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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fat tire snow biking, popular at western and eastern ski resorts, has been gaining traction in the Midwest recently. Several ski resorts in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and northern Minnesota are now offering rentals and trails to ride.
Terry Peak, South Dakota, opened in 1936, and celebrates 80 years this year. It opened the same year as Sun Valley in the west and Bromley Mountain in the east, both credited with kicking off the North American ski resort industry. Terry Peak, with a 1,100-foot vertical drop, largest in the Heartland, offers true mountain skiing. Located in the Black Hills, it tops out near 7,000 feet.
It may be something you thought you would never hear about in the Midwest, but Mount Bohemia, in Michigan's UP, has opened Voodoo Mountain for cat skiing. It's the first commercial cat skiing area east of the Rockies.
It’s one of the more unusual ski weekends in the Midwest. Pine Mountain, Michigan’s UP, hosts an FIS sanctioned Continental Cup jumping event Feb. 20-21, which is often dubbed the “Midwest’s biggest winter tailgate party.”
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.
Several Midwest ski resorts are adding a little zip to their attractions, literally. Zip Lines have become a big addition at ski resorts across the country, especially in the western mountains and New England.
I’ve been skiing at Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands in Michigan since the mid-1970s and watched them grow over the plast 40 years. Both have added more terrain, trails and terrain parks and lots of non-ski related activities.
Check out Gaylord, Mich. if you like cross country skiing laced with nice amenities, good downhill choices, and an appealing village dressed for winter.