Crystal Mountain's woodland pathways are a delight to bike. (Crystal Mountain)
Several Heartland ski areas allow mountain biking on their summer slopes, but if you’re looking for lift served, five resorts will turn the lifts for downhill fun.
Great snow makes for happy snowboarders at Shanty Creek. (Shanty Creek/Facebook)
While results for the just finished Midwest snowsports season aren’t finalized yet at least northern Michigan resorts and ski areas are reporting they had a good season.
Whitefish Mountain Resort received over 400 inches of snow this season. The second most ever. (Whitefish)
It was a record year for Whitefish Mountain Resort in skier visits and the mountain received over 400 inches in snowfall to cap off an excellent winter. The resort broke its previous record of 346,000 skier/rider visits by 1,000.
The storied resort will be celebrating its 70th anniversary next season, but not sitting on its laurels, plans to spend another $2.6 million in capital improvements and upgrades for the 2017-18 season.
One improvement skiers and riders will like is the relocation and upgrade of idle Chair 5. The chairlift, which hasn’t operated for a couple of seasons, is being relocated to the East Rim, improving access to intermediate and advanced terrain as well as helping the guest flow around the mountain. The bottom terminal will be located near the intersection of Russ’s Street and Moe-Mentum runs unloading on the “knob” near Don’s Descent. It improves access to the East Rim, North Bowl and North Side Chairs 7 and 11 and T-Bar 2.
Following recent upgrades to the Summit House and Base Lodge the resort is giving its third mountain restaurant, Ed & Mully’s in the base village, a much needed facelift. A complete exterior remodel, improved access from the slopes and connection to the upper village, and a wall of windows looking out at the slopes are some of the improvements taking place.
A long-term lease agreement has been reached with the Biersturbe business owner, Scott McIntosh, and as part of the agreement, the 50-year-old building is getting an exterior face-lift and new deck. This classic Montana bar is the oldest bar on the mountain.
Additionally, a new covered bus shelter for S.N.O.W. Bus passengers, and for summer guests a new lift accessed bike trail to the Bike Park’s Bad Rock Zone and a new Strider Park for the little kids (2-6) has been created in the base area.
Lutsen Mountains is now part of the M.A.X. Pass. (Lutsen/Facebook)
The new M.A.X. Pass, with the addition of six new resorts including two from the Heartland, now offers access to 44 ski areas scattered across North America. It is now available through May 1 at its lowest price, $629 for adults, $429 teens, and $329 youth (6-12). After that prices will increase.
What’s nice for Heartlanders is that the new pass now includes: Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands, Michigan; Granite Peak, Wisconsin; and Buck Hill and Lutsen Mountains, Minnesota. The pass provides you five days at each of the ski areas listed with no blackout dates.
Depending on how many days per season you ski or ride you can bounce back and forth to the Midwest areas that are close to each other and take ski trips west or east. If you live in Michigan the two Boyne resorts are close by. Wisconsin and Minnesota snowsports enthusiasts have three areas they can visit. Both Granite Peak and Lutsen make wonderful Heartland locations for a multi-day ski vacation.
If you like to ski several days per week at your local hill you can buy a season pass for any of the five Midwest areas and upgrade to a M.A.X. Pass for an additional cost that will allow you access to the 43 other ski resorts for five days throughout the 2017/18 season. The additional cost is $329, $279 and $229 respectively and most likely can be included in the cost of your local ski area pass.
What I like about it, especially for the hardcore skier or rider, it provides you with the flexibility for lots of great choices from day trips and ski weekends around the Midwest to mountain vacations.
Big Sky offers big snow and big views. (Big Sky/Facebook)
The ski season is winding down across Montana with the last day taking place at many this weekend, but a few are staying open later through Easter. At least one has extended their season with all the snow that has fallen this winter.
Whitefish Mountain Resort has received more than 31 feet of snow so far this season. Conditions are prime spring skiing, but plans on closing after skiing and riding Saturday, April 8. Dummy Derby takes place this coming Saturday, April 1 as competitors compete for a $400 cash purse. The annual season-ending Pond Skim is scheduled for the closing Saturday. Lift and lodging packages start from $98 per person, per night and include breakfast and hot tub access.
