Northern Michigan Skiing: Slick Intel For A Day On The Slopes

Northern Michigan Skiing: For advice on gear and lessons, we tapped a couple of young ski bros. For family food strategy, we called out to a pair of seasoned and much-adored ski hill chefs. Package deals? Sure: we scoured the downhill resorts’ offerings and curated a collection of the juiciest. And for a list of stuff that will make a day on the hill with kids just that much better, we turned to hill-tested ski supermom Kate Bassett—who also happens to be author of this piece. Cheers to snow—clip in and go!

Gear Up

Walk into Petoskey’s Bahnhof Sports, and you might end up talking to LB McVicker, one of the shop’s resident ski studs. Growing up in a family of ski fanatics—LB’s dad is Central Division Alpine manager for the United States Ski Association—his downhill expertise is wired into his genes.

McVicker’s advice is simple, no-nonsense, and puts safety first—just like the resorts where he grew up skiing.

“Boots are the most important part of an equipment set-up,” he says. “It might be tempting to take a hand-me-down or buy a used boot that’s just a half size too big, but we can’t stress enough: the right boot can make or break your experience.”

Have a professional fit you, he counsels, not only for proper size, but also for flex and comfort. When fitting, focus to be really aware of how the boot feels (yes, they’re all tight) so you can describe it correctly to the salesperson. Your feet are your steering wheels on the slopes, so a perfect match is paramount.

“With skis, get help finding a shape and model that caters to your abilities and interests,” McVicker says, adding there is an arsenal of options to meet every need.

“There are programs out there to make it more affordable, especially for kids. We have a kids club that really helps ensure young skiers are in the right equipment, without a huge price tag,” he says.

And heads up, a good gear ensemble won’t always equate to a snappy look. “When you really get the right equipment for your ability and needs, it’s probably not going to match. Color coordination has to come second to safety and comfort in a sport like skiing.”

As for helmets: “A non-negotiable,” McVicker says.

Gear Tips for Families

Helmet

Lightweight, well vented and terrain-park tested, the Giro G10 is one of the most popular and decently priced helmets on the market. Plus, the G10, with its street-chic vibe, makes a stylish statement for those still struggling with the look of lid protection. When buying, remember that good helmet fit is essential because loose helmets offer lame protection and too-tight helmets make your melon ache. Skip the Web on this one, and get it right at the local shop. banhohf.com

Hydrate

Having an emergency supply of hot cocoa is never a bad idea. Keep your warm-up beverages steaming with a Stanley Thermos, the go-to choice for outdoor enthusiasts since 1913.

Rehydrating is important, so stick a water bottle in your bag for break time. We’re especially fond of Liberty water bottles with local artist Whitney Maxwell’s renderings of Little Traverse Bay and downtown Harbor Springs. Both thermos and water bottles are available at the Outfitter in Harbor Springs, outfitterharborsprings.com.

Lip Balm

Protect your kisser from post-shred chapping with So Vanilla Lip Balm, made in Traverse City using almond, coconut and avocado oils. Available at Higher Grounds, Grand Traverse Commons.

Handwarmers

Don’t fall prey to the number one buzz killer of a ski day: frozen hands or feet. Hand and toe warmers are perfect for extending hill time and reducing whines. Just remember, the first few minutes after warmers are “shaken into action” the heat can be too much for little ones. We suggest, for the first half-hour or so, keeping hand warmers in pockets (not in mittens) and using them between runs. Look for Grabber Warmers, a company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Bandanas

Outfit your skiing, snowboarding clan in color-coordinated bandanas, knotted loosely at the neck, so you can spot each other on the slopes. Nub’s Nob carries Bandits, made by a Petoskey-based bandana company. Fleece lined for added warmth, Bandits are hip enough to earn no-argument wear with the kids.

Get Schooled

When it comes to raising little rippers (lingo for those crazy-good little kid skiers), you might say, “it takes one to teach one.” Crystal Mountain instructor Galen Shireman-Grabowski has been kicking, gliding, and hurtling down slopes since age 2, and is happy to share skill-building secrets.

“My dad is an unabashed cross-country skiing nut, so I was exposed to the world of skiing at a very young age,” he says.

Also an alpine fanatic since age 4, Shireman-Grabowski is a second-year instructor who says being young helps him connect with kids. “I can quickly think back to when I was taking lessons, and what my concerns were as a student. This helps me put myself in my students’ shoes (or boots).”

