Northern Michigan Skiing: Season passes, gear trends, slope fashion(!), resort upgrades and insight from insiders. Our short and sweet look at the white hot winter ahead.
Resort Upgrade Updater
Added new and improved snowguns to the already impressive arsenal—now have 282; also juiced the guns’ potency with beefier plumbing and electrical. Added Pisten Bully groomer with advanced alpine tiller, now fleet of four.
Monster Energy is exclusive sponsor of The Monster Park and events throughout the season. Short’s Brewing Company to release exclusive beer at Ivan’s après-ski bar. On-property snowmobile rentals at Schuss. A new run from the top of Red to the bottom of Purple. Tubing park expanded to eight lanes, new tubes.
More snow, better snow from 32 new energy-efficient snowguns—22 permanently mounted, 10 mobile; also boosted plumbing and electrical to ramp up the crystallizing capacity. New Bombardier snow groomer in fleet. Look for deals and specials commemorating Caberfae’s 75th birthday.
Expanding hours of ski operation, especially midweek in February; new locker building near cafeteria; adding events; renovated restaurants are in full swing.
Boosted plumbing to increase water feed to snowguns. Renovations (new kitchens, some new bathrooms) in 26—more than half—of the Wintergreen Condominiums.
Snowmaking efficiency juiced with a 1,000-gallons-per-minute water pump; 10 new Low-E snowguns; terrain park for 3-to-6-year-olds; doubled number of tubing lanes; added 13 chairs to the Boyneland lift; increased lighting on North Boyne.
Added 40 Low-E snow guns to ramp up the white-stuff production capacity. New terrain park for 3-to-6-year-olds; new spa; hotel renovations in the Main Lodge.
A Resort GM Speaks: Brad Keen, Boyne Highlands
What’s the main topic on a ski resort general manager’s mind these days?
The topic is what it has always been, getting beginners on the hill. The future of skiing is the children. An example—we are teaming this year with Burton to open a little snowboard terrain park for 3-to-6-year-olds, a mini-rail, a mini-box, where parents can take little children. We did a trial last year for a weekend and it was really well received.
And then step up from there?
Right, we will actually have four levels of terrain park this year, Funland for the littlest kids up to a terrain park on Challenger for experts. So we’ve gone from one terrain park several years ago to really fine-tuning to the specific ability of the boarder and rider. Beginner skiers was actually a big topic at the Midwest ski industry meeting we had at the Highlands this summer.
The ski industry says skiing is not as expensive as people think it is, give us an example of how you are making skiing affordable. We expend a lot of resources during the week to offer inexpensive ski nights. We have specials every one of those nights. So we might have a radio station co-sponsor a night and the price would match their station number, so $9.89 for a lift ticket and the same for rentals, so you can ski the whole area for $20. We also have the Freerider program, where kids can get greatly discounted season passes for good grades.
Last year was one of the skimpiest snow years in memory, how did you fare?
In terms of overall market share, the Highlands has increased in skier visits every year. Last year we were up just slightly, but we are proud that we were able to hang onto our skiers given the snowfall. We measure success in lots of ways and the most resounding thing we heard last year was “thank you,” … for the snow guns, the grooming, just exceeding their expectations in a tough snow year.
Tweaks Big & Small
It's evolution not revolution in downhill gear for winter 2012-13. Steve Kermode, Crystal Mountain's director of retail and recreation, lets us know what to expect in design and performance.
Lighter: Helmet designers continue to shave ounces off your dome-protector, chiefly by trimming the hard shell back above the ears. Warmer: Improved soft liners (which still cover the ears) mean you can leave the hat in the room; swap in thin liners on warm days. Improved venting: open and close vents to dial in a perfect temp. Also, better airflow means less fogging of goggles and less need to buy specific brands of goggles for specific helmets. Safer: Two-liner systems absorb and deflect impact better than single core material.
All Terrain: For years terrain park glory has driven snowboard design, meaning low camber and twin tips have ruled. But as boarders have aged they’ve ventured onto the slopes, into the glades, the trees, the backcountry, and board designers have followed. Expect more choices in camber and rocker and in boards called “directional,” that is, made to go in one direction—forward. Board graphics: Also diversified. Renegade looks are still strong, but not all is rad in boarder design as classic looks creep in.
