Crystal Mountain Inn at the Mountain expansion taking place. (Crystal Mountain)
Despite the warm winter across the Midwest last season that negatively impacted the ski season a half-dozen ski resorts are completing major projects for the 2016/17 winter season. Four are located in Michigan and one each in Ohio and Wisconsin.
The iconic vine covered Boyne Highlands hotel with the ski hill rising behind it. (Boyne Highlands)
A fire significantly damaged the Boyne Highlands hotel early Sunday morning, Dec. 11, with at least 12 people being transported to area hospitals, according to a story published by the Petoskey News Review.
A family is ready to hit the slopes for a day. (Boyne Highlands)
Pull up to the main lodge at Boyne Highlands and the classic three-story hotel with its vine-covered alpine motif and ski hill rising behind the roofline is arguably one of the most iconic views among Heartland ski resorts. Rising over 550 feet, the largest vertical in Lower Michigan, the ski hill offers 55 runs up to a mile long and eight lifts, including a high-speed quad. There are four terrain parks, a 13-foot halfpipe, and numerous glades scattered across the ridge.
Santa enjoys a run down the Shanty's Schuss Mountain slopes. (Shanty Creek)
With a forecast for cold weather and lake effect snow returning to northwest Lower Michigan later this week ski resorts are getting ready to celebrate the holiday season. Let’s hope Santa brings the snow.
Shanty Creek has several holiday events scheduled including the Sardine Special on Friday, Dec. 16, when you pack the car with as many people as possible and you all ski for the price of one, and breakfast and story time with Santa on Saturday, Dec. 17 and 23. On Christmas Day ski and ride free with Santa on the Schuss Mountain slopes. Just bring a non-perishable food item or clothing to donate. Holiday Ski Packages start from $184 per person, per night and includes lodging, lift ticket, breakfast and a group ski lesson.
Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands will be celebrating the sights and sounds of the holidays with lots of planned activities, dinners, holiday rail jams, and New Year’s Eve dinners, live bands and celebrations capped with fireworks over the ski slopes. For a complete event schedule you can click on either the Mountainor Highlands. Boyne’s 6-for-1 Day, six people can ski or ride at either resort for the price of one. It takes place Friday, Dec. 16, and celebrates North America’s first six-seat, high speed lift installed at Boyne Mountain in 1991.
Crystal Mountain will be celebrating holiday week Dec. 16 through Jan. 7, 2017. In honor of the resort’s 60th anniversary on Friday, Dec. 16 its 6-for $60 when six people can ski or ride for $60. Planned activities will be taking place every day—fat bike tours, snowshoe tours, horse drawn surrey rides—with dinners, live entertainment and New Year’s Eve celebrations. On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, ski with Santa that afternoon.
Treetops Resort has family activities slated all day for Dec. 30, and three different New Year’s Eve dinners and celebrations; a family party, dance party and kid’s party. Overnight rates, including lodging, lift and breakfast voucher, start from $64 midweek and $80 on weekends in limited quantity.
Boyne Mountain girlfriends are ready for Time Out. (Boyne Mountain)
Women take center stage at several ski areas around the Heartland as five Midwest resorts schedule women’s clinics early January.
Minnesota's Wild Mountain is hosting a women’s snowsports Academy, ages 18 and up, in early January. Snowboarding only, Jan. 3, 6-8 p.m.; skiing only Jan. 6, 7-9 p.m.; both skiing and snowboarding, Jan. 6, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The cost is $99 for each session. Female instructors are ready to work with beginners to experienced skiers and riders on their goals.
Ohio’s Boston Mills has Women’s Snow Discovery, six lessons spaced over six weeks. Participants enjoy extra slope time after the lesson, and after the lessons are over can ski on the lesson day the rest of the season for free. The lessons, for those aged 21 and up, take place on Tuesday and Wednesday and start in January. Signup deadline is Dec. 15. Cost is $199 for lessons, $299, lessons and lift, and $389, lessons.
