Skiing in Iowa? Yes there is skiing in Iowa!
A recent trip to the Midwest caught me scanning the map for some relief to the current snow drought that was affecting the Mid Atlantic. I came across the snow report for Sundown Mountain Resort in of all places Dubuque, Iowa! To my surprise they were open. Always one for a new skiing adventure I made plans to head there. “You’re skiing in Iowa?” my wife asked when I called her to give her my new destination. “There is skiing in Iowa?”
Yes, I can report there is and it is not bad. No cows or corn stalks were harmed in my skiing adventure.
Sundown Mountain is a located just outside of Dubuque, Iowa. It is close to the Mississippi River in an area of Iowa that the last ice age seems to have forgotten. While the rest of Iowa is pancake flat this area is really hilly. Not true mountains in an Eastern or Western manner but hilly for the Plain states.
This 502-foot “mountain” makes the best of what glacial forces left behind. The web site claims to have 18 trails on almost 500 feet of vertical drop. Really most trails are just cut offs, but there were 5 distinct ways down and a large beginner area on top. Pleasantly the 500-plus feet of vertical is all there. As is common in the Midwest, the resort is upside down with the lodge on the top. Also like many other places in the Midwest, the trails are cut into what is more like a river gully or valley than on a true mountain. However this offers excellent snow retention and a protection from the high plain state winds. This protected location allowed Sundown to weather most of the recent snow drought.
The valley or “mountain” skied nicely. The snow quality was excellent the day I skied. The snow guns had been taking advantage of the cold Midwestern weather and were cranking out a nice fine crystal snow. The groomers were out in force and had produced conditions on par with any resort in the Mid Atlantic. Interestingly the groomers kept grooming all day long, which was a nice touch. I dropped in behind the sno cat a couple of times to grab first tracks on some fine corduroy.
The major blue trail “Turkey Ridge” was a nice wide cruiser dropping down the valley on sweeping turns just in front of the lodge, offering some show boating opportunities. The only true black “Gun Barrel” was a fast fall line drop next to one of the lifts that ate up the vertical in a hurry but provided a nice challenge. Both of these trails had off shoots, crossovers and run outs that added to the variety and bumped up the trail count. The resort recently cut a newer area that is used for the terrain park, and also had a large beginner area on the top side. The only draw back to the trail map was a lack of a long green cruisers for beginners.
The crowd the Sunday I was there was light, but this was due more to the Bears playoff game than lack of local skiing interest. I spoke to one ski patroller who said Sundown draws well from the surrounding area. Dubuque is a bit of a regional tourist destination - they have riverboat gambling and a major indoor water pack in town. Also in a unique bit of marketing, the resort has an agreement with Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho giving its season passholders reciprocal privileges. Several folks I spoke to said they were planning trips West to make use of the deal. It seemed like a plan some Mid Atlantic resorts could use. [Editor’s Note: Liberty Mountain, Ski Roundtop, and Whitetail began a partnership with Vermont’s Stratton Mountain this winter, providing some reciprocal benefits.]
Overall I was very impressed with my foray into plain state skiing. Although corn fields and cows where visible in the distance, Sundown Mountain is a fine ski hill. One can only hope these outposts on the frontier continue to thrive.
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.