Big Sky Resort remains open through April 16 affording a little more time to enjoy those spring conditions. The annual, spectator friendly Pond Skim takes place Saturday, April 15, with live music following at Whiskey Jacks. April lift and lodging packages offer 30 percent off select condos booked through central reservations. Tours of nearby Yellowstone National Park are also available, and this is an excellent time of year to tour the park. It’s a great time to catch the bison before they start moving to higher ground.
Great Divide plans on remaining open through April 9 and on weekends through the month as long as the snow remains skiable. They’ll pick the best weather day of each weekend, 10am-5pm. Lift tickets are $10 per hour or $30 for the day.
Families enjoy Giants Ridge and the giant views. (Jim Balfour)
Spring has come early to the Heartland this winter and most of the ski areas across the lower Midwest have closed. The best bets for some late season spring skiing into April are all centered across the northern Great Lakes, and the longer, warmer, sun filled days provide some of the best conditions of the winter.
Lou Batori skis perfectly together. (Mike Terrell)
“He’s the Energizer Bunny of skiing.”
That was my first thought when Crystal Mountain Resort spokesman Brian Lawson contacted me recently to say that Lou Batori, legendary centenarian skier, had taken a few runs during the warm spell in late February.
At 106-years-old he sets records every time he takes a run. Batori is considered the oldest living skier in the world. The Hungarian Skier recently called him “Yoda of the skis” in salute to their native son’s latest accomplishment.
Batori first learned to ski in Hungary at the age of 10 on handmade wooden hickory skis equipped with leather straps for bindings. He continued to ski in New York and New England when his family immigrated to the United States a few years later and in Michigan when he moved here after he retired in 1973.
I had the pleasure of taking a few runs with Lou a couple of years ago on an April morning at Crystal. Skiing with a Centurion was almost a mystical experience. Standing on top of the ski hill recalling ski history he said, “I rode the first chairlift in the east at Stowe Mountain in 1940, the year it was constructed. That was a while ago.” I knew I was in for a treat. That was three years before I was born. Needless to say it was a treat I’ll never forget.
Dressed in a white jumpsuit with a 100+ patch stitched on the arm and a sleek Giro silver helmet you would never have guessed his age. He headed gracefully, skis together, down a corduroy carpet of snow making perfect turns.
“A run, a weekend of skiing justifies my existence,” he said with a grin as we paused for the mid-morning break in the cafeteria. “It’s funny, but when a person asks me why I ski, I immediately know they are not a skier. A skier wouldn’t have to ask that question.”
He credits grooming and the new gear with extending his skiing years.
“Today’s grooming leaves the slopes in immaculate condition. I don’t have to worry about changing slope conditions, and the new equipment is much lighter, more efficient and easier to use. Boots have improved immensely, and to me, they are the most important part or your equipment. If your feet aren’t happy you won’t enjoy skiing,” Batori chuckled.
He was featured in a 2011 CBS Sunday Morning segment when he turned 100 and still skied.
Despite not liking the word “inspiration,” Batori is an inspiration to all of us to get out enjoy life and make as many turns as possible down life’s endless slopes.
Looking down at the Ski Brule lodge. (Ski Brule)
Michigan's Ski Brule, a longtime Midwest family favorite, offers a variety of terrain – slopes, terrain parks, terrain trails and half pipes – that flow off a 500-foot ridge. As Heartland skiers and riders have learned in past years, a Brule season pass can be a wise investment. You can count on plenty of time to use it. They hold the record for the longest Midwest season staying open 182 days during the 2005-06 season. The area normally opens in early November and stays open well into April.
A skier enjoys a run down Rib Mountain at Granite Peak. (Granite Peak/Facebook)
Heartland skiers and riders on the western side of the Great Lakes have a couple of good choices for spring break on slopes close to home. Two ski resorts with mountain terrain and plenty of snow, one in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota, are just a drive away.
Lutsen Mountains, with currently over four feet of snow covering most slopes, is hosting Family Festival Weekend March 24-25. Starting from $129 per person the package includes two nights lodging, lift tickets and free ski rental for the entire family. There’s also a family fun night at the Summit Chalet topped off with a fireworks display over the mountains. Ski and stay four or more days and children (6-12) ski, stay, eat free and also get free equipment rental.