Rocker: The rocker and shaped ski revolutionaries have taken over the establishment, and the experimentation hasn’t ended as makers tweak, modify, stretch and shrink the camber and width of skis to match ski conditions and skier skill. Fat tips and tails and big camber for powder hogs, slimmer, less camber for corduroy kings. All the way to zero camber for rail riders. Upshot: the sweet spot for skiers keeps getting bigger, meaning easier skiing, more fun for the masses. (Take note Baby Boomers who’ve been wanting to get back on the slopes—you’ll be safe and graceful.)
Widths: Might sound crazy obvious, but boot makers are finally offering up a wider range of widths instead of just one—especially good news for the wide-footed among us. Flex Shift: The rise, and now complete domination, of shaped skis means boots had to change too—now flexible in front and stiff on the sides to get the most out of that contoured ski edge. Comfort: Makers continue to dial up the comfort factor with softer liners and battery powered boot warmers (some with remote-control pocket unit). Custom foot-bed liners are better by the year.
Season Passes – A Flyover
The clock is ticking on season pass deals, with key deadlines hitting in early October. Our rundown gives you a starting point—price for a resort’s adult unlimited pass and a deal or two we like from each resort’s mix. Also some AMAZING DEALS for kids with good grades!
Unlimited season pass good at all Boyne Michigan resorts and 10 days skiing at sister resorts in other states: $749 till Oct. 8. Deal: $299 M-F days, W-Sat. nights, some blackout dates. Honor Roll: called the Student Freeride Pass: Unlimited skiing, $49 for g.p.a. 3.5–4.0; $99 for g.p.a. 3.0–3.5.
Unlimited season pass $198. Saturdays & Sundays only $99. Deal: Sundays 3 p.m. till close, a family of three can get three lift tickets and three rentals for $49 total.
Unlimited season pass $299 till Oct. 1; $369 till Jan. 15. Deal: Sunday-only pass $159. Deal: Kids 8 and under get $25 season pass.
Unlimited season pass: $526.50 by Oct. 10; $585 after. Deal: Bargain Season Ticket: Ski one day or two four-hour periods per week, $252 by Oct. 10, $280 after.
SuperPass offers unlimited skiing all season, $309 till Oct. 16; $359 Oct. 17–Nov. 23; $359 after Nov. 23. Honor Roll: Good grades can score season pass for as low as $59.
Unlimited season pass: Fill a Triple—buy at least three season passes at once and pay $155 per. Honor Roll: Better grades equal lower prices; best deal is $40 unlimited season pass for 3.5 g.p.a. or higher.
Kelly Ecdeston, fashion buyer for Boyne Country Sports stores, shares insight for the coming season.
Skip the basic black pants! Top lines have introduced pants of every color—blue, yellow, red, plaid and patterns. Pants offer a perfect way to show your style, especially if you plan to choose a more understated jacket that can transition off the slopes. Go bold with your pants!
A fun trend this year is a return to the lodge or hunting camp look. Traditional red and black flannel styles, dark orange, greens and browns are all in fashion, especially in snowboard styles. The lodge/hunting camp look lends itself nicely to layering, too, with pieces like thermal henleys, flannels and quilted vests mixing effortlessly.
Learn to Layer
It’s the most fashion-versatile and temperature-versatile approach to winter. A waterproof shell jacket paired with a down sweater–style jacket is much more adaptable than just a big warm parka. Layer up when the temps drop; shed a layer when the sun warms. The down sweater, most famously from Patagonia, is now offered by nearly every brand. It moves gracefully from street to slopes, morphing from sleek and athletic on the hill to smart and sexy with jeans. When you want to pack, the down sweater obliges, smashing thin in your carry-on. Many colors, many brands: Orage, The North Face, Descente, Spyder and Mammut.
Pack It Up
Whether on the corduroy or busting it in the backcountry, skiers love their backpacks to keep necessities in reach. Josh Baker from The Outfitter recommends three packs:
Patagonia Atom A stylishly anatomic fit lets skiers stash the essentials without throwing off their balance. Easily slips from front to back for access, but torso strap keeps the Atom secure when skiing. Popular with the college set. 7-liter capacity, $40.
The North Face Jester Classic daytrip backpack done well. Roomy for that extra fleece or pair of mittens, plenty o’ pockets for water and snacks. Won’t go out of style. North Face durability. 27-liter capacity, $55.
Black Diamond Alias A sleek and sturdy beauty for your foray in the backcountry. Weight rides close to your body for balance, padded belt keeps the load comfortable. Roomy lid pocket for quick access to the essentials. 32-liter capacity, $160.