Sometimes smaller is better!

Have you guys read about Glen Plake’s ‘Down Home Tour’ ? Of course you remember Glen Plake, right? US National Hall of Fame skier from the 80’s? Huge colored Mohawk? Film star from ‘The Blizzard of Aahhhs’? ESPN has called him the pioneer of extreme skiing.

Well, for years Glen and his wife Kimberly have taken to the road every winter to visit small independent ski areas à la carte. They load up their custom diesel Freightliner camper and hop from area-to-area, unannounced, and just ski with the locals for no particular reason other than to say “I love this sport, I love small ski areas, and we need to keep it affordable”. Glen is an amazing advocate for the sport and understands the importance of ski areas that you probably never hear about. Do a little Googling and you’ll find some great articles on their adventures.

This past weekend I decided to make my own Down Home Tour and try out a small independent ski area in relative proximity to my new home, Madison Wisconsin. Instead of researching area resorts for amenities, size, vertical, etc., I decided the closest ski area was the only criteria for selection, so destination… Tyrol Basin. Tyrol is about 30 minutes west from Madison on what appears to be little more than a bump on the map. After setting our course I pulled up the Snosuite mobile app to peruse the hill’s stats and …. let’s just say what a shocking contrast to what I’ve been skiing. At only 32 acres in size with just a little over 300ft vertical, and 17 runs, it’s about 1/5th the size of my last destination. They serve guests with 3 fixed triples, a magic carpet and a rope tow…a really nice one! Average annual snowfall tops out in the mid-40’s (inches) with the summit at 1160 ft. Not exactly British Columbia, but let’s keep an open mind.

My son, Gabriel, and I pulled in around 10am and parked in their lower lot just about 50 ft from skiable terrain. The base lodges were small and cozy with a rustic aesthetic that brought me back to the small ski areas of my youth just outside my home town of Traverse City Mi. ; Hickory Hills and Mt. Holiday. Not much for amenities, but oh sooo inviting.

After loading up our wickets we headed to the closest triple and game-on. What a blast! With a short vertical we were able to decimate the entire area in about 3 hours…twice. What was impressive was the amount of snow they had left. They appear to have a fairly large snowmaking pond at the base and an abundance of big turbo guns spaced throughout. So even though this was essentially spring skiing, with near zero tree skiing available, the trails still had plenty of snow to push around. The conditions were about as expected, harder upon arrival and corn snow by late morning. I saw a couple Piston Bully’s, what appears to be an old Packmaster/Tucker, and a Pipe Dragon at the base used to keep the terrain in check.

What was truly impressive was the park features. We’re talking some pretty serious hits, rails and tops. Judging by the groups of young boarders gathering around the base, these features keep their target audience entertained. The staff was friendly and the patrollers…everywhere. Love to see that! Gives me a warm fuzzy to see so many dedicated folks keeping small town ski areas operating safely.

Needless to say we had a blast. We skied for probably 3 hours and the laughter never stopped. Run after run after run we just bounced from trail to trail. The only criticism I heard from Gabriel was “that is not a double black”! Yeah, he’s probably right, by West Coast standards, but by Midwest standards there was a little thrill off the top.

As we made our way through the base towards the car there was a much larger contingent in the village. Parents teaching their tots, packs of boarders, young families and teenage bombers were all present. I would have to say that given the resources that this small ski area had to work with they have done a great job. Kudos to the Tyrol team.

My only criticism would be to put some impulse food front and center. After a couple hours I was ready for some munchies. Chips, brownies, cookies, pizza…something. I went into the bar/dining lodge and couldn’t find anything out for a man on the run. Help me out.

This was by far the best way to spend a Sunday morning. See you again down the road.