Winter’s here and every day is a snowboard or ski vacation in Michigan. Here’s your guide to Northern Michigan ski resorts organized by the best slopes for beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers/snowboarders.
– Best Northern Michigan Ski Resorts for Beginner Skiers/Boarders –
The secret to selecting the right Northern Michigan ski resort for newbies isn’t actually a secret at all. There are simply no wrong choices. Being beginner-friendly is a point of pride for Michigan hills, so most have designated areas designed to bring success to the sport’s novices, regardless of age.
Caberfae | Cadillac
If your squad’s goal is starting with the bunny hill—and quickly evolving beyond it—seek ski deals that won’t break the bank. One spot famous for this is Caberfae Peaks in Cadillac, where gold medal packages like “stay one night, ski two days” for as low as $69 per person exist. The resort also offers smart options like Family Fun Sundays, January through March, when lift tickets, rentals, and lessons for three are only $59 ($15 per extra family member).
Boasting the highest chairlift in lower Michigan, Caberfae can provide vertically averse skiers the chance to soak in a 360-degree view of Manistee National Forest while still gaining easy access to backside beginner favorites like the Smiling Irishmen and Easy Street runs. For strong skiers who are looking to advance their backcountry capabilities, there’s nothing quite like the 25-plus-acre area Caberfae opened up a few years ago. It’s a boots-back hike to the enormous day lodge at the base of the slopes, but getting to experience backcountry terrain without the West’s cliffs or huge boulders is an ideal way to start skiing “off piste.”
Added bonus: The day lodge, with its two-story stone replace and Adirondack chairs, makes for perfect hot cocoa breaks.
The Homestead | Glen Arbor
Find warm fuzzies even on the coldest days at The Homestead resort. This Glen Arbor gem proves stunning views don’t require daredevil steeps. The brilliant blues of Lake Michigan define The Homestead’s horizon, thanks to the resort’s location—nestled on Sleeping Bear Bay.
Starting at rates of just over $200, a family of four can get lodging, lift tickets, and breakfast. Combine this with Ski Express to save additional time and money; go online 10 days before arrival for rental gear, group lessons or additional lift tickets and get a 10 percent discount.
The gentle slopes and small crowds (The Homestead actually limits ticket sales well below its capacity) make this resort a podium-topper for folks looking for a relaxing, not-taxing, getaway. Hill-hugger chair lifts and a cadre of committed instructors help kids of all ages (including adults) master new skills.
Plus, there’s an elegant spa. Pampered humans make for happy learning.
Treetops Resort | Gaylord
Treetops can turn even the most strident winter fun doubters into full-fledged fanatics. In addition to 23 groomed runs, the resort’s list of snow-fueled adventures includes tubing parks, dog sledding, wilderness sleigh-ride dinners and more. Bump up your insider ski knowledge with half-hour groomer rides to get a first-hand account of how that beautiful white corduroy is created.
For skiers and riders who want to try a terrain park, Treetops offers three different options. The Playground is perfect for those just starting out, with a couple of small jumps and rails designed for easy learning. The resort’s “Get Park Ready” hour-long lesson gears up sideline skiers ready for rail and jump action. Students must master green runs and be able to complete stops before signing up.
Green Circle Tip: Resort websites most often provide trail maps and fast-facts about their hills. Pay close attention to the statistics (what percentage of terrain is listed as beginner). Also, review the maps with your ski partners to designate meet-up spots and check-in times throughout the day.
– Best Northern Michigan Ski Resorts for Intermediate Skiers/Boarders –
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.
Shanty Creek Resorts | Bellaire
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 | Thompsonville
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 $60, or $30 for three hours. Like what you tried? The resort offers a $60 maximum 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 12 miles of groomed, snow-packed trails. No bike is no problem; rentals are available daily, and guided trail rides run on select dates($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).
Boyne Highlands | Harbor Springs
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 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.
– Best Northern Michigan Ski Resorts for Advanced Skiers/Boarders –
Northern Michigan may not have many actual mountains, but there’s plenty of terrain for experts to shred. There are also plenty of ways to stay challenged and keep skiing fresh.
Nub’s Nob | Harbor Springs
Sometimes, skiing in the Midwest requires a little shake up. Whether it’s testing new glades or turning into a ski racer at age 50, winter never needs to stay stagnant at Nub’s Nob. The hill, which prides itself on being just that—a ski hill with a day lodge—has 100 percent of innovation and staff energy directed at making the best experiences possible for folks on the slopes.
In addition to nine expert-only runs, the 248 acres of skiable terrain is 70 percent “most difficult” and “more difficult.” Some longtime favorites include the 427 feet of vertical drop on Chute and Twilight Zone, a knee-busting monstrous moguls run.
Ski gurus can spend an entire weekend climbing, cruising, and climbing some more in the four glade areas at Nub’s. Local favorites like Arena and Tower Glades are ideal for hiking. First tracks after big snow dumps in these glades equate to season-long bragging rights. Skiers (ages nine and up) looking for some of the most challenging racing in the Lower Peninsula can check out the bi-weekly Friday night Speed Series. Kicking off in January, the series uses four different front-face hills. The Giant Slalom, Slalom, and Super G courses are set to live up to the name of this series. $65 for the whole year includes a T-shirt, with an awards ceremony and brunch at the end of the season. Post-race grub often sponsored by racers is served in the Nub’s Pub.
Boyne Mountain | Boyne Falls
When a former Olympian calls your resort his home hill, it’s saying something. Former U.S. Team member Cary Adgate now spends his winter at Boyne Mountain training the next generation of ski racers. (Olympic snowboarder Karly Shorr got her start at Boyne Mountain, too!) And beyond the need for speed, the Mountain has long represented the Midwest as the ultimate spot for winter vacations.
It’s considered the double black-diamond standard of resorts: nine lodging options on property, a mini alpine village, an 88,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, seven terrain parks and 60 runs with a total of 500 vertical feet. The Spa at Boyne Mountain got a mega facelift last summer. We’re talking 19,500-feet of relaxation, including 18 treatment rooms, cedar saunas, whirlpools, state-of-the-art fitness equipment and more. In 2017, finish skiing and switch to snowshoes on Friday or Saturday night for the Summit-to-Stein Supper. Ride up the Hemlock chairlift, sip spiced wine or hot chocolate at the Eagle’s Nest, then strap on snowshoes and hike to a hot-toddy happy bonfire before continuing back down to Stein’s restaurant for a three-course meal and live entertainment.
Black Diamond Tip: Northern Michigan’s resort towns are even better in the winter months. Take time to explore the downtowns in all their snow-blanketed, deal-wheeling glory. Hotspot favorites: Mitchell Street Pub (Petoskey), Paper Station Bistro (Harbor Springs) and Seven Monks Tap Room (Boyne City). There’s also great (free) winter hiking, fat tire bike, snowshoe, and groomed cross-country spots all over this area thanks to the Little Traverse Conservancy Preserves and a host of other community trails.
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.