Huff Hills Ski Area opened for business in January of 1993, after an intense five-month construction period. The history of the area goes back much farther than that.
The 1960's were a period of rapid growth in the ski industry in the US. Many areas, including Big Sky and Red Lodge Mountain in Montana, were founded during this era. North Dakota also saw ski areas develop during this time. One such area was Twilight Hills. This area operated in the early 1960's on the site of present day Huff Hills. Founded by a group of local business people, the ski area was the place to learn to ski in our local area. Skiing in the 1960's was much different than the sport we enjoy today. Skis were sized by standing with your arm raised above your head, and releasable bindings were a new invention. Snowmaking and grooming technology also had not evolved to today's standards, so skiers were often faced with difficult conditions. Still, in spite of the difficulties, skiing was the sport of choice for many of the baby boomer generation.
The Bismarck-Mandan area's foray into winter sports would be short lived however, as Twilight Hills closed after a few short years. Local skiers were left with fewer options for skiing, and this often meant trips to Montana and beyond. This early business was not forgotten by all, and helped pave the way for Huff Hills some 30 years later.
Jim Beck, and his wife Jan, began to lay the foundations for Huff Hills in the winter of 1992-1993. It was during a ski trip to Bottineau Winter Park in Bottineau, North Dakota that the idea began to take shape. Jim had worked in construction, primarily renovation, with his company Jim Beck Construction. He had, by this time, also opened Ft. Lincoln Trolley Co., a tourist railway line from Mandan to Ft. Abraham Lincoln State Park.
Jim felt it was too bad that the closest place to ski was nearly three hours away.
"We had good terrain along the river for an area, and there had been an area in operation in the sixty's," said Beck, "So we just felt it was worth exploring."
Throughout the remainder of the winter, and the first part of the summer, a group of investors formed and began seriously looking at opening a ski area. This was in contrast to a national trend of small areas closing, and large areas getting larger. Costs were rising every year, and the baby boomer generation that had supported skiing in its glory days was getting older. Still, Beck’s moved ahead, and on August 15, 1993, they were granted a lease from the landowner to develop the area. Financing was secured and work began; the goal was to be open for the upcoming Christmas season, but that would prove to be more difficult than anyone expected.
"We knew how important it was to be open by Christmas, it would make or break a season. When we missed it, that put us behind for a long time," commented Beck.
There was little left of Twilight Hills at the site when work began; a few concrete footings and lots of wire buried in the grass that made mowing a daily battle. It was clear that Huff Hills would be a new area entirely. After a few runs were cut, the engineering and dirt work began for installation of the areas first chairlift, the Blue Chair. The lift started its life at Holimont Ski Area outside of Buffalo, NY. It was taken down, loaded onto trucks, and delivered to Huff Hills.
The ski area crew then began the daunting task of erecting the lift, as temperatures began to drop.
A T-Bar lift was also purchased and installed. Snowmaking equipment was purchased, and the area's first snowcat arrived on yet another truck. The job of clearing trails and erecting a lift, and installing the piping for the snowmaking system proved more difficult than originally planned. Hampered by early cold snaps and snowstorms, the ski area workers and investors watched helplessly as that first precious Christmas season slipped by.
When the work finally was completed, however, the ski area was greeted with kind snows and good weather that January. Opening day was January 15, and a new chapter in winter recreation in North Dakota was born. The ski area crew learned much about the operation of the area that first year.
"When we started, we were all skiers, but we really didn't know much about making snow, and grooming and things like that. We learned a lot that first year, and we seem to learn more every year," said Beck.
The ski area operated as planned for two seasons, and then decided to add another chairlift to the family.
"We had always kind of planned on adding another lift, it seemed kind of natural for the hill," Said Beck.
The area purchased the Green Lift from Brianhead Ski Area, in the southwest corner of Utah. The lift had been the first chair at the area, installed in the early 1960's. It was the same make and model as the Blue, a Hall 1405. These lifts are still common throughout most of the Midwest. This time, the lift was up and operational. Jim Beck, his son Andy, and two other employees, Jason Landeis and Jason Gusaas, traveled to Utah to take the lift down and haul it back to North Dakota.
Two weeks later, the lift arrived at it's new home. One Brain Head resident was reluctant to see the lift go. Georg Hartlmier was a German immigrant and came over at the request of the founder of Brian Head in 1964. One of the first jobs George had in the US was helping to install the Navaho #1 chair at Brian Head. It was the first chair installed at the area. When the Huff Hills crew took the lift down, Georg was kind enough to share a photo album of the construction with them. He still has two chairs from the lift at his ski shop, and they hang from their own tower. After the Green lift installation, the ski area looked like it has ever since.
Huff Hills has continued to be a local place to learn, have fun, and tune-up before trips to other areas in the country. We have played a role in the development of two sponsored snowboarders, two ski area management majors, and countless family memories. Come join us, and be part of the fun at Huff Hills Ski Area!