His tips for new skiers of any age: take it at your own pace, but don’t be afraid of a little challenge. Especially with kids, feeling safe makes learning happen a whole lot faster. Keep it fresh. A change of scenery (once you’ve mastered the bunny hill) helps everyone stay engaged.

And of course, it’s worth shelling out some extra dough to take a lesson or two. But, he adds, instruction time shouldn’t take the place of skiing as a family.

“It’s a great way to reinforce techniques. When a child can show their parent the skills they learned, it really helps solidify those abilities.”

Another key to successful ski adventures: know when to go get warm.

“If a student starts to lose focus, they probably need a break, a snack, and a trip to the restroom. I always hold a ‘team meeting’ at regular intervals to make sure everyone is warm and comfortable. Trust your judgment.”

If Shireman-Grabowski could pack every skier’s pockets with three things, he says he’d be stocking up on Kleenex, hand warmers, and “an open mind.”

“Learning to ski, or improving your skills, is worth it. Skiing is a new way to experience the already beautiful landscape Up North, and it’s something that will stay with you for life. Knowing how to ski confidently is a great skill to have, mostly because it’s just flat out fun.”

Get Fueled

Meet Ralph Horn and John Avrill, rock stars of food service at Nub’s Nob. This dynamic duo has been home-cooking their way into hearts of skiers and riders for nearly two decades.

“We have a lot of fun,” Avrill says, tipping back in a cafeteria chair. “We get to know the people who ski here. We treat them like family.”

“Which is why,” Horn pipes in, “we serve old-school, home-style foods with new twists. We’re always on the lookout for ways to make our menu better, and we try to make sure there’s something for everyone, including folks with food sensitivities.”

The pair has first-hand knowledge of what happens when people aren’t well fueled on the slopes. “Nothing can turn a great day sour faster than being hungry,” Avrill says.

Bringing kids in before they bonk, choosing healthy options like deli sandwiches or soups (Nub’s is famous for their endless varieties), and staying hydrated helps everyone.

“We say not to scrimp on the small things, like hot chocolate,” Horn says, noting a little treat can yield big rewards in the mood and endurance department.

For large families or group trips, calling your favorite ski resort’s chefs to plan a meal in advance may not be as expensive as it sounds. “We can do all kinds of things, like big trays of lasagna. Sometimes people will pack their lunch one day, and then have us make it the next day. When you add up ingredients and time, it can be a really good deal.”

 “Our goal is to have people say our food is even better than the snow,” Horn laughs, high fiving Avrill. 

Ski Resort Deals

Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain

Kids 8 and under sleep, eat, and ski/ride without dropping a dime. Juniors ages 9–15 receive reduced rates, and grown-ups get an all-area ticket, great night of sleep, and breakfast for as low as $107 per person, per night, boyne.com.

Crystal Mountain

Unlimited Ski and Ride Package, with two kids 17 and under sleeping and skiing free with each paying adult (midweek, non-holiday). On select dates in 2013, score an extra night free, crystalmountain.com.

Treetops

Kids 8 and under stay free, and the Treetops staff can customize deals to cover everything from lodging and lift tickets to rental equipment and spa services. Packages come with a breakfast voucher and complimentary night skiing ticket on arrival evening, treetops.com.

Caberfae Peaks

Rip it up, then tuck yourself in for as little as $69 a night. All packages include lift tickets from arrival to departure, caberfaepeaks.com.

The Homestead

Two nights lodging in your choice of accommodation, as well as a breakfast buffet each morning and lift tickets for skiing and riding from arrival to departure.  Rates based off family of four starting from $33 per person, per night for hotels and $54 per person, per night for condominium lodging.  Available December 21-March 10.  Each child under 17 years old will receive a complimentary lift ticket for each paying adult included in the package. thehomesteadresort.com.

Shanty Creek

One night lodging (with a complimentary arrival evening lift ticket), one-day lift ticket, breakfast, and a group ski clinic for ages 13 and up starts at $133 per person, per night based on double occupancy. shantycreek.com.

Trout Creek

Condominium resort just a few blocks from Nub’s Nob, Trout Creek offers package deals for most winter holidays (and for holiday recovery weeks too), troutcreek.com.

This article and additional photos are also available in the January issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine. Get your copy now!

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