Mad River Mountain hosts the Snow Angles Program, an all women ski and ride instructional program for all ability levels every Sunday from noon-3 p.m. Cost is $20 per session including three hours of instruction and afternoon snack. Lift and rental not included.
Boyne Mountain hosts Time Out for women ages 15 and up. Taught by women the program offers individual instruction in a group setting. It takes place Sunday mornings, 10 weeks beginning in January from 10 a.m.-noon. The cost is $236, which does not include lift or equipment.
Indiana’s Paoli Peaks is hosting a two-day Women’s Clinic, Jan. 7-8, for women ages 18 and up who want to improve ski and snowboard skills with plenty of on-slope time. Cost is $89 for pass holders and $139 for non-holders. Registration deadline is Jan. 2, 2017.
Whitefish Mountain powder day. (Whitefish)
It’s not too late to find lift ticket deals at several Montana ski resorts. Frequent skier cards, packs and punch cards can substantially lower your daily lift ticket cost. Check it out.
Afton Alps will host a Thanksgiving race camp. (Scott Melander)
The first Heartland ski area opened this past weekend, and just in time if you are looking for a Thanksgiving race camp in the Midwest. Four are scheduled across the upper Heartland; two in Minnesota, one each in upper Michigan and Wisconsin.
Minnesota’s Wild Mountain opened for the season this past weekend, and is hosting a Thanksgiving Race Camp Nov. 25-27, daily 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. The cost for the three-day camp is $150. The racing program is an alliance between Three Rivers Racing - TR2 and Wild to cultivate, promote and develop world class alpine ski racers from the surrounding area. This coming weekend is demo days. Wild has been the first Midwest ski area to open in the Heartland over the last decade.
Nearby Afton Alps is also hosting its race training camp Nov. 25-27, daily 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Cost is $85 three days and $40 for a single day. The camp, open to ages 7-21, includes slalom and giant slalom training with free ski skill development under the guidance of experienced coaches. Registration deadline is Friday Nov. 18.
Ski Brule, located in Michigan’s UP, plans to open for the season Nov. 18. They are hosting their 26th Thanksgiving Race Camp Nov. 24-27. Fees are $60 per day or $220 all four days. Regarded as one of the top camps in the Heartland, they have always been able to provide lift served trails for training. It’s geared towards age and ability and provides small group training. Thanksgiving dinner will be available in the lodge. Lodging packages are available over the holidays. Stay four nights and Wednesday night is half-off. In all those years Brule has never had to call off a Thanksgiving camp.
Wisconsin’s Trollhaugen is hosting a Thanksgiving Race Camp Nov. 25-27, running daily 8:45 a.m.-4 p.m. Training includes small groups, slalom and giant slalom skiing and racing techniques and video. Cost for 13 years and older is $110 one day, $145 two days, and $170 all three days. For those 12 and younger the respective cost $105, $135 and $160. Fees include lift tickets, lunch, a camp T-shirt, five hours daily training, and swag.
The Wisconsin and Minnesota areas are within an hour’s drive of the Twin Cities.
Lake Superior is visible from all four mountain peaks at Lutsen. (Lutsen)
November temperatures are starting out mild across the Great Lakes, but Lutsen Mountains is looking at a promising long range outlook outlining a cooling trend that shows promise for a November 18 opening day and potential for 10 to 15 runs and more than one mountain open for Thanksgiving weekend, according to a report issued this past week.
The Heartlands largest winter resort plans to open, weather permitting, on Nov. 18 for skiing and snowboarding. They will remain open on weekends, including Thanksgiving, through the second weekend in December and open for the season on Dec. 16.
Lutsen is offering some attractive early bird ski and stay packages. Opening weekend, two nights and two days of lifts from $89 per person, must be booked by Nov. 15. They are offering free skiing and riding on Black Friday in support of OptOutside and Minnesota State Parks. The Half Price Holiday Package, two nights lodging, two day lift tickets, from $126 per person is available Thanksgiving weekend. Combine it with the free ski, ride offer and get three days on the slopes.
