I didn’t want to like this hill. Unfortunately most of my winter has been spent in the Midwest. Thus I have about had about my fill of small places and short hills. Ski Snowstar near Moline, Illinois seemed like more of the same. Illinois is known for farm land, presidential candidates and being flat as a pancake. It is not known for skiing. As I pulled into the parking lot at this place, Cartwright was more prevalent than Columbia as the primary attire. There was even a country barn with horses visible next to the lift house. This is going to be a quick visit, I thought. I am going to have a “never going to last here.” Surprisingly I was wrong.
This little progressive ski area opened near Moline, Illinois in 1981. It has been adding trails and lifts ever since. At first it only had 3 runs off one lift, but now boasts 15 named runs off 3 lifts. The result is a ski area that is little bit more than a local ski hill but not yet truly a ski destination.
The layout is typical Midwestern “upside down.” The trails fall away into a valley that eventually leads to the nearby Mississippi River. The ski area tries hard to make the best of what nature has provided. The trails for the most part are wide and well groomed. One small mogul area named “Ozone” provided some nice bump challenges. The area’s short drop of all of 228 feet meant that most trails were only single or at most double pitched. The quality of those pitches however allowed for some excellent, although short, runs.
In the past, small short ski areas have turned to ski racing to drive the local interest. This trend has been solidly replaced by terrain parks and tubing areas. Although Ski Snowstar does have a tubing park it is the terrain park that is the draw.
One whole side of the trailmap is the terrain area. One trail, “Pluto’s Revenge,” is a creek ravine that has been turned into a playland. The sides of the ravine provide a natural half pipe. The trees and bushes on top provide excellent obstacles. Additionally the snowmaking crew had blown features into the trail. The terrain crew had also added rails and a table top. To call it a terrain park underplays the effort the resort has put into this and the nearby “Cosmos” trail. These are more ski trails with terrain features. Open to all, this area provided numerous well-marked and maintained features and hits, with a level of quality and quantity that proves the management takes terrain features seriously. Even the beginner area had two jumps and a practice rail off the rope tow!
The day of my visit, recent snows added to an outstanding coverage. The day was a perfect clear 19 degrees at slope opening and warmed to a pleasant 27 degrees by mid afternoon. The snow loosened up nicely and was the best quality I have found all year.
After the first couple of runs the thoughts of returning to my car began to fade. Ski Snowstar puts on such a strong effort that it grows on you. The lifts are slow but the ride up is so short that you hardly notice being on the lift. As a result you make many more runs per day than at a larger ski area. I easily broke the dollar per run barrier; of course another advantage to the Midwest is the pricing - my all-day ticket was only $26!
Those folks in Cartrights I saw when I came in? Well they where the same folks I saw throwing helicopters and pulling big air in the terrain area. All goes to show most things are not what you expected. Ski Snowstar is a small area that tries hard and that is all you can ask for.
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.