“With a deep midwinter snowpack, the thaw has had minimal effect on our slope conditions,” Jim Vick, Lutsen spokesperson, told SnoCountry. “Average base on the mountain is still four plus feet and long range forecasts show March temperatures skewing below average, giving every indication that we are good for skiing daily through April 9th and weekends until May.”
Travel Blue Book calls Lutsen Mountains one of the “Top Five Ski Resorts You May Not Have Heard Of.” It offers 1,000 skiable acres, an 860-foot skiable drop and 95 runs off four mountain peaks, each offering breathtaking views of Lake Superior. Add in, a new six-seat, high-speed lift, and mid-America’s only gondola and you have some of the best skiing and riding around the Great Lakes, according to the book.
Wisconsin’s Granite Peak just announced Spring Break Discounts through April 9. If you purchase a two-day lift ticket you get free rental equipment for both days, and you also get lift tickets for the third day, and every other day thereafter, for $30 adult and $20 for children (ages 6-12). There are also weekend and midweek lodging packages available.
The Peak offers 75 trails, a 700-foot vertical drop and three high-speed lifts making it one of the largest ski areas in the Heartland.
Slush cups are part of spring fun in Michigan. (Shanty Creek)
Despite a record warm February across the Great Lakes that saw some ski areas across southern Michigan, Indiana and Ohio call it a season all ready, slopes in northern Michigan are still well covered. March’s longer, warmer days bring out the fun side of northern Michigan’s ski resorts.
Kid’s Festival Weekend takes place at Boyne Mountain, March 10-12, with all kinds of events planned for kids of every age. At Boyne Highlands the eighth annual Brew-Ski Festival happens March 10-11. Lodging packages are available for both events.
Krazy Daze events include slaloms, jump the pond competition, tailgate parties, face painting, and costume judging. On Saturday there are GS races, a Silly Slalom, and, of course, a pond skimming event.
Carnival Weekend brings out the beads, bands, and costume competitions. Check out the on-hill party at Victor Warming House on Saturday. There’s outside cookouts on the Stein Eriksen Patio and live music. The spectator friendly Slush Cup takes place on Sunday. Carnival weekend packages start from $160 per person, per night.
Nubs Nob hosts Mardi Gras March 18. A family oriented event with fun and games for all; the Soaker Cup, Costume contest, Crazy Couples, races and the Petoskey Steel Drum Band on the deck.
Crystal Mountain is celebrating sun and snow with March on the Mountain. The Spring Carnival, which includes the, cardboard classic and slush cup, takes place March 10-11. The following weekend, March 17-18, is Celts and Kayaks featuring an on slope downhill kayak race, another slush cup and Celtic dancing. Retro Weekend takes place March 24-25 with a mountain run, bike races and a free slopeside concert. Friday, March 10, is 6-for-$60. Grab six friends and head for Crystal. You can’t beat an all-mountain $10 lift ticket.
The resort is offering 25-percent off peak season lodging rates throughout the month of March in limited quantities.
Shanty Creek is hosting their Cardboard Classic March 11 and Blarney Stone Rail Jam March 18. Lift and lodging packages start from $97 per person, per night, and include breakfast. Children eight and under always sleep and ski free when staying with parents.
It’s that time of year to get out and enjoy the slopes before the season ends, and have some fun along the way.
Boyne Highlands slopes are ready for skiers and riders. (Boyne Highlands)
An up and down weather pattern that has persisted most of the winter across the Heartland and Great Lakes has now caused some ski areas across the lower Midwest to cease operations this week through Thursday. Most are hoping to re-open on Friday.
Crystal Mountain skiers slicing through the trees. (Crystal Mountain)
Glade skiing and the backcountry, popular out West and in the East, doesn’t take a backseat in the Heartland. Ski areas located across the upper tier of the Midwest offer some fine tree runs, even a few cliff jumps.
