What to do for wintertime fun in the Black Hills

By Gray Hughes

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The first day of winter was Friday, Dec. 21.

That means while the days will start to get longer,  the Black Hills can start to expect the annual onslaught of winter weather.

But have no fear, Black Hills residents. There is still plenty to do during the coldest season of the year.

“First, there are all manner of wonderful things to do in the Hills during the winter,” said Janet Wetovick-Bily, executive director of the Hill City Chamber of Commerce. “Winter is one of the most beautiful seasons up here, particularly if you love the beauty of the snow  and crisp inviting temperatures.”

Outdoor activities in the Hill City area includes  sledding, tobogganing, hiking, ice skating, ice fishing, snow shoe hikes, snow-mobiling, snowman building, nature walks, skiing, ice hockey and broomball, Wetovick-Bily said.

Outside of Hill City, there’s still more to do.

“It kind of tends to be in the winter, we have winter sports like snowmobiling, skiing, cross country skiing and other activities like snowshoeing,” said Michelle Thomson, president and CEO of the Black Hills and Badlands Tourism Association. “Snowshoeing is getting popular, too. So is fat tire biking.”

On nicer days like the Hill City and Keystone areas have experienced as of late, people will break out their hiking boots they packed away after the summer ended and go for a hike on one of the many trails in the area, she added.

The weather, Thomson said, can kind of be a double-edged sword, though, depending on the business.

On days where it is warmer, people will drive into the Hills to go for a hike and drive into popular hiking towns while on colder, snowy days towns such as Lead and Deadwood do better because of the access to more winter sports such as skiing and cross country skiing.

The colder days, too, often do not hurt the national parks and Custer State Park.

While visitation numbers in the winter are down compared to summertime numbers, people still flock to places such as Wind Cave National Park in addition to Custer State Park to view the plentiful wildlife adapting to wintery conditions, Thomson said.

There are plenty of indoor activities for people to do during the colder days Wetovick-Bily said, such as caves, visitor centers at Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial, art galleries, museums, reading and boutique shopping.

And if someone needs some camaraderie during the cold winter months, Hill City has plenty of events during the winter to help beat the winter blues.

On Jan. 19, there is the Breakin’ the Winter Blues Chili Cook-off from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Feb. 9 has two events: the Tour de Chocolate, which will last all day, and the Tin City Masonic Lodge seventh annual Polar Bear Chili Cook-off and Minnow Races from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In between all of that, there are open stage music performances.

“Also, on that events listing you will see individual events at Mt. Meadow, Prairie Berry, Miner, Naked Winery and others and more will be added as they are available,” Wetovick-Bily said.

But both Thomson and Wetovick-Bily agree that winter in Hill City and the Black Hills is what you make of it.

“The biggest thing is to take advantage of it,” Thomson said. “We have great national and state parks open year round, so go visit a different community, take a hike in Custer, take advantage of the area and soak in all there is to see and do.”

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