6 Best Minnesota Ski Resorts for Families
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Feel like you’ve been checking out the best family resorts and getting nowhere? Finding great accommodation and ski school that the kids will enjoy is a tough call. Browse our top pick of family-friendly resorts in Minnesota and see what the State has to offer.
Nearly all resorts now offer ski schools for kids and for adults who need a refresher. You don’t always need to spend long on a course, so you can have more time skiing as a family. Many more resorts now have adaptive courses allowing those with disabilities to enjoy the snow.
One of the overriding themes of all these resorts is their hope to see families enjoying themselves together.
Our Top Picks
6. Coffee Mill Ski Area
Coffee Mill ski area has a grandstand view across this narrow section of the Mississippi River and over the State line to Wisconsin. It was named Coffee Mill after a historic navigational point on the river. If you follow the river north-west you will enter Minneapolis after 90 miles.
Fun for Kids
Lessons can be booked for individuals or groups and last 50 minutes, starting throughout the day at 11 AM, 1 PM, 3 PM, and 5 PM. Group lessons don’t necessarily need to be booked but telephone beforehand to organize individual private lessons.
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 relief from the winter wind.
There are two chairs on the resort opposed at 90°, to reach the farthest limits. The 10 runs are equally divided between green, blue, and black. The surrounding forest of birch, oaks, and pines make a dramatic backdrop to the trails. Coffee Mill has snowmaking, and the trails are groomed daily.
The resort sees its role as family-friendly, offering discounted family season passes and discounts for the ‘learn to ski package’ for first-timers.
Off the Slopes
There is no resort accommodation, but the nearby towns of Lake City and Buffalo City offer a range of lakeside cabins and hotels.
What We Love About Coffee Mill:
- The mountain provides sheltered skiing on cold, windy winter days
- Discounted family season passes and some lesson packages
- Amazing views across the Mississippi River
Coffee Mill Stats
|Summit Elevation:||1150 ft / 350 metres|
|Skiable terrain:||40 acres|
5. Mt. Kato
The mountains around Mt. Kato have been carved over the millennia by the confluence of Le Sueur, Blue Earth, and Minnesota rivers. The hills and valleys have created a natural resource that can be enjoyed by many all year round. The nearby city of Minneapolis is only 90 min by road
Fun for Kids
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.
Sweeping over the wooded hillside of Mt Kato the 19 runs span an area of 55 acres.
There is 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
The three terrain parks are spread across the resort with each offering different features. Snow Tubing is a popular pastime at Mt Kato, and everyone is welcome so long as you are 42 in or higher.
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
- The eight chairlifts will keep lift lines shorter
- Interesting trails through the trees
Mt. Kato Stats
|Summit Elevation:||540 ft / 164 metres|
|Skiable terrain:||55 acres|
4. Spirit Mountain
Unusually, Spirit Mountain ski resort was the brainchild of 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 provides interest for beginners and intermediates who can also enjoy panoramic views of Lake Superior and St Louis Bay.
Fun for Kids
Younger kids can now benefit from the recently upgraded beginner’s area at Spirit Mountain. 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 on the snow. The lesson includes equipment and a helmet.
For older kids, the Learn to Ski & Ride Package gives budding skiers and snowboarders aged 13+ a 1.5-hour group lesson. Spirit Mountain also offers private and semiprivate lessons for individual tuition.
The elevation 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 mostly green and blue runs with a few blacks.
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.
Spirit Mountain is a good family destination, where the size of the resort enables parents to let their kids go their own way. 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 there is ample choice of reasonably priced hotels and inns in nearby Duluth and the surrounding towns.
What We Love About Spirit Mountain:
- It’s operated by the city of Duluth and aimed at families
- 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.
Fun for Kids
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. Giants Ridge has a useful questionnaire, which helps you to clearly 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/or youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The program is free to participants who meet the requirements.
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 smattering of blacks.
There are five chairlifts including a new fixed-grip quad and the high-speed Sarajevo to minimize lift lines. Runs are classed as 33% beginner, 50% intermediate, and 17% advanced. There are two terrain parks, one for beginners and Garmisch Terrain Park for the more experienced.
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
- 100% snowmaking capability
- Plenty of activities beyond skiing and snowboarding
Giants Ridge Stats
|Summit Elevation:||1972 ft / 601 metres|
|Skiable terrain:||202 acres|
2. Powder Ridge
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.
Fun for Kids
Lessons can be booked as Private if you want to use your tuition to concentrate on specific goals. These one-hour lessons cost $70.00. Alternatively, switch to a semi-private lesson, which again lasts for one hour but where other members of the same party can join in at just $40.00 each.
Powder Ridge Ski Area is a compact resort offering plenty of terrain for beginners and intermediates. It’s only 70 easy miles from Minneapolis so the crowds can descend on the weekends, however, there is night skiing every evening.
Powder Ridge has been operating since 1954 and the runs are spread over the front of one mountain, giving a vertical fall of 300 ft. The longest run is 1500 ft. Night skiing is available every night of the week and at the tubing park, which has its own laser lights and strobes.
The runs are broken down into 33% beginner, 40% intermediate, and 27% advanced.
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.
For adults, a learning package of three lessons is offered at a reduced rate. The package 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 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
- The reduced-price ski lesson package for adults
- Only 70 miles from Minneapolis
Powder Ridge Stats
|Summit Elevation:||790 ft / 241 metres|
|Skiable terrain:||60 acres|
1. Lutsen Mountain
This largest ski resort in Minnesota was originally founded in 1948 by George Nelson and it has remained family-owned to the present day with Charles Skinner, the ski area pioneer, and the current owner. Initially, the nearby Sawtooth Mountains close to Lutsen Mountain remind many of New England, but this is wilder territory especially when you take the spectacular drive to Lutsen Mountain along the Shore Road of Lake Superior.
Fun for Kids
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 difficult activities. Private and semi-private lessons are also available where more individual tuition is required.
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.
The mountains are Lutsen 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.
The difficulty of runs is fairly evenly split giving good variety for beginners and experts. 18% of runs are beginner, 47% intermediate, 25% advanced, and 10% expert. Snowfall for the season stretches to 120 inches, while snowmaking can easily maintain 231 acres.
Lift facilities include an eight-passenger gondola, a six-passenger high-speed chair, a triple chair, and four double chairs. Traversing the four mountains making up the resort Lutsen Mountain has a reputation for wide cruisers and diverse terrain. Regulars say the best-kept secret is the 60 acres of tree skiing runs.
For a break from skiing, you can try out one of the two terrain parks, where you can jib, and find 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 will question ever going home at all.
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 resort aimed at family vacations
- 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, is large enough to easily satisfy a family vacation for a week, while at the other extreme rural Coffee Mill is fine for family days out. 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 ticket||1x|
|How many magic carpet lifts||1x|
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.