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.
A Heartland ski season for the record books, and it’s not over yet. Now heading into its sixth month, many Midwest areas started skiing in mid-November, there are still four ski areas that plan on remaining open weekends into May, assuming the weather hang in.
Four resorts scattered across the upper Great Lakes will be open for skiing and riding Easter Weekend even though it’s coming later in April this year. That’s thanks to the record-breaking Midwest winter.
The winter of 2013/14 may have brought the most snow in decades — breaking 100 year old records across the Heartland — but it also had a downside: record-breaking cold.
Ski areas across Michigan’s UP are hosting plenty of fun March events starting this weekend, and most are offering lift and lodging packages as well. Check them out.
If you like backcountry, ungroomed slopes and tons of natural snow, choices are very limited around the Heartland. Mt. Bohemia has been dubbed the Great Lakes version of Jackson Hole.
The Michigan Ski Industries Association (MSIA) is offering all state fourth graders the chance to ski and snowboard for free this winter, and White Gold Card holders can ski or ride 32 different areas across the Wolverine State for around $6.20 per lift ticket.
Midwest extreme skiing and riding cult favorite Mt. Bohemia has lost its triple chairlift until about the end of January, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, just a couple of weeks before its annual $99 season pass sale.