Embrace winter head on by racing down Iowa's scenic slopes. These four winter destinations come to life when snow falls, offering a thrilling winter destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Bring your own gear or grab a rental, and test your skills on the slopes.
Adaptive Adventures: Sundown Mountain Resort
Home to Winter Fun on the Slopes, an annual adaptive skiing event, and the Special Olympics Iowa Winter Games held every January, Sundown Mountain in Dubuque takes pride in being able to offer winter recreation to people of all abilities.
Through hosting these events and others, fundraising efforts with the Living For Brecken Foundation, a grant awarded to Travel Dubuque and partnering with Clark & Associates Prosthetics and Orthotics in Cedar Rapids, the resort has collected adaptive ski equipment along the way. Now, these isolated opportunities have turned into a possibility throughout Sundown Mountain’s regular season via private lessons.
“We’ve been in the adaptive skiing space since the 80s, but we kind of stepped up our game recently,” Mark Gordon, Sundown’s general manager, said. “We have two individuals that are very passionate about it here, and they are key components in our ability to help people with disabilities get out into the snow.”
These two local legends are Rob Wagner and Carol McEllhiney-Luster, who both took on the challenge of earning certification as adaptive ski instructors. When people with disabilities call seeking the chance to conquer their fears, Rob and Carol assist them every step of the way with specialized guidance and equipment.
Today, Sundown’s growing group of certified instructors offer private lessons by reservation with the resort’s variety of adaptive equipment that can suit any skiers needs. Their equipment includes a Monique Mono Ski and two Bi-Unique Bi Skis, which are sit-skis with a low center of gravity, and an Alpine/Downhill Slide Unique and six Stand-Up Outriggers, which assist stand up skiers with two additional skies and arm support.
The process to book a lesson is easy – simply call the resort and pick a date (must be at least one week in advance) that works for you and one or two instructors.
“It’s definitely a labor of love, but we’ve stuck with it because it’s that rewarding,” Mike said. “We’d like to think that we have the most adaptive equipment of any other ski resort in Iowa.”
Along with their adaptive skiing efforts, Sundown Mountain also boasts the steepest vertical in the state, a 50-year legacy and recognition as one of Iowa’s best winter destinations. Their season typically starts around Thanksgiving and lasts until the second weekend of March.
Seven Oaks Recreation: Proving Value in Iowa's Landscape
Recognized as the youngest ski area in the country, Seven Oaks surprises locals and visitors alike as it reveals the many adventures to be had in Iowa’s landscape. A year-round oasis in Boone, a snow covered Seven Oaks boasts 11 slopes for varying skill levels, a terrain park, rail yard, free lessons and snow tubing.
This is more than owner Joel Bryan could have imagined when he started Seven Oaks in 1997 at just 21 years old. One day, he had received word from his aunts and uncles, who owned the former Fun Valley Ski Area in his hometown of Montezuma, that they had purchased another ski area in Boone and wanted him to run it. Joel’s past experience working at Fun Valley and his love for the outdoors made it hard to say no, so he set off on adding to Iowa’s outdoor recreation.
“It was a little bit of determination and a little bit of stupidity,” Joel joked. “I knew growing up that I just loved to work, and I knew I could make this happen. I gave up my life and dedicated 100 percent to this facility.”
A few days later, he arrived at the property armed with tools and a vision and set off clearing the eight original slopes and fixing the old rope tows with what little funding the family had. After several 80 to 100-hour weeks as the lone employee, Joel officially opened Seven Oaks only to be met with low attendance and a drained bank account.
However, he sat down with his father and the duo formed a plan. His dad bought all the stocks in Seven Oaks and Joel fired himself every summer and instead worked pouring concrete. Though they didn’t know it then, this dedication and grit would save the business.
Since then, Seven Oaks has doubled its ski lifts and tow ropes and now hosts nearly 40 events throughout the year. But Joel, who hated to be idle, isn’t done yet.
“We originally named it Seven Oaks Recreation because we didn’t want to be narrow minded,” Joel said. “I always say to people, ‘You don’t have to leave the state to recreate.’”
Read more about the start of Seven Oaks Recreation and Joel’s journey.
Recreation’s Rising Stars: Cone Park & Mt. Crescent
Though Cone Park offers outdoor thrills year-round, this Sioux City attraction is especially known for its winter activities. Visitors are invited to escape winter boredom and instead glide across the 5,400-square-foot ice skating rink, experience a winter wonderland with a walk along the Trail Loop or simply enjoy a hot chocolate next to the outdoor fire pit. But the park’s main attraction is the 700-foot-long tubing hill, which can be enjoyed with unlimited rides during a three-hour session.
As the tubing hill continues to grow in popularity, many are sad to see it closed during the warmer months. However, Cone Park has since turned this winter thrill into a year-round attraction.
After forming a city contract with Neveplast, an Italy-based synthetic slope company, Cone Park installed their plastic-type surface to the hill. That surface paired with water allows tubes to race down the slope even after the snow has melted.
Known to many as a learner’s paradise, Mt. Crescent offers the best of Iowa’s recreation and stunning scenery. Located in the unique mountainous terrain of the Loess Hills, a spot that was handpicked by the famous Olympic gold medalist skier Stein Eriksen, it’s been a Honey Creek staple since 1961.
Today, it features 2,4000 feet of slopes for all skills levels along with a Swiss-style lodge and sundeck. Improve your skills with private and group ski and snowboard lessons, whose instructors have taught over 100,000 students.
Another added bonus? Mt. Crescent guarantees snow every day of their season, which starts in December and lasts through March.