A couple months ago friends asked us if we'd like to spend New Years weekend skiing in the Black Hills.

We're not the down-hill-sit-in-the-chalet type people. This is the classic cross country type skiing. Great, we thought, a perfect way to spend a few days off.

Then the Upper Midwest was thrown into a terrible deep freeze that you all experienced. Right away I started wondering if traveling across South Dakota during this sort of potentially deadly weather was the best idea.

Also, who wants to ski when it's minus whatever temperature? Again, this is cross country skiing, which means lonely trails through the northern Hills. There's no chalet. There's a tiny parking lot and best wishes on a lovely day.

There's not much for cell service either.

What is there? The Black Hills National Forest and the incredible scenery of Spearfish Canyon.

I knew all that going in. No big surprise. But here's where things take a turn.

We got up on Sunday morning in Spearfish to 11 below zero and my trepidation increased. We'd packed pretty much all the cold weather gear we own -- collected from years of winter running, biking and hiking -- in preparation for what could be epic conditions.

And yes, we considered calling the whole thing off. Not just because of the skiing but the thought of driving across South Dakota when it's that cold is not the most inviting thing I can think of. But we adjusted the schedule a bit and headed out.

And here's the thing, as we left the Bell's Motor Lodge -- fabulous by the way for $38 a night -- and headed up Spearfish Canyon, the temperature steadily rose. By the time we reached the Dead Ox trailhead near Cheyenne Crossing, it was actually zero degrees.

Also, and this is always hard to believe when you live in Sioux Falls, no wind. None.

It was a great trip up the trail. We went up for about an hour and 20 minutes then turned around and came back down. Total skiing that first day was bout 5 miles in two and half hours.

Back in the car, the sun was out, and we'd pealed off various layers. It was 9 degrees.

Huh. Didn't expect that.

Then on Monday, we hit the Sunny Meadow trail. Same deal only more extreme. It was 13 degrees below zero when we left Spearfish. It was zero degrees when we started skiing and -- this is hard to believe I know -- 33 degrees when we finished in bright sunshine and fewer layers than when we left more than two hours before.

I honestly couldn't believe how nice it was.

Back in Spearfish that afternoon? Minus two.

Couldn't have hoped for better conditions given the forecast. But that's the Black Hills right? You just never know.

How were things back here?

Patrick Lalley / KSOO
Patrick Lalley / KSOO

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Enter your email to receive the latest news, contests, concert announcements and more directly to your inbox!
  • Name*

See Also: