Click photo for Deadwood Hotels

Deadwood is counter-sunk in
the Old West of the Black Hills.
(Click photo for Deadwood hotels.

Click for the Deadman's Hand

Wild Bill Hickok's deadman's hand
is dealt in Deadwood casinos.
(Click photo for Deadwood history.)
The Black Hills of western South Dakota are the highest mountains east of the Rockies until you get to the French Alps.  The Black Hills are also the oldest mountain range after the Dolomites in Italy, and in fact the Black Hills are considered a dolomite formation. But forget all that, because the superb snow makes the Black Hills a winter lover’s paradise, and where else can you ski around old Old West gold and silver mines like the “Holy Terror” and then gamble at night at the historic town of Deadwood, and a more reasonable price than the gaming ski area of  Lake Tahoe.

The Black Hills were overrun by miners in 1876 looking for gold, and over a hundred years later the deepest mine in the western hemisphere – The Homestake in Lead – has closed but now is reopening as a national scientific lab.  These days, the real gold is in tourism, snow tourism, and gaming.  Deadwood is only a few miles from the best ski peak in the Black Hills, Terry Peak, named after an Old West Cavalry general. After the William Randolph Hearst mine closed (Homestake) the citizens of Deadwood turned back to their roots, the Old West, and brought back gaming.  The Historic District of Deadwood today is crammed with casinos offering table games and slots, but no Faro — yet!

There are plenty of hotel rooms in Deadwood and Lead (pronounced Leed — as in a quartz gold vein leed) for your snow vacation.

Growing up in the Black Hills my snow playground was Terry Peak, long before there were condos on the mountain; a single chair lift took skiers to the top, at over 7,000 feet.  Today there are high speed lifts, condos, luxury vacation homes, and restaurants on the mountain to make your snow vacation more enjoyable.

Ski the highest mountains
East of the Rockies.

Terry Peak Ski Area began originally with the Bald Mountain Ski Club in 1936, with the installation of a rope tow for club members. Slope grooming in these early days was undertaken by club members hiking up and down the hill with their skis on in order to pack down the snow. Many of the founding members of the Bald Mountain Ski Club left the area to serve in World War II. Ed Keene, who was one of the founding members of the club, returned from serving in World War II with the 10th Mountain Division, and initiated the start of what is now known as Terry Peak Ski Area.

Ski vacations in the
heart of the Old West.

In 1952 the Black Hills Chairlift Company was formed. The Ringer Chairlift was installed, but was originally used only for summer business. In 1954, the Black Hills Chairlift Company began operating the chairlift for winter ski business. In 1967, the Ringer Chairlift was replaced by the Blue Chair (#1). In 1975, the Empress Chair (#2) was installed and in 1978, the Surprise Chair (#3) began operating.

Development continued during the 1980s with the installation of the Stewart Chair (#4) in 1985, which replaced the two surface Poma lifts. The new Blue Chair (#5) was needed in 1986 to eliminate the growing lift lines at Terry Peak. In 1996, the Beginner Chair (#6) was installed specifically for ski school classes and beginner skiers and snowboarders.

View three states atop Terry Peak.

Snowmaking was introduced to Terry Peak in the 1970's to ensure a reliable snowpack during the Black Hill's unpredictable winters. Snowmaking improvements have continued up through present day, with coverage of 60 percent of the slopes. In the summer of 2002, Terry Peak acquired 3 wells and 3 holding ponds as part of the reclamation at the Golden Reward Mine. The recent acquisition gives Terry Peak over 14 million gallons of water storage for snowmaking.

The Stewart Day Lodge for refreshments.

The Stewart Day Lodge was built in 1988, replacing the old lodge, 2-K Bar and ski school buildings. In the summer of 2001, a 3,000 square foot sun deck was added to the lodge. In 1999, the Black Hills Chairlift Company approved a five-year plan for major improvements at Terry Peak Ski Area, beginning with the installation of the Kussy Express high-speed detachable chairlift, replacing Chairs #1 & #5. The Surprise Express high-speed detachable chairlift was installed in the summer of 2002, replacing the old yellow chair.

