Snow is in the forecast, and that means one thing: time to ski and ride. Here’s our 2017 guide to Northern Michigan intermediate ski resorts for your alpine adventure.
Go next level this winter by trying something new. The ski hills in Northern Michigan also happen to deliver some of the best vistas in the state. Whether it’s weaving through stands of birch trees, hemlocks and red pines or taking advantage of on-property experiences, there are enough activities to spend every weekend on the slopes without getting bored.
In addition to being well within driving distance of some of Michigan’s best beer (Short’s Brewery, Bellaire), Shanty Creek boasts a vibe worthy of weekending. The dueling piano bar action at Ivan’s on Saturday afternoon provides a perfect family-friendly pit-stop between runs, and live bands are booked every Friday and Saturday night, all winter long. With three lodging options on property—the groovy alpine charm of Schuss Village, the sophistication and Lake Bellaire views of Summit Mountain, or the ski-in/ski out ease of Cedar River—finding the right fit is simple.
One of the coolest things about this place is getting to choose from two separate hills. Summit Mountain is the resort original and remains a great (and inexpensive) spot for skiers still content with about a dozen runs, couple chairlifts, and a magic carpet. Magic carpets are the game changer for those learning to ski: picture an airport luggage conveyor, except with people going uphill. People also flock to Schuss Mountain, which definitely has some steeps. It also boasts plenty of long, winding runs for any ability level to love.
Crystal Mountain definitely means business when it comes to celebrating the winter season. In addition to 102 skiable acres (48 percent of the resort’s 58 downhill slopes are intermediate), there are also four glade areas and four terrain parks. A great demo ski rental program helps riders looking to up their equipment game. Demo rentals mean getting to test multiple pairs of skis; one day’s worth of demos runs $50, or $30 for three hours. Like what you tried? The resort offers a $50 deduction on purchasing demo skis.
Located just 28 miles southwest of Traverse City, Crystal is an easy cruise from downtown’s shopping and dining. It’s totally doable to have a hearty breakfast at TC’s Patisserie Amie and be on the slopes by lunch. However, it’s also worth hunkering down at the hill, especially since the resort honors its winter groove well beyond the slopes. Hop on a fat tire bike to soak in the silent beauty of a snow-socked forest via six miles of groomed, snow-packed trails. No bike is no problem; rentals are available daily, and guided trail rides run every Saturday at 2 p.m. ($19). Adding to the snow-fueled fun are 18.5 miles of Nordic trails, scavenger hunts, bonfires, sleigh rides and ice skating (even with a dedicated space for hockey fans).
Going from good to great in the span of a single weekend is within reach at Boyne Highlands, just east of Harbor Springs. Thanks to the resort’s famous SnowSports Academy, skiers can hone techniques, brave new tricks, or finally conquer that first black diamond. There’s an extra special clinic for women this season when the Highlands brings in Lisa Densmore, a former U.S. ski team member known for her coaching skills. The clinic is geared toward intermediate to advanced skiers, and the weekend (February 10–12) includes video analysis, boot fitting, and après-ski fun.
Hit up the resort’s Adventure Center (two words: winter ziplining) once you’re off the slopes. Spend a couple of hours flying above the ground along the state’s longest zipline, or saddle up for a horseback ride through the resort’s extensive trail network. A Saturday evening kids club is an added win for families looking to divide and conquer during the dinner hours. Little ones get to party in the snow, play games and eat pizza, while their parents can enjoy grownup versions of fun in the main dining room, Slopeside Lounge or Zoo Bar.
Blue Square Tip: Carve out enough time to do more than just ski. Lots of resorts offer free activities beyond the standards like a heated pool, and resort websites highlight upcoming events, such as ski races with great raffle prizes or community festivals.
Kate Bassett is news director at the Harbor Light newspaper. Her first novel, Words and Their Meanings, is available in bookstores and on the web. All photos by Erik Olsen. Thanks to Boyne Highlands for hosting the Ski North photo shoot.
This feature was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy here for more ski tips!