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Rural Missouri Magazine

Show-Me snow
If you can’t go to the mountains, Missouri’s two ski resorts
bring the snow closer to home

by Bob McEowen
Snowboarding is often the sport of choice at Snow Creek and Hidden Valley ski areas.

Mention skiing and snowboarding to most Missourians, and they’ll think of picturesque resorts in Colorado, Utah, Idaho or perhaps one of the eastern states. But Missouri’s winter sports enthusiasts don’t have to travel that far in search of powder.

Two ski resorts — Snow Creek, north of Kansas City near Weston; and Hidden Valley, southwest of St. Louis at Wildwood — offer the excitement of the slopes much closer to home. With a resort on each side of the state, a snowy adventure is within a half-day’s drive of almost anywhere in Missouri.

“People tell me, ‘Oh, I only ski in Vail or blah, blah, blah.’ Fine, how often do you go to Vail?” asks Missi Boyd, who together with her husband, Tim, operates the two commercial ski resorts in Missouri. “You can ski at Hidden Valley or Snow Creek a couple of times a week.”

More than 60,000 skiers and snowboarders visit each of Missouri’s two ski resorts every year. Both facilities rely on man-made snow and operate for about 75 days each winter, typically from mid-December through mid-March. Each offers lessons, children’s programs and a variety of slopes appropriate for winter sports enthusiasts of all levels.

The longest runs at either resort are about a third of a mile long with nearly 300 feet of elevation change from top to bottom. Gentler slopes are available for first-time skiers.

Missourians looking for a place to ski do not have to travel to Colorado or other mountain states. Two Missouri commercial ski areas offer winter sports on man-made snow.

“For beginners, this is a great place. It’s got a really small little bunny hill and a good little hill to start out on,” says Melissa Hall of Columbia, who traveled to Snow Creek with her husband recently to introduce her stepdaughter to skiing. “If somebody doesn’t know how to ski and wants to try it, this is an inexpensive place to try it.”

Boyd says reasonable prices are one of the main reasons snow sports fans enjoy regional resorts like Snow Creek and Hidden Valley — as well as nine other resorts in six states owned by Peak Resorts, the company she and her husband started in 1982.

“Cheap! I mean, come on, our most expensive lift ticket is $39,” says Boyd. “You go east, it’s $70. If you go west, it’s $80 or $90 for a lift ticket. Plus you’ve got to travel.”

A daily lift ticket at either Missouri facility provides unlimited access to the ski lift. Lower priced passes are sold for evening and midnight sessions on the lighted slopes. Rental skis or snowboards are available for $27 per day at both locations, but only personal equipment is allowed in special terrain areas where snowboarders ride rails, jump ramps and perform snowbound aerobatics.

Increasingly, snowboards are taking over the slopes at both resorts. What began as a children’s toy in the 1960s and grew to a phenomenon by the 1980s is often the equipment of choice at Missouri’s two ski resorts.

“A little over 50 percent of our skiing public is snowboarders. We’re finding that more people 50 and older are picking it up because it’s easier on our older knees,” says 65-year-old Noel Derr of Parkville, a 45-year-veteran of skiing and a snowboarder for the past 8 years.

At Snow Creek near Weston, seven lifts provide access to a variety of terrain suitable for beginners to experienced skiers and snowboarders. Missouri’s ski snow is made with “fan guns,” like the one shown mounted below the light at left.

As director of the Snow Creek chapter of the National Ski Patrol, Derr manages a cadre of paid staff and volunteers who assist skiers and provide emergency response on the slopes. Dressed in the Ski Patrol’s distinctive red jacket emblazoned with a white cross, Derr spends his days descending the slopes of the 600-acre resort, always on the lookout for trouble. Even with a lifetime of experience — including time on the fabled slopes of the western United States — Snow Creek still satisfies.

“I enjoy the skiing here,” Derr says. “It’s a challenging hill. It’s not long, but people don’t really lose their interest because we have challenging enough terrain to keep them going.”

Even when the surrounding hills are brown and bare, the slopes at Hidden Valley and Snow Creek are covered with snow. On nights when the temperature dips below freezing, a series of giant “fan guns” make snow. The machines — ironically, invented by a Florida orchard owner attempting to prevent frost damage — shoot atomized water droplets at high velocity over the two facilities. Once airborne, the droplets do what they would in nature and form snow.

