What states come to mind when you think “snow skiing”?
Colorado, Montana, Wyoming?
Yeah, those are home to my top ski destinations.
What about South Dakota? Did you know there was skiing just outside of Sioux Falls?
Just outside of Sioux Falls, a publically-owned ski area – Great Bear Recreation Park – offers super budget-friendly snow sports with over a dozen runs, three lifts, and none of the typical Rocky Mountain crowd congestion.
Did I mention its super budget-friendly (even the ski lodge snacks are affordable – what?!?!) and if you’re military, be sure to ask about the associated discount on lift tickets and equipment rental.
Getting to Great Bear
The Great Bear Ski Area was founded in 1963 when two Sioux Falls locals decided to convert an old gravel pit into a winter recreation area for the public.
Today, it’s a pretty well-established ski, tubing, and snowboarding hub, at least with the locals. The staff is extremely friendly, the crowds are minimal (I never had to wait in line for the lift), and facilities are impeccable.
There’s no onsite lodging, so we stayed a couple miles up the road in Sioux Falls for just a fraction of the room rate that we usually get during ski season in Colorado. In fact, we did the entire weekend trip – gas, hotels, equipment rental, food, lift tickets, etc. – for less than $370 for two adults.
Welcome to Vermillion
On our way to Sioux Falls, we were forced off the interstate due to a blizzard. We ended up parking it for the night in a little town called Vermillion (home to the University of South Dakota).
While we stayed in a big chain hotel, it felt like staying at a relatives – the staff were super accommodating, the fellow travelers made for the most congenial breakfast buddies, and I thought we’d never get out of there – both the employees and the other guests were so intent on providing us the “ultimate” Sioux Falls itinerary that we just barely made it to the truck to continue our journey before 10 AM.
Fairly new to living in a place that had winter weather like the Midwest (I’m originally from Memphis, TN), I had a couple issues driving through the 8-inches of fresh powder that welcomed us to South Dakota.
I ended up getting the truck stuck when I pulled over to photograph an abandoned homestead, and made a couple wrong turns (not sure how – Sioux Falls isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis) and ended up arriving at the South Dakota Penitentiary vs. the Great Bear Recreation Park (again, not sure how – they are on opposite sides of the city).
Check out the prison shot below. My husband refused to let us park outside and take a would-be-awesome-Christmas-card selfie, so this is the best I could get.
Ski South Dakota
Once we arrived at the ski area, it took just a few minutes to get outfitted and on the lift (like seriously, 10-minutes tops). While Great Bear isn’t really a mountain range, the 270-degree panoramic view of Sioux Falls makes for some lovely pictures. The fresh powder from the previous night’s snowfall made for phenomenal skiing – perfect for my beginning skier husband and my post-race spaghetti legs.
A little background: During college, I made it out west a few times and considered myself a moderately-competent skier. Having spent a few years in the Deep South and now, the Midwest, most of my vacation time got spent on the beach, not the slopes, and thus, it’d been a few years since I’d skied. I was worried that I’d forgotten how to turn, stop, and all the other must-know essentials of the modern snow bunny; however, just like riding a bike, skiing came right back to me the minute my skis hit the snow.
The Great Bear Experience
“I haven’t fallen all day!” I exclaimed to my husband, half-way through the first day of skiing.
The next run – which a flawless, mind you – I slid into the chute to get back on the lift, and while I was standing there, waiting on the chair to come up behind me, I collapsed. Apparently, my legs, exhausted from a winter race followed by a day of snow skiing, just gave out! No injuries, just a very wounded pride.
Great Bear Recreation Park is a great destination for beginner to moderate skiers and snowboarders looking for a budget-friendly winter trip. Sioux Falls is just over 5 hours from Kansas City, 4 hours from Des Moines, and 3 hours from Omaha. The park is well-staffed with competent personnel and ski patrol, making Great Bear the perfect place for a low-stress ski experience.
If you’re looking for great weekend winter trip on a shoestring budget, consider exploring Sioux Falls and spending some time playing in the snow at Great Bear.
Explore Sioux Falls
For additional information on things to do and places to eat in and around Sioux Falls, be sure to www.visitsiouxfalls.com.
You’ll definitely want to check out the iconic Falls Park (the “falls” part of Sioux Falls), explore Washington Pavilion’s Kirby Science Center, and walk through 800 free-flying butterflies at the Butterfly House & Aquarium.
We can’t wait to go back.