Road Trip Stop at Terry Peak, SD: A World of its Own

Written by Natalie Akers | Edited by Dara Barney
You can tell a lot about a mountain from the parking lot. On a Monday morning at Terry Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota, there were more cars in the employee section than the main lot. Nevertheless, license plates from Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and the homestate parked in the front row. Oh, and more than one skier dismounting a four-wheeler.

Despite my best efforts, I had my expectations for South Dakota skiing. Apart from Great Bear Ski Valley (178 vertical ft), Terry Peak is skiing in South Dakota. With 1,100 vertical feet, 29 trails, and one terrain park, it’s a small to medium-sized mountain sure to deliver great snowmaking. Terry Peak exceeds expectations.

Skiing Terry Peak begins with skiing, not a lift ride. I redeemed my Indy Pass at Stewart Lodge (elevation 6,500’) and descended a perfectly groomed, wide blue to the Surprise Express. I was already whooping at the carving conditions. Surprise gives skiers access to the summit, which at 7,100 feet, towering over every East Coast resort and many mountains in the Cascade range. I stopped in the 3-degree weather to take a panoramic of the Black Hills poking up above the cloud line.

Terry Peak had received less than an inch a day for over a week when I arrived. However, their dedication to snowmaking and the mountains wind-resistant cold-persistence held dry snow dustings that kept the bump runs fun and the groomers impeccable.

I skied under the lift line to run Terry Peak’s signature trail, Kussy. The flawlessly groomed intermediate slope roles in and out of challenging pitches before dumping skiers at the alternate base, Nevada Gulch (5,900’). Nevada Gulch is clearly basecamp for the locals. The considerably smaller retro lodge hosts 8-weekend music events and a fire pit to help savor the beer all week long. In their own words, “If nostalgia is more your thing, then the Nevada Gulch Lodge is the hangout for you” ( It’s not a stretch of the imagination to picture the tenth mountain division engineers who developed the ski resort in the ‘50s enjoying at the lodge’s Dark Horse Saloon.

I lapped the Kussy Express several times, getting my fill of the untouched intermediate groomed trails and the natural stuff on black diamond slopes like “Ben Hur” and “Holy Terror.” Each time I grew more curious about the tree skiing available in the “North Side Glades.” A ski patroller with a french accent (What!? Are we close to Canada?) confirmed they wouldn’t scrape too much off my base, and I ventured into the woods. The chutes were surprisingly steep considering their location in the lower 3rd of the mountain, and satisfyingly challenging. I’d recommend getting an unofficial local guide for hunting the stashes. Any way you cut it, these thrilling tree runs spill out to the mellow cat track that funnels everyone back to the Saloon.

A day prior to my visit, I hopped on the phone with Marketing Director, Linda Derosier, to get her insight on the mountain. Linda, a self-described “flatlander”, was in her 19th year working for Terry Peak. She’s responsible for a lot, like many ski industry folks, including producing Terry Peak’s music weekends, the Lunar Run (yes, it happens at full moon!), Senior Slope Side Day, and Sunday’s “Kids Club.” But as an aspiring backcountry skier, she caught my attention by mentioning March’s Free Heel Fest.

Terry Peak has to be one of the only mountains east of the Rockies with “Skinning” in the web menu options. Not a tab for “uphill policy” under the mountain safety protocol (typical of my beloved east coast resorts), but “Skinning,” complete with four designated routes. I traced the “Little Hope” line which is permitted for uphill travel from sunrise to 3 pm mid-week. Little Hope is Looker’s left of the mountain and serves a generous patch of south side glades. The snow coverage was great, and I came out of the trees at the base of GoldCorp Express #2, swooping me quickly back up to the Summit.

I love a mountain that offers a variety of beginner slopes on a lodge-side of the mountain, and reserves one lift for intermediate/expert trail access. The latter is GoldCorp Express #2. Though the pitches on Little Hope didn’t rival what skiers will find in the lowest “North Side,” “Ben Hur,” or “Avalanche” glades, there were at least four empty lifts between every skier. I was happy to weave in and out of the thinned out trees, heeding the warning on this designated backcountry territory.

The surprising day did confirm a few expectations. Linda promised I’d see bib overalls, chaps, and even cowboy hats on the hill, adding “we got a real country feel.” I did. Terry Peak is also as affordable as it claims to be, rewarding, not least, its locals. This year over 6,000 people purchased Season Passes at the mountain, which prices the card in October at $375 (50% off!). Learners benefit from lesson and rental packages like the “Sno Tiger Green Package” for 6-12-year-olds, which often sells out at the mountain. $58 for 2 hrs of group lessons, plus equipment rental, and a beginner area lift ticket.

It all begins to explain the 4 year wait time on getting a locker at Terry Peak. And why skiers and riders from Nebraska and even Minnesota call Terry Peak their home mountain.

“We bring the winter to the Black Hills,” Linda reminded me. And the Deadwood nightlife is just 15 minutes away.

Ski or ride at Terry Peak with an Indy Pass today.