“You cannot tell the difference between man-made and natural snow, except that in Missouri natural snow is more humid and isn’t as good to ski on,” Derr says. “This is better snow.”

The 700-foot-long Tornado Alley tubing park at Snow Creek offers fun in the snow for people who do not want to learn to ski or snowboard.

Although the thick base of snow often lasts well into May, skiing and snowboarding season ends in March at both resorts, as customers turn their interests to gardening and warm weather sports. At Hidden Valley, they clear leftover snow out of the way to prepare for golf season on the adjacent course.

Both Missouri resorts offer special programs for experienced winter sports enthusiasts. Skiers can compete against the clock and other athletes nationwide as part of the NASTAR racing program, which employs a handicapping system to compare times and scores from events held at more than 100 resorts around the country. Snowboarders vie for bragging rights and trophies during annual tournaments sponsored by automaker Scion. Snow Creek is also the site of the Special Olympics’ Heartland Games ski competition.

Mostly, though, the two ski areas cater to recreational skiers who either want more time on the slopes or need to prepare their legs for a trip to a mountain resort. Particular attention is paid to beginning skiers and snowboarders. Group lessons, which last about an hour, cost $15 and are available on the hour, every day of the week. Private lessons and more-intense classes also are available.

Beginning on a gently sloped hill, student skiers learn to turn and control their speed by angling their skis into a wedge, once known as a snowplow. With these new skills and a little practice, they’re ready to grab hold of a rope and take a ride to the top of a beginners’ slope.

“A person who’s moderately athletic can learn how to ski in less than an hour,” says Glenn Boeker, a certified ski instructor from Belleville, Ill., who teaches at Hidden Valley. “Usually, it takes a second lesson to go up the chair lift and ski our most difficult terrain. Generally, after you practice three or four hours, then you’re ready for the second lesson.”

A 10,000-square-foot lodge welcomes nighttime visitors to Snow Creek Ski Resort near Weston. Midnight sessions are offered from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. on weekends.

Group lessons are available for skiers as young as 7. Children age 5 through 9 can take part in the resorts’ Ski Monsters program. The $65 three-hour session teaches the basics of skiing and includes games and other activities to occupy children while their parents take to the slopes.

Discounts (as much as 25 percent) for churches, Scouts, corporate outings and other groups are offered at either facility. New in 2006, a snow tubing area at Snow Creek is popular for groups or families that don’t want to learn to ski. A two-hour pass costs $22 and absolutely no skill is required to rocket down Tornado Alley, a 700-foot-long raceway for inner tubes. “Anybody can tube,” Boyd says.

Scouts can earn their skiing merit badge at either facility and Snow Creek has a group camping area for Scouts. Both ski resorts offer special pricing and programs for school groups, which gain admittance to the slopes in the morning when the parks are closed to the public.

“We have a great field trip program,” says Boyd “For $15 they can ski, we give them lunch and they get to experience a lifetime skill, like skiing.”

Starting children on the slopes early is a goal for Boyd, who says skiing and snowboarding are sports that nearly anyone can enjoy at any age.

“It’s a great sport. It’s exhilarating. It’s great to be outside in the winter doing something fun,” she says. “Once you learn this sport, you can go anywhere and do it. That is the beauty of it.”

A child makes an attempt at skiing at Hidden Valley Ski Resort near Wildwood. Even when surrounding hills are brown and bare, the slopes are covered with powder at Missouri’s two ski resorts.

Naturally, Boyd would like Missourians to practice their sport in their home state, at her resorts. With plenty of man-made snow and the only commercial ski operations in the state, Hidden Valley and Snow Creek are the obvious choices for Missouri winter sports enthusiasts, but Boyd is quick to insist that skiers and snowboarders accustomed to larger resorts won’t be disappointed. “This is the big time,” she says. “We’re as top-notch an area as you’re going to find in the Midwest.”

For diehard skiers like Boeker, it’s enough to have a place nearby to ski. “You’re outside, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s great,” he says. “To get 40 days a year on skis, that’s just unheard of.”

For information about Hidden Valley Ski Resort, call 636-938-5373, or log onto www.hiddenvalleyski.com. For information about Snow Creek, call 816-640-2200, or visit www.skisnowcreek.com.

Rural Missouri December 2014
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