Parents accuse Bloomington's Hyland Hills of coddling private ski team

Parents claim high school teams are being screwed out of the best practice lanes at Hyland Hills Ski Area.

Parents claim high school teams are being screwed out of the best practice lanes at Hyland Hills Ski Area.

Even before the season’s first snowfall, a battle was brewing at Hyland Hills Ski Area. A group led by two parents is accusing the Bloomington ski hill of playing favorites on the slopes.

Citizens 4 Hyland, founded by Paul Hoffman and Cindy McDonnell, says a private ski club has a stranglehold on some of the best lanes on the public slope, relegating high school teams to lesser hills. Hoffman and McDonnell have raised concerns about Team Gilboa, an elite alpine ski team that trains kids from age 6 through high school, saying that it's been getting special treatment by schedulers for several years.

The parents circulated a petition garnering 530 signatures asking for fairer scheduling. The petition was presented to the Three Rivers Park District Board of Commissioners last month.

“It’s frustrating and it’s insulting,” says Hoffman, whose kids ski for Hopkins High School.

While Hyland divides 11 racing lanes among 22 teams, only four lanes have sought-after starting ramps that simulate racing conditions, which alpine racers need to properly train, Hoffman says. Gilboa, which trains roughly 375 youth skiers, has near exclusive use of two lanes, leaving the 600 students on the other teams (some of whom also race for Gilboa) to predominantly rotate between the other two.

“Unfortunately, as it is with most sports when you have an abundance of users that want to use a small amount of facilities, people walk away frustrated,” says Three Rivers Park District Superintendent Boe Carlson. “But we try to do our best to balance the needs, and we try to tweak it as best we can to meet the needs of everybody.”

Gilboa’s relationship with Three Rivers dates back more than 30 years. Its predecessor was initially formed by Hyland and the Hennepin County Park District to help promote the sport. In the 1980s, it was spun off as a nonprofit after the county no longer wanted to manage it. As Hyland’s home team of sorts, Gilboa has a cooperative agreement with the parks district — a common arrangement the district offers groups who want to offer a level of services the district can’t, Carlson says.

While the deal doesn’t guarantee Gilboa use of certain ski lanes, it does state that they receive treatment “consistent with past practices,” according to Three Rivers spokesman Tom Knisely.

“They have to rely on some consistency of treatment so they can run a consistent program,” Carlson says.

Still, Gilboa lost its claim on some weekend time slots in the past few years.

Bill Guidera, the president of Gilboa, says his club needs more space as it is. Rather than fighting over a slice of the hill, Guidera says the focus should be on improving other areas of the hill and adding more starting ramps.

“We’re happy to work with anybody to improve the ski area,” he says.

Carlson says the district has already made improvements to some hills by adding lighting and removing vegetation.

Either way, Guidera doesn’t seem warm to relinquishing Gilboa’s lane share. He compares his club, with which former Olympian Kaylin Richardson once trained, to a group of ski jumpers that have designated space at Hyland for their “unique needs.”

That’s not much consolation for Hoffman, who says he’s sick of the “status quo.” After calling for change for several years, he’s unsatisfied with the board’s November orders to have Three Rivers staff examine how Hyland’s facilities are divvied up.

“We’ve been looking at this issue for three years, so I find it insulting to say ‘Oh, we need to study it more,’” Hoffman says. “There’s no reason they can’t allocate these things fairly. They just chose not to.”