When you think backcountry skiing, Upper Michigan’s Mt. Bohemia is legendary. All backcountry, it offers the only cat skiing east of the Rockies. In Powder Magazine's annual reader poll of the best backcountry powder in North America, Bohemia routinely comes out on top in the East and finished in the top four overall one year. There’s a 900-foot vertical drop spread out over 600 acres with cliffs, chutes, trees, steep drops, all natural snow and nothing groomed. The cat skiing is off 700-foot Voodoo Mountain where runs tumble down towards Lake Superior. Annual average lake effect snow is 270-inches. It’s the only Heartland area that is truly “backcountry.”
In addition there are six other ski resorts in Lower Michigan, two in Wisconsin, and one each in Minnesota and South Dakota that offer glade skiing. There’s no backcountry but alluring glades off to the side of groomed runs and some nice swaths in between runs.
The Mountain has three advanced glades and the Highlands four scattered across the ridge. Nubs has seven glades that stretch across the front side, south side and Pintail Peak. One of their upper glade slopes can be accessed only by hiking up; just like out West.
Caberfae Peaks has a 25-acre area off the backside of North Peak marked as backcountry terrain. It’s been gladed and is nice and wide offering plenty of lines.
Wisconsin’s Granite Peak offers several acres of glades in between widely spaced runs scattered across the mountain. Minnesota’s Lutsen Mountains has glade runs scattered across three of their mountains, many well away from the groomed runs offering seclusion like you would find out West.
It can be an exhilarating experience. Just be careful, always looking ahead, bring friend and helmets required.
Granite Peak offers three high-speed lifts. (Granite Peak/Facebook)
Reminiscent of Western resort towns, at night Granite Peak’s lit trails shimmer above Wausau, Wisconsin. Ribbons of light cascade down Rib Mountain towards the edge of the city. The ski area illuminates the mountain rising above the town, not commonplace in the Midwest.
Terrain/lifts. Offering 75 trails, four terrain parks, three high-speed lifts and a 700-foot vertical drop, it’s one of the largest ski areas in the Heartland. Terrain ranges from beginner areas with Magic Carpet lifts to advanced rocky chutes and mogul runs on the upper mountain. Glade skiing is available in abundance, and long blue cruisers are over a mile in length. Terrain parks have been rated among the best in the Midwest by Transworld Snowboarding. They typically stay open into the second week of April.
Eat/Drink. Base facilities include the historic Tenth Mountain Chalet, the 10,000-square-foot Sundance Chalet and a new outside patio area with overhead heaters, an outdoor grill and seating for 400. Wisconsin, known for Supper Clubs, has a couple of the best in Wausau; Michael’s Supper Club and Pine Woods Supper Club. Both offer themed décors and superb menus. Check out the Great Dane for fine handcrafted beers.
Stay. Granite Peak does not have lodging, but works with a variety of motels, hotels and quaint B&Bs that package with the ski area, some within a mile. Stay and ski packages can be made through the ski area online.
Play. Nearby Sylvan Hill Winter Recreation Area offers the longest, steepest tubing runs in the state, and Nine Mile Forest offers 33 kilometers of double-tracked and skate-lane trails for all levels of cross country skiers.
Deals Spring vacation special, March 6-April 9, free rental equipment (ski or snowboard) with any two or more days of lift tickets. Online Spring Stock Up ticket sale through February, tickets for use March 6-April 9; save $90 on two day tickets and $130 on three day adult tickets, child (6-12) save $60 and $90 respectively.
Insider’s Tip: If you like steep and chutes the Blitzen Lift has two loading areas. Stay on the advanced trails by loading mid-station.
Sunset views from Shanty Creek Lakeview Restaurant and Lounge. (Shanty Creek)
Mountain top dining is a popular evening activity at ski resorts out west. We may not have a lot of opportunity in the Midwest, but there are a handful of ski resorts scattered around the Heartland that offer dinning with a view.
At Shanty Creek, also in Lower Michigan,you have the Lakeview Restaurant and Lounge located on top of the Summit Slopes. It offers incredible sunset views over Lake Bellaire and at night skiers and riders romp on the slopes below. They serve innovative regional fare, Michigan’s finest craft beers and award-winning homemade desserts. Dinner is served nightly. The sunset is free.
