Playing in the Snow at Detroit Mountain

My dad’s a grandpa now and I’m a mother. We both own our own businesses and have pretty much got this adulting thing down. But when there is snow involved, we have a combined mental age of about about 12.

He was the one that made snowmen in the yard with me and my siblings, took us sledding (you can generate some wicked speed going down a river bank) and taught me how to drive a snowmobile when I wasn’t much older than my toddler is now. To firmly cement my adrenaline junkie status, he also pulled me in a flimsy plastic sled pulled behind the snowmobile on a long tow rope as I held on for dear life. It was awesome. (C’mon Minnesota people, I can’t possibly by the only person with this childhood memory.)

This is probably just as dangerous as it sounds, but small town kids have to get creative and we tend to develop a high risk tolerance. My grandpa (my dad’s dad) occasionally regales me with stories of climbing water towers and jumping off bridges, so I guess risk taking is relative. Or possibly inherited.

So yeah, snow, speed and outdoor adventures made up a lot of my childhood. So it was fun to be able to return the favor and take my parents with me to Detroit Mountain, just a few miles east of Detroit Lakes, a popular beach town on the western fringes of Minnesota lakes country.

My dad remembers downhill skiing at this modest resort in high school, but it’s changed since then. It closed in 2004 and the community launched efforts to get it up and running again almost immediately.

When Detroit Mountain re-opened in 2014, it came back better than ever. It now offers a network of trails for snowshoeing, Nordic Skiing and fat tire biking and a large tubing hill, in addition to the popular downhill skiing hills. Since I’m a speed demon that also happens to be supremely uncoordinated, we were there to try out the tubing hill and cross snowshoeing off of my bucket list.

I arrived with Eli a few minutes before my parents drove up, so I grabbed two rental tubes took him down the immaculately groomed hill first. There are six runs, three with one pretty substantial jump and three with two jumps. And they’re fast. Not see-your-life-flash-before-your-eyes fast or anything, but enough to give you a little shot of adrenaline. (I took video for Twitter and Facebook, a feat that I apparently can’t do without giggling a little.)

My own daredevil child, who once scampered up a nearly vertical section of rock on a hike and regularly jumps eight feet down from jungle gym decided one run down the hill was enough. (And yet, he still wanted to go up the chair lift on the much taller alpine slope. Toddler logic is weird.) He really liked the conveyer belt that takes you back up to the top of the hill, though!

I suspect he would have gone again if he could have sat with me, but the hill has a strict one person per tube policy. There were other young kids on the hill, but most kids were between 6 and 12.

We all took turns running around with E and barreling down the hills. A two-hour tubing pass costs $15 (there’s a discounted $10 rate on Mondays) and we all thought it was worth it. And two hours is definitely enough time.

After the sun went down, we took a break for a surprisingly good chicken alfredo pizza in the smaller of the two lodges near the tubing hill. Both snack bars offer quick bites like nachos, soda and pizza and the larger one near the skiing hill has also has a bar where the whole family can gather. (And the requisite fireplace with an animal head over it.)

When we finished, I took my dad to hit the snowshoeing trails. My friends at Explore Minnesota dared me to try moonlight snowshoeing, so our trail passes and snowshoe rentals were free. If you don’t have your own, you can rent snowshoes or cross country and poles in the same place you rent downhill skis. There are also fat bike rentals onsite as well.

Once we figured out how to get the snowshoes on (the buckles on my boots made it hard to tighten the straps on the snowshoes until I shifted things around), we took off and happily hiked into the woods with only the vaguest idea where we were going. We had a map, but my coat was drenched from tubing (I wrung it out at one point), so the map was disintegrating before we even made it to the trail head.

I know that sounds like how horror movies start, but 1.) Nobody’s dad ever shows up in the opening credits of a slasher movie and 2.) The trails wrap around in a series of loops so we knew we’d eventually end up where we started.

It was a beautiful night, warm and still. Meteorologists had logged record highs all over Minnesota earlier that day and my phone said 36 degrees well after sunset.

The hoped-for moonlight never quite materialized during our hike, so we just followed the tire tracks in front of us. The snowshoeing trails are shared by folks on fat bikes, but we only had company at the beginning and end of our jaunt.

My gait in snowshoes felt odd at first — my hips have a crazy amount of natural turn-out, to the point that dance teachers assume I’ve taken ballet for years — so I had to remind myself to point my toes straight forward so the back ends of my snowshoes would clip each other and trip me up. But once I took a few steps, I promptly forgot all about them.

I forgot about what my feet were doing entirely, actually. The snowshoes made me feel somehow both sturdy and light on my feet. We took a few hills, but since it was fairly dark, we didn’t really feel it until we were already climbing.

It was a new way experience nature, hardly relying on sight at all. We concentrated on the feel of the trail beneath our feet, the hush of the woods, the soft movement of the trees standing in silhouette all around us.

About a mile and a half later, we arrived back at the ski lodge. There was loud music and an all-ages crowd gathering inside the bar, but outside, the night was more subdued. Small groups chatted around a bonfire as Nordic skiers glided by and snowboarders sent graceful arcs of snow into the night sky.

My legs were tired, but I felt healthy and strong. The air was crisp and clean, the band was playing Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” and the smell of wood smoke clung to my hair.

Moonlight or no moonlight, it was a beautiful Minnesota Friday night.

What about you?
How do you like to enjoy the outdoors in winter?
What crazy winter activities did you like when you were a kid? Do you still do them?
What do you (or would you) like to try at Detroit Mountain?
When you think of a Minnesota Friday night, what does it include?

Detroit Mountain
29409 170th Street
Detroit Lakes, MN

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