Ski the trees.

Heading into the 2004/2005 season, Terry Peak began the largest terrain expansion in over 25 years. New trails that were developed include North Side Glades, Ben Hur Glades, Maringo, Missing Link, and lower Black Moon. The expansion is approximately 100 acres and accommodates the intermediate to expert skier and rider.  Maringo was publicly skied for the first time on December 30, 2005. The next day, Missing Link and North Side Glades opened to skiers and riders, offering a new downhill experience unlike anything else in the Black Hills.

Terry Peak offers a park and pipe deal.


Area '76 Freestyle Terrain Park is located on Snow Storm and accessed by the Surprise Express at Terry Peak. The north-facing freestyle park is a fully enclosed area with fencing and has one entry point and one exit point. Snowmaking was added to Snow Storm in 2004 to maximize feature development within the park. The park includes five fun boxes: 20-ft Cbox, 28-ft Battleship, 16-ft Flat, 16-ft Rainbow and a 24-ft Down/Flat/Down, as well as three rails: 16-ft flat rail, 24-ft flat rail, 24-ft flat/down/flat rail. two step-down jumps.

Terry Peak Statistics:

Top Elevation 7,052 ft.
Stewart Base Elevation 6,500 ft.
Nevada Gulch Base Elevation 5,900 ft.
Vertical Rise 1,100 ft.
Skiable Acres 450 - Trails 30 +
Average Annual Snowfall 150 inches
Snowmaking 60% of the mountain
Water Storage 15+ million gallons (snowmaking)
Chairlifts 4 (including 2 high-speed detachable quads)
Surface Lifts 1 Snow Carpet (350 ft. long)
Base Areas 2 (Stewart Lodge & Nevada Gulch)
Half-Pipe 1 (12-ft walls)
Area '76 Freestyle Terrain Park 1 (1,100 ft. Snow Storm)

For more information about Terry Peak go to and be sure to stream the radio broadcast of KSNO from the site, or visit the web cams. You can also order your season ski passes fom the site.

Deer Mountain is another alpine ski area a short drive from Terry Peak, but with fewer services.  But it does have a terrain park, snow skate park, tube park, ski school and accommodations.

Cross-Country Skiing

There are many great old railroad grades that make wonderful nordic cross country skiing in the Black Hills, including the Annie Creek grade that is accessed near Terry Peak.  The grade runs all the way down to the beautiful Spearfish Canyon.  There is not much for lodging in the canyon except Spearfish Canyon Lodge at the crossroads of Little Spearfish Canyon and Spearfish Canyon.  Recently, the town of Spearfish was voted by National Geographic as one of the top 50 towns for living.  You can also cross country ski on the railroad grade along Spearfish creek.  The rail line tracks and ties are long gone and serve as a hiking path during the summer.

Another popular dedicated trail system is the Mickelson Trail that runs the length of the Black Hills and is great for bicycling in the summer or cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter. The 100 mile trail has numreous trailheads. Call the Black Hills Trail Office at 605/584-3896 to reserve snowshoes or participate on a guided trek. A small fee is charged to access the trail, but the treks are free.

Two excellent dedicated nordic ski areas include: Eagle Cliff Trails; take Highway 14A south through Deadwood and Highway 85 through Lead south to Cheyenne Crossing in Spearfish Canyon. For more info called the Eagle Cliff Ski Assn. at 605/584-3832. The Big Hill Ski area is eight miles south of Spearfish on Forest Service Road 134 (Tinton Road). Big Hill offers many races and events throughout the winter. Call Ski Cross Country at 605/722-3851.

Black Hills snowmobile
trails are groomed nightly.


Snowmobilers know that O’Neil Pass south of Deadwood and Lead is the spot for wide-open high country meadows packed with great snow.  You will find turn out parks in the area to unload your snowmobile, but again, not much for accommodations or restaurants in the area.  After all you are out in the wilderness.  And the cougars in the high country have the right of way!