The resort offers 95 runs off four interconnected mountains, 1,080 feet of vertical and jaw-dropping views of Lake Superior from all four mountains. The longest run is two miles with many over a mile. There’s over 60-acres of glade runs, and, arguably, the steepest run in the Midwest, The Plunge off the backside of Moose Mountain. There are eight lifts including mid-America’s only gondola. Papa Charlie’s Restaurant and Night Club is one of the best music scenes north of the Twin Cities. They hold concerts all season long with some of the top musical acts in the Heartland.
The New Standards Holiday Show, now in its 10th year, is slated for Friday, Nov. 25 at Papa Charlie’s. Tickets are $18 in advance and $24 at the door.
Giants Ridge slopes look out over endless forests and lakes. (Jim Balfour)
Minnesota’s Iron Range is home to Giants Ridge, one of the Gopher State’s largest snowsports resorts. Winter enthusiasts love its craggy peaks, endless forests and abundant snowfall. The resurgent resort is once again on the Heartland’s radar with a new 33,900-square-foot chalet housing skier services and new restaurant, renovation of the old South Chalet that houses the Nordic center, and two new quad-chairlifts, one a high-speed, scheduled to be added next spring. Dress warmly. Hardy locals take pride in the region’s reputation as “America’s Icebox.”
Trails. The 35 trails that soar off the rocky crest are some of the most exhilarating cruisers around the Great Lakes; varied in pitch, a headwall here, a small bowl there. Melbourne, Easy Way and Placid, sequestered among aspen and birch, offer gentle runs off the top of the ski hill. The North Face runs offer short, steep chutes that appeal to advanced skiers and boarders. Four terrain parks feature more than 3,000 feet of boxes, rails and jumps with a skate-park flow, catch big air on 30-foot jumps. Two are learning parks.
Eats. Don’t miss the Burnt Onion Soup, a rich stock of caramelized onions in the new chalet’s Burnt Onion restaurant. For breakfast the Mesabi Scramble at the Sleeping Giant restaurant in the Lodge, a combination of meats, onions, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and eggs kick starts your day. For dinner the wild rice meatloaf is made with a Minnesota staple, locally gathered wild rice. A trip to nearby Gilbert to sample the eclectic Whistling Bird authentic Jamaican jerk food is a must. It’s been drawing patrons from all over the state for over 20 years.
Play. In addition to skiing and boarding over 60-kilometers of Olympic quality cross-country trails, fat tire biking and snow tubing are available.
Stay: The Lodge at Giants Ridge offers attractive ski-in/ski-out one to four bedroom accommodations close to everything. The nearby Villas offer multi-bedroom condominiums within easy walking distance, perfect for families that like to eat in.
Deals. Midweek ski two days and spend a night for under $100 dollars. Friday nights, $16 lift tickets and $16 ski rentals were available last season.
Sugar Loaf overlooks Leelanau County. (Facebook)
Michigan’s Sugar Loaf Resort has once again generated a new potential buyer. Jeff Katofsky, a California attorney and real estate developer, is reportedly buying the long shuttered resort and hopes to reopen it as a four-season, high-end resort, according to articles in both the Traverse City Record Eagle and the Detroit Free Press.
The plans for refurbishing the tired, old resort that has been shuttered since 2000 are somewhat vague.
“We’re buying it, and plan to redevelop it as a year-round resort,” he told both newspapers. Katofsky declined to disclose the purchase price or give specifics on how much he planned to invest in the resort. Initially he told them that he hopes to have the resort reopened in three to four years, but added, “It’s going to take some time, a lot of time.”
When pressed further on his plans for the once thriving ski resort he replied, “I’m going to keep that to myself for now.”
