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.
Wilmot Mountain in the early days. (Wilmot/Facebook)
Heavy rain and snow will hit places like Mad River in Ohio Friday. (Mad River Mountain/Facebook)
The East gets much warmer with a very heavy wintry mix, while the Midwest sees heavy snow, and the West stays in a favorable pattern too.
Devil's Head slopes overlook Wisconsin River valley. (Devil's Head)
The Michigan Snowsports Industries Association (MSIA) is offering a White Gold Card that allows you to ski or snowboard a full day at 34 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 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.
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.
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.
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.