Manitoba may be known as a prairie province, but we’ve got mini mountains that allow for some pretty speedy downhill descents! From bunny hills to double black diamonds, there are runs for all skill levels and interests. In almost every region of the province you can find hills that offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and a few fun extras for non-skiers. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of a downhill ski day in Manitoba:

The Essentials

As with any winter activity, you need to dress for the weather to have a good time. Besides your skis, poles or snowboard (the obvious essentials), here are five things you need, or should at least consider bringing, for a day on the slopes:

Downhill Ski EssentialsLayer up

There are three key layers to consider before hitting the slopes– base, mid and outer. Start with a base layer (think long johns) then a mid layer of warm, breathable fabric, ideally fleece or wool, to keep you cozy. Add the outer layer, ski pants and a ski jacket, to protect you from the wind and add extra insulation, and you’re nearly ready to go.

Mind your neck

You see skiers and snowboarders rocking neck warmers with neat designs all the time on the slopes, but these aren’t just fashion statements. Using a neck warmer or balaclava makes more sense than a scarf when you're rocketing down a hill. A scarf can get caught in the wind and fly off, leaving your neck exposed to the elements.

Keep your toes toasty

A good pair of socks is essential for downhill fun. Make sure your feet stay warm in your big ski boots with good wool or synthetic socks. Try to avoid cotton, which holds moisture, possibly making your feet colder in the long run.

Stay safe

A helmet is always a good idea. Even for experienced skiers and boarders, safety should be a top priority. You can usually rent helmets along with skis, boots and poles at the hills themselves, but check before you go to make sure they have them available.

See clearly

If you’re going to be ripping down the hills you may also want to grab a pair of goggles to keep any flying snow out of your eyes. Some people use sunglasses as well, but goggles will be more reliable when it comes to staying on your face.

Hit the hills 

Now that you’re suited up and staying warm, here are a few hills to test your skills. Some Manitoba ski resorts offer opportunities for full weekends of activity, while other hills are great for beginners who want to spend a few hours learning the basics.

Asessippi

Very few things make your thighs burn like a full day of skiing or snowboarding, especially at Asessippi. Asessippi, near Inglis, Manitoba, has over 25 downhill runs to choose from, ranging from beginner to expert-level difficulty, that hit the spot for every rider. The only problem with this option is you'll have to arrive full of willpower to not indulge in the fantastic food featured at the Powder Keg Pub once your day at the slopes is done.

Holiday Mountain

Holiday Mountain was the first for a lot of things in Manitoba's downhill skiing world. It was the first Manitoban ski resort, which opened in December 1959 in La Rivière, and had the first rope tow in the province. Now it has eight groomed runs (beginner, intermediate and advanced), A-frame cabins to rent so you can stay for a weekend, and two chalets serving up tasty meals so you can grab a bite and get back on the slopes in no time.

Mystery Mountain Winter Park

If you’re looking for a truly northern experience, then head up to Mystery Mountain Winter Park. It's Manitoba’s most remote winter park, located 22 kilometres north of Thompson and offers something a tad more exciting for thrill seekers. In addition to 18 ski runs, the winter park also features a half-pipe, a tobogganing area, and 25 kilometres of cross-country ski trails.

Ski Valley

For those who prefer a bit more adrenaline, Ski Valley in Minnedosa is top-notch, with nine runs for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. It’s a one-stop shop with equipment rentals, ski and snowboard lessons, and on-site dining, making it particularly convenient for day trips and group outings.

Stony Mountain Ski Area

Stony Mountain Ski Area has the basics covered and is great for beginners. The hill is 100 feet vertical and has six runs. There’s a tow rope and a handle bar tow but no chair lift to get you to the top, so you’ll need to be ready to grab hold of the rope and ride it up. Stony is known more as a hill for snowboarders, but welcomes those choosing to fly down the hill on “two boards” as well.

Thunder Hill

Thunder Hill is another location with no chair lift. But it’s got two fast-moving T-bar lifts that will get you to the top of this Swan Valley hill in a jiffy. There are 20 different routes you can take to race down the hill. They range in difficulty from the easy green circle to double black diamond, and you can mix-and-match as you make your way down, start on the easy, veer off onto a stretch of intermediate then swoop back onto the easy route as the runs cross and connect.

Springhill Winter Sports Park

If you want to practice your moves in a terrain park, Springhill Winter Sports Park is a great option. The area is small but packs a lot into it’s snowy area. The hill offers opportunity to practice tricks and jumps on ramps, bars and a half pipe. The hill also has a snow tube park open on weekends for those who prefer to sit and slide. And it’s only ten kilometres from Winnipeg’s Perimeter Highway, making it an easy afternoon outing from Manitoba's capital city.

Falcon Ridge Ski Slopes

This hill in the beautiful Whiteshell area is perfect for beginners and families. Avalanche free since 1959 (according to their website), Falcon Ridge Ski Slopes boasts 12 alpine ski runs, and an epic tubing hill complete with a tow rope that oh-so-gently escorts you back up to the top. The ski resort has rentals available and you can book a lesson with one of their friendly ski instructors. Once you've had your fill of the slopes, head into the charming chalet complete with a huge stone fireplace, live entertainment every weekend and a menu of comfort foods to fill you up for your next run.

Something a little different 

If you aren’t sure about strapping slippery boards to your feet and flying down a snowy hill, you may want to try snow tubing, or downhill “skating” instead.

Many of the alpine hills in Manitoba have added tubing to their slopes including Asessippi, Falcon Ridge Ski Slopes and Springhill Winter Park. Asessippi also has sled dogs, which are something akin to ski boots in which you can “skate” down the hill. Or if you want to stay away from the slopes altogether, Asessippi offers snowshoe rentals, so everyone in your group can find something to do on a downhill ski weekend, even if they don't want to skiing.