Winter travel in Michigan — with 2 million to 2.4 million ski visits annually — is a $4.9-billion business, according to the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association. It's a vibrant part of the state's economy — Michigan has the nation's second most ski resorts, second only to New York.
There are a number of areas of code violation, according to Leelanau County, to bring the shuttered property into compliance. The lengthy list included both outside and inside damage that needs to be corrected; roofs, decks, structural damage to buildings, chair lifts and pools were among areas mentioned.
Other buyers have looked at the resort, but no legitimate offers have come forth in the 16 years since it closed. The reported asking price is $8.7 million.
“The location is great and it’s beautiful overlooking Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands,” says Mickey MacWilliams, executive director of the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association. “We’d all love to see Sugar Loaf come back because it was a really special place.”
In the 1980s and early 1990s it was considered one of Michigan’s top ski areas.
A powder day in Michigan. (Michigan Snowspnorts Industries Association)
The Michigan Snowsports Industries Association(MSIA) is offering a White Gold Card that allows you to ski or snowboard a full day at 35 Michigan ski areas, and Skiing Wisconsin is offering a coupon book allowing you a day at 16 participating Badger State ski areas. It keeps your lift ticket cost for the day to around $8.
The MSIA White Gold Card is $269, and divided by the 35 participating Wolverine State ski areas the daily cost is less than $8 for a day of snowsports. The Wisconsin coupon book is $130 and divided by 16 areas the lift ticket cost for the day is slightly more than $8. You are allowed to visit each of the participating areas once during the 2016/17 season. You get a lift ticket when you present the card or coupon book at the lift ticket window.
With the White Gold Card also includes a free equipment tune-up, three hot waxing sessions, and a coupon for $20 off a purchase of $100 or more at participating retailers. The retail value is over $1,500, according to Mickie McWilliams, MSIA executive director. Only 400 are available each season.
The purchaser takes the card to the ski area lift ticket window where a corresponding square on the card is punched and you get a ticket. The only blackout time is through the Christmas/New Year Holiday period.
The Skiing Wisconsin coupon book is also printed in limited quantity. Keep your coupon book intact and present the entire book at each participating ski hill. They will take the coupon out.
A complete list of participating ski areas in each stare is available at both websites, and many of the top Midwest ski resorts are included. It’s a good deal for those that like to visit numerous ski areas throughout the winter. Both the card and coupon book normally sell out.
“We’ve found from past years sales of the White Gold Card that they go quickly. Skiers and riders are anxious to get the season started,” added McWilliams.
One of the new lift towers is being lowered into place at Cascade Mountain. (Cascade/Facebook)
Wisconsin’s Cascade Mountain is completing phase one of a three-phase expansion in time for the 2016/17 season. The initial phase, pegged at $9 million, calls for two new chairlifts, seven new trails, expanded snowmaking, expanding the main lodge, paved parking and an additional groomer.
One of the new lifts, according to Cascade’s Randy Axelson, is a high-speed detachable quad replacing the old Cindy Pop Express, which will exit further up the hill accessing more terrain. The second new lift, a fixed-grip quad, will access the new trails on the east side of the ski hill. That will bring total trail count to 43. Six of the new trails are intermediate level and the other is a beginner trail that will tie into Far Out giving novice skiers and riders easy access back to the lodge.
The ski area, once known for its tough skiing reputation, has over the years added easier terrain and more friendly runs to become a complete family area. The new runs and expansion of the east side of the ski hill have long been talked about.
“My dad, who started Cascade years ago, had always envisioned expanding the far east side of the ski hill and started cutting trails many years ago,” said Rob Walz, who along with his wife Vicki now owns the ski area. “It was time to take Cascade to the next level. I think our customers will really appreciate the new, long intermediate runs cascading down the east side of the Mountain.”
Phase two includes another chairlift on the far east side, six more new trails, more parking and a new lodge of the far east side of the ski hill. Phase three calls for another new chairlift and six more trails. Upon completion Cascade will have 11 chairlifts, three surface tows, 55 trails and a snow tubing park. A time table for the next couple of phases has not been announced.
