Heading up to Lone Peak on the tram.
America’s biggest skiing resort, Big Sky with 5800 acres and 300 runs tumbling off four mountain peaks, made several improvements this past summer that improved slope access. They open for the season on Thanksgiving Day, November 23.
Big air at Blackjack. (Blackjack)
Big Snow Resort is actually two longtime Michigan resorts, Indianhead and Blackjack, that sit almost side-by-side in the ancient Penokee Mountain Range crossing western Upper Michigan and northern Wisconsin.
Crystal Mountain kids in lesson. (Crystal Mountain)
Many state and industry programs are offered throughout the west and east allowing elementary age kids the chance to give skiing and snowboarding a try throughout the winter. The Michigan Snowsports Industries Association (MSIA) offers one of the best in my opinion. It’s the only statewide program I could find being offered in the Midwest.
An October start to the Midwest ski season. (Wild Mountain/Facebook)
It’s a Midwest ski season. Minnesota’s Wild Mountain, located in a river valley east of the Twin Cities, plans to open Sunday, Oct. 29, for the season, according Wild’s president Amy Frischmon.
A jumper soars off the Pine Mountain Ski Jump. (Pine Mountain Ski Jump/Facebook)
Ski jumping was huge around the turn of the last century across the upper Midwest. Thousands of spectators would gather at jumping competitions across Michigan’s UP and around Red Wing, Minnesota. The sport dwindled and only one site remains still holding annual jumping competitions. Two new sites, one located in the western UP and another near Red Wing, are coming onboard and hopes to be hosting competitions by 2018.
Looking across the slopes at lodge and village on top of ski hill. (Otsego/Facebook)
Michigan’s Otsego Ski Club, near Gaylord, is going fully public this season and giving up its position as the nation’s oldest continuing operating private ski club. It opened in 1939.
Looking at the Pembina Gorge from top of Frost Fire. (Frost Fire/Facebook)
Skiers from Winnipeg to Grand Forks are going to have to look a little further to find a ski hill this winter. Frost Fire in northern North Dakota positioned 100 miles from both cities, will not be running their nine ski slopes this coming winter.
The Whitecap Mountains Lodge at base of ski area. (Whitecap Mountains/Facebook)
Whitecap Mountains is tucked next to Weber Lake in northern Wisconsin’s rugged Ponokee Mountain range. It’s Swiss village motif, complete with clock tower, provides an Old World atmosphere. The resorts ski runs spread across three peaks offers tree-lined trails that appeal to all levels and some of the most western-like terrain found around the Great Lakes. It’s also the only Midwestern winter resort with a mile-long chairlift that spans two mountains.
Wisconsin's Little Switzerland. (Little Switzerland/Facebook)
There are some changes coming in ownership shifts of three Wisconsin ski areas. One is set and the other two are possibilities.
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.