You can see the lights of the Mackinac Bridge 30 miles away on a clear night at the Aonach Mor Moonlight Dinner on top of Boyne Highland’s North Peak. The mountain top lodge is set aglow by candlelight. Wall-to-wall windows, high pine ceilings, white linen covered tables and a crackling fire greet diners. Dinners are available February 11, 14, 18 and 25 for $72 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Included is a 15-minute sleigh ride up to the lodge and back.
Heading on around the Great Lakes, Indianhead Mountain, part of Big Snow Resort is upside-down with its village and lodging on top of the mountain. It offers the newly renovated Sky Bar & Grille and Lodge Restaurant. Sunset views stretch as far as the eye can see over an endless forest all the way to Lake Superior, a glint on the horizon. The Lodge is located in an authentic swayback barn that was part of the original homestead dating back to the 1930s. Check out their Friday night fish fry with locally caught perch and bluegill.
Along Minnesota’s North Shore is Lutsen Mountains and Papa Charlie’s Nightclub, which overlooks Moose Mountain, the Poplar River valley, Eagle Mountain and Lake Superior. It’s located in the mountain village on Eagle Mountain. A laid back atmosphere, it’s considered one of the top music venues north of the Twin Cities and also one of the top restaurants along the North Shore. Before the music heats up enjoy dinner as the sun sets behind the surrounding mountain tops.
Overlooking another body of water is Chestnut Mountain and its Sunset Grille where the dining experience and the view are equally spectacular. Perched high on a bluff above North America’s largest river, the mighty Mississippi, the view stretches across three states, Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Ski slopes look like they might run into the river, and sunsets are spectacular. They even put the daily sunset time on the web page.
A scenic view of Nubs Nob slopes overlooking Little Traverse Bay valley. (Nubs Nob)
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to consider a romantic getaway with a little skiing and riding. It falls midweek this year, which means lower package prices. Here are some of the best choices around the Great Lakes.
Twin City residents have Lutsen Resort, one of the “grand old resorts” along Lake Superior’s North Shore, and it’s located just across the road from Lutsen Mountains, the Heartland’s largest snowsports resort. Minnesota Monthly Magazine calls it “most romantic resort in the state.” They offer a Romance Package, two nights lodging, breakfast daily, one dinner and champagne in your room, from $386 midweek. They offer guests roundtrip free shuttle service to the ski hill, just minutes away. Buy your Lutsen Mountains lift tickets online and save $20 per adult on two-day lift tickets.
Wisconsin’s Granite Peak and Wausau make a nice romantic combo for Milwaukee and Chicago couples. The city is draped around the base of Rib Mountain. At night the ski area illuminates the mountain rising above the city. The Jefferson Street Inn, located on the town square, offers a Romantic Getaway that includes a two-night stay in a two-room suite with in-room whirlpool and fireplace, lift tickets for two days and a couple’s message. The package starts from around $700.
Detroit couples look northward for a couple of romantic getaways. Many Chicagoland skiers also head to northern Michigan for getaways.
Stafford’s Bay View Inn, located in Petoskey often called the “Nantucket of the Midwest,” offers a Hit The Slopes package that starts from $299 midweek, two guests per room. It includes two nights lodging, a country breakfast each morning, and two vouchers for a day’s lift ticket at either Boyne Highlands or Nubs Nub, both nearby. Superb dining, charm and hospitality make this a memorable Valentine’s stay.
The Homestead Resort, nestled in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore overlooking Lake Michigan, offers a Winter Stay & Dine package that includes two night’s lodging, hot breakfast each morning and dinner at Nonna’s their signature restaurant one evening. Rates start from $89 per person, per night, and all day lift tickets can be added for around $30 per person, per day. It’s only open weekends for skiing and riding.
Amtrak's Empire Builder takes you on an exciting adventure through majestic wilderness. (Amtrak/Facebook)
Midwesterners can climb aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Whitefish Mountain Resort and save 20 percent on your train travel. It leaves Chicago’s Union Station with stops in Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and several other boarding locations across North Dakota and eastern Montana.
