Ski towns like Park City, Vail, Telluride and Sun Valley just roll off your tongue. When you think of skiing, numerous Rocky Mountain towns come to mind with visions of deep powder, steep, rugged terrain and high-speed lifts. This is skiing at the many mega-resorts in the snow-privileged Rocky Mountains. But, there’s thousands of Americans who grow up skiing in small, hometown resorts in the heartland or east coast of of the United States.
One such place is the growing metropolis of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s a great example of an agri-community with a small group of dedicated skiers and snowboarders who call Great Bear Recreation Area their hometown resort. Boasting only a handful of runs and about 200 vertical feet, Great Bear doesn’t stand a chance against ski resorts to the West. But, to the local community, Great Bear provides the perfect place to hone your skills and get your feet wet while sliding on snow.
The base area is more than adequate with the standard food, cafeteria tables, lockers and rental area. Rentals are pretty sparse and had I known I would be a PSIA ski instructor, I would’ve packed my boots. After just a couple of hours skiing with rear-entry rental ski boots and dress socks, I truly appreciated my Surefoot custom insoles and custom-fit liners. For many destination skiers, and those gracing Great Bear, rental boots are all they know. Even if you ski occasionally, investing in a pair of properly-fitting ski boots is essential–enough boot talk. Go get some nice boots!
The rental fleet consisted of almost exclusively K2 Four’s, which is a great all-around ski and perfect for Great Bear. I was surprised to get on a brand new pair of 174 cm K2 Four’s–I guess there’s not too many people who are renting anything longer than 160’s around here.
Great Bear relies entirely on snowmaking because the snow doesn’t fall high and deep in these parts. Most of the natural snowfall gets blown away anyhow. So, snowguns line every run. The coverage and snow quality was perfect for beginners and provided enough for me to lay down a few arcs once the kids got the hang of things.
The goal of the day was to teach two of my nephews how to ski. Great Bear was only 45 minutes from home and they were dying to have their Uncle teach them how to ski. How could I say no to that? I was more than willing to hit the slopes even though I knew it would be an interesting experience.
With a short paddle tow for learners and a regular-speed quad (1970’s vintage), there’s enough options to keep everyone turning.
It’s kind of funny skiing in a place like Great Bear. There’s major disparity between the two primary groups of skiers. On one hand, you’ve got the locals who have either never skied, or maybe ski once a season. They make it down the hill, but it’s not pretty. There’s no awards for fashion and definitely no awards for style. And, on the other hand, you’ve got a core group of 6-10 racers, jibbers and other expert skiers who rip up the hill in 3-4 perfectly arc’ed turns. I was pleasantly surprised with the handful of racers laying the familiar railroad tracks down the narrower runs.
Though Great Bear does say it has a couple of Black Diamond runs (view trail map), don’t expect any moguls or anything steeper than a typical Blue Square run anywhere else. But, for those who don’t know any better, it’s a real Black Diamond ski run.
After experiencing skiing in America’s Heartland, it truly makes me appreciate living in Salt Lake and having 7 world-class resorts within a short drive. But, most of all, it makes me smile thinking about those people who call Great Bear their hometown resort. They have a great hill to learn skiing and enjoy the sport–even if they never ski anywhere else. It’s people like that who are carrying on our great sport to future generations and truly keeping it real. Judging by the smile on my nephew’s faces, I think it’s best if they don’t know anything else exists outside of Great Bear.
More Info: Visit www.GreatBearPark.com