Snowmobiling has really come of age in the Black Hills with the development of a 350-mile network of marked, mapped and groomed snowmobile trails. Although snowmobiling is permitted on most parts of the 1.2 million acre Black Hills National Forest, the trail system has elevated the Black Hills into national prominence as one of the nation’s top snowmobiling destinations.

Over 350 miles of marked trails
weave through ponderosa pine canyons.

The trail system offers lodging,
pit stops, and warming stations.

Most snowmobiling is in the western one-third of the Black Hills, where the 6,000-foot elevations develop a five-foot snow pack every winter. The trails lead up through deep canyons, weave through the pine forests, and ascend to summit lookouts. The trails also open onto huge, untracked meadows and play areas where the powder-floating is superb! A full time staff grooms the trails every night, and you can use South Dakota’s Sno-Wats phone service, 1-800-445-3474, to check snow and trail conditions.

Thousands of sledders trailer in from all over the midwest to follow the orange diamonds through the Black Hills, from Spearfish all the way to Custer. The main trail network stretches nearly 80 miles from north to south and even crosses the state line to tie in with Wyoming’s trails.

There are pit stops, gas, warming shelters, trailheads and good parking throughout the network. And, of course, resorts, local snowmobile service, rentals and guides. The Black Hills Snowmobile Trail system ranks in the top ten places to ride in North America, according to editions of SnoWest magazine and SuperTrax International.

For those who prefer places off-the-beaten-path, the off-trail sledding possibilities in the Black Hills are endless. The few places where snowmobiling is not allowed are areas of logging activity, some wildlife winter ranges, most private property, and cross-country ski complexes.

You can rent a sled with gear.

Didn’t bring a sled? That’s okay. With a fleet of more than 200 rental machines available in the Black Hills, finding a sled to suit your riding ability and your pocketbook is easy. Full riding gear is also available. Expect new machines in top running condition, and choose from Arctic Cats, Polaris and Ski-Doo single or double sleds. Snowmobile rental prices range from $75 for a half day single, up to $149 for a full day on a double. All machines operated on public lands or on any part of the trail system must be licensed in either South Dakota or their home state. Unlicensed out-of-state snowmobilers can purchase a temporary 5-day S.D. license for $10 at most pit stops, county courthouses or other license agents.

Officially, the snowmobile season opens on December 1, when deer hunting season is over. However, the trail grooming starts Dec. 15. Hey, come on out for the hunting season.  The Black Hills teem with white tail and black tail deer, and the region is rated as the top deer hunting capital of the country. Or come on out for the ice fishing on the alpine lakes.

Hike or snowshoe Custer State Park
and the Black Elk Wilderness area.

Grab a buffalo steak in Deadwood at
Kevin Costner's Mineral Palace Casino.

Snowshoe Custer State Park

Terry Peak, Deadwood, Lead and Spearfish are in the northern Black Hills, which gets more snow than the southern end of the 100 mile by 50 mile range.  But Custer State Park in the south offers snowshoe trekking in the winter.  Due to limited equipment supplies and snowshoe sizes, reservations are required and can be made by calling the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center at (605) 255-4464. There is no cost for the hikes; however, all vehicles require a park entrance license at the hiking locations. The current fees are $5 per person or $12 per vehicle.  Custer State Park is home to the highest peak in the Black Hills, Harney Peak, also named after an Old West cavalry officer.  There are numerous lodges within Custer State Park with additional accommodations in Custer and Hill City. Stick around for the Gold Sleddog Race in Hill City, too. Visit this link.  

To request your Free Romancing the Snow magazine, call 605-355-3600 or email for it.

It hard to image, but the regional airport at Rapid City (airport code RAP) is only three hours from Las Vegas on Allegiant Airlines.  Delta, United, Frontier, and Northwest also serve the area from Salt Lake, Chicago, Denver, and Minneapolis, so there is no excuse about it, take your next vacation in the heart of the Old West of the Black Hills for history, gaming, and snow adventures. Now I have to schuss down to Kevin Costner's Mineral Palace Gaming Hall in Deadwood for a buffalo steak.

— By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine; photos by Terry Peak Ski Resort and Black Hills News Bureau.

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