Snow conditions at Big Sky are excellent this season. (Big Sky)
Big Sky Resort, part of Boyne Resorts headquartered in Michigan, is planning on spending over $150 million on resort improvements over the next eight years. The improvements will include the most advanced chairlift network in North America, elevated lodging, dining and shopping, and more on-mountain activities, according to Stephen Kircher, president of Boyne’s eastern operations and Big Sky.
The aim is to establish Big Sky Resort, with its iconic Lone Peak, and surrounding area as the American Alps.
“For more than 67 years, my family and our organization has remained committed to creating a memorable experiences at unique destinations, often inspired by sense of place and attention to detail,” said Kircher in a prepared statement. “Big Sky will become the best representation of that ideal with our 2025 efforts.”
This past summer as part of the program the resort installed a couple of new state-of-the-art lifts replacing older, slower and less comfortable lifts. A six-seat, high-speed detachable accessing Lone Peak’s bowl replaces the old triple chair, and it’s a Big Sky blue bubble chair with heated seats. Talk about comfort. The other chair, a new fast, fixed-grip triple, will serve the long, steep runs in the Challenger area; reserved for expert-level skiers and riders. It replaces an old, slow double and is more wind resistant.
Big Sky Big Grass returns to the resort for the 11th year in a row, Thursday -Sunday, Feb. 9-12.
Live Music Featuring: Sam Bush Band, Del McCoury Band, Billy Strings, Drew Emmitt Band, Jeff Austin Band, The Travelin' McCourys, 2016 Grammy Nominated artist Sierra Hull, Darol Anger and the Furies, and The Good Time Travelers.
West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park, just 45 minutes away, makes a great day trip. National Park snowcoach tours will take you to Old Faithful, bison viewing and more.
Big Sky offers several lodging packages throughout the winter; 30-percent off the nightly rate in the Huntley Lodge on select dates, and a fourth night free at several of the village lodges and hotels. Some blackout dates may apply.
With all the snow the resort has received so far this winter conditions are excellent. They set visitation records over the holidays.
Join pro skier Lisa Densmore at Boyne Highlands. (Boyne Highlands)
Over the next few weeks eight Midwest ski areas are hosting women’s ski and snowboard clinics. Two ski areas are located in Michigan, two in Indiana, and one each in Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.
Families feel at home on the Summit's slopes. (Shanty Creek)
Michigan's Shanty Creek offers a little taste of Europe, where they are used to skiing from village to village. Spanning 4,500 acres and offering three distinct villages--The Summit, Cedar Creek and Schuss Mountain— you can cross country ski between and all offer access to the slopes.
Join Boyne Highlands for a beginner lesson and some smiles. (Boyne Mountain)
If you’ve wanted to give winter sports a try there’s no better time if you’re a Michigan resident or living just across the border in Indiana or Wisconsin.
Michigan Snowsports Industries Association (MSIA) and McDonald’s Restaurants have teamed up to offer an affordable lesson program for both adults and children. It covers downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross country skiing.
The Discover Michigan Ski program includes a beginner lesson, ski or snowboard rental, and a beginner area lift pass or cross country trail pass at 27 of the state’s top ski areas. The program is available throughout the month of January. The cost for the program, which is open to everyone from 7 on up, is $20 for a cross country skiing lesson and $35 for a downhill skiing or snowboarding lesson.
Signing up is easy. The Discover Michigan Ski vouchers are available at participating Michigan McDonald Restaurants and selected ski shops while quantities last. A printable version is also available by visiting the MSIA website. The voucher lists participating ski areas. You must pre-register with the area.
“It’s been very popular program in past years,” Mickey McWilliams, longtime MSIA executive director, told SnoCountry. “It offers an affordable way to give snow sports a try, and many keep up with it after that initial lesson. We’ve been offering this program in January for several years now, and in that time a few thousand people, both young and old, have come out to give winter sports a try.”
A sampling of participating areas includes some of the larger resorts in the state; Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands, Nubs Nob, Shanty Creek, Treetops in northern Lower Michigan, and Bittersweet, Timber Ridge and Apple Mountain in the southern part of the Lower Peninsula. Big Powderhorn, Ski Brule and Marquette Mountain in the UP are just a few of the participating ski areas.