Heartland big-city skiers and riders sometimes have to drive a little further to find a ski hill worthy for playing midweek hooky. But, hooky-worthy ski areas are around, and arriving mid-week you avoid the large weekend crowds.
Family friendly terrain, ski and snowboard teaching programs, and a good variety of advanced and expert terrain. Here are my top five recommendations for ski resorts in the Midwest to keep a family of differing abilities happy.
Autumn sweeps across the Midwest like a blaze this time of year. One of the best ways to enjoy breathtaking fall views is a slow chairlift ride to the top of the ski hill. Here’s some of the best around the upper Midwest.
Nubs spring runs are silky smooth. (Nubs Nob/Facebook)
With snow in the forecast this week across the upper Midwest and plenty of snow still on the slopes the snowsports season is extending into April, and a couple may stay open into May.
Spring skiing at Lutsen Mountains overlooking Lake Superior. (Facebook)
Although it's been an up and down weather pattern across the Heartland and Great Lakes, across the northern tier they are in good shape heading into March.
Wilmot Mountain in the early days. (Wilmot/Facebook)
Midwest resorts are in prime location to pick up several inches of snow and keep it around. (Boyne Highlands/Facebook)
Cold air dominates most of the United States and Canada through Christmas, leading to favorable conditions for snowfall in many areas.
Boyne Highlands freshly groomed. (Boyne)
Winter has arrived across the upper Midwest and is even allowing some ski areas in the lower Heartland to fire up and test the snowguns. It’s some of the earliest openings in 20 years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner and coming on a weekend, here are some of my favorite Heartland spots to combine snow sports and romance. Enjoy.
The tenth annual So-Gnar Snowboard Camp Tour hits six Midwest ski areas over the next few weeks. It’s an opportunity for Midwest shredders to up their game and improve those skills.
Two upper Great Lakes ski resorts plan on stretching the season out a little longer, an encore from last season. It’s some of the best skiing and riding of the season; warming days, long runs and corn snow.
Chicago and Milwaukee families looking for places to enjoy a weekend winter getaway should check out Granite Peak and Cascade Mountain, both easily accessed by major interstate highways for an easy drive. Both are very family friendly.
Owners of Minnesota's Lutsen Mountains have announced a plan to add a new gondola, replacing the 45-year-old existing four-seat gondola with a $7 million dollar, eight passenger unit that will be ready for the 2015/16 ski season. They’re also asking the National Forest Service for permission to expand onto 400 acres of the adjacent Superior National Forest.