It’s one of the top day-trip areas in the Midwest. Only a snowball throw away from busy I-90/I-94, which the ski area overlooks, Chicago is three hours away, Milwaukee less than two, and Madison just a scant 30 minutes. Weekend crowds can be big, but the ski area is equipped to handle them.
An artificial rendering of the new Neveplast slopes on Buck Hill. (Buck Hill)
Minnesota’s Buck Hill has long been known for its ski racing club, which, under the tutelage of head coach Eric Sailer, has produced countless ski racers for the U.S. Ski Team. Olympians Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso, and Kristina Koznick grew up racing here. The iconic ski hill with its modest 310-foot vertical has been called the “Legendary Capitol of American ski racing.”
It’s also now known for having the largest artificial ski slope in North America, according to the ski area. Skiing and snowboarding are year-round sports at Buck. The new Neveplast slopes, which extend the full length of the ski hill, offer expert to beginner runs and even a terrain park. The synthetic surface is purported to have the same gliding surface as snow without using water. The artificial slopes remain in place year-round and work in the winter covered with snow.
“We opened the slopes late last month and the acceptance has been good with skiers and snowboarders wanting to try them out,” said Buck’s Tom Schulz. “It’s going to attract new people to snowsports we believe, and it opens up year-round training for ski racers.”
Local snowsports reporter Greg Snow described the experience on Facebook, “Just like corn snow. It’s like spring skiing, but in September, amazing.”
An adult summer and fall slopes pass is $225 and children, 12 and under, is $175. Daily weekday lift tickets are respectively $26 and $16. Weekends are $32 and $20. You can use your own equipment, or rental is available. It’s recommended that you wear long pants and long sleeves.
This will work well with the ski area’s annual Shred ‘til You’re Dead Rail Jam October 29. In the past it was limited with ice scrapings. This year full on.
Buck has 16 runs and eight lifts. The ski area sits just a stone's throw from I-35 and its bright lights on winter nights light up the southern gateway into the Twin Cities. A new Black Diamond Restaurant is now open daily.
Cross country skiers approach a wilderness cabin at Treetops Resort. (Treetops)
Treetops Resort's high elevation and scenic beauty provide a perfect location for winter sports. Located east of Gaylord, Michigan, along a ridge overlooking the expansive Pigeon River Valley, it offers 23 runs, terrain parks, four chairlifts, and a couple of surface tows.
Using an outdoor ramp, the Rockstar Energy Drink Pro-Am Rail Jam uses real snow allowing skiers and riders to throw down their best tricks. (Toronto Snow Show/Facebook)
Ski shows are always a signal that winter and snowsports season can’t be far behind. Even in this electronic age of instant communication people still love to come to the shows. You can often find some great ticket or vacation deals through the attending resorts.
Longtime Midwest Ski Areas Association (MSAA) Executive Director Chris Stoddard has stepped down after 25 years, and Amy Augustine Reents, who has been active in the Midwest ski industry for the past 25 years, has been named the new President/Executive Director.
Minnesota’s Lutsen Mountains will be the last Midwest ski area standing (ok, skiing) with its present plans to ski the remaining three weekends of April, which ends on May 1.
Two ski resorts in Michigan’s UP plan on skiing and riding this weekend, and one plans on staying open through mid-April. With the recent return of winter across the upper Great Lakes, conditions should be prime spring skiing and riding.
Vail Resorts, which purchased Wilmot Mountain, located between Chicago and Milwaukee, in January, has announced that they will spend $13 million to completely transform the guest experience at one of the nation’s oldest ski areas. The ski area first opened in 1938.
The Heartland’s backcountry skiing giant Mount Bohemia has confirmed that it plans to expand the snowcat skiing terrain on Voodoo Mountain this summer by adding an additional peak and 100 more acres of backcountry terrain to explore.