We hope it was helpful in planning your next family ski vacation.

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Best Ski Resorts for Beginners In Minnesota