Badass shredder? Easy rider? Whatever your skills, a glorious glide awaits in the Mitten State. These are the best ski runs in Michigan. Put ’em on your bucket list and start checking ’em off.
This article is featured in the January 2018 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy!
CONCOURSE TO CHICKEN RUN // SCHUSS MOUNTAIN/SHANTY CREEK
Long runs aren’t easy to come by in Northern Michigan, but Schuss has a perfect slow-burn combo in Concourse to Chicken Run. Concourse lets skiers and riders start at the top of the mountain without having to attempt the steeps. Chicken Run winds around the far side of the resort, which means maximum turns before hitting the chairlift line again. The gentle slope is snuggled into dense forest, with the added bonus of well-tracked mini trails through the trees.
LOIS LANE TO NORTH PEAK PASS // BOYNE HIGHLANDS
The longest run in Michigan—1.25 miles—rates a firm green circle, meaning anybody who can slide onto a chairlift and “make a pizza” with their skis can go top to bottom without much of a problem. From the peak on a clear day you can spot the Mackinac Bridge, but the beauty of this run is time on the hill. It’s a no fuss, no frills spotlight on the sheer joy of being outside in the winter in Northern Michigan. Serviced by the resort’s longest chairlift ride, there’s also plenty of time to rest wobbly legs. Head back to the top for an Aonach Mor Moonlight Dinner, held on special dates in December, January and February. Get your tickets at MyNorthTickets.com.
CAT TRACK TO PLEASANTVIEW TO PANDA LAND // NUB’S NOB
Traverse from the top to protected backwoods with this twisty but vertically mellow group of runs. Cat Track’s narrow cut can make the slope feel a bit crowded at times, but it’s still a fun, short arc to the wide and always well-groomed Pleasantview. Panda Land is the real highlight here, thanks to a bunch of cool metal sculptures tucked alongside the hardwood trail. The weird factor of silver-colored life-sized bear, deer, a soaring eagle and more make it a must-ride. Think about it: art, outside, seen only while skiing. Nice.
Shred the Pow
EVERYWHERE // MOUNT BOHEMIA
Any Michigan best-of ski list that includes the word “powder” and neglects the words “Mount Bohemia” is a poser. The motherland of Midwest wild tracks, this Upper Peninsula treasure defines extreme adventure. We’re talking no grooming, mostly glade skiing, big vertical, super long runs, cliffs, and an average snowfall of 273 inches. People who ski Bohemia watch weather forecasts like hawks. As soon as the Keweenaw gets snow-hammered, it’s go time. First tracks at this resort are a badge of honor. The low-key vibe and difficulty level isn’t for everyone, but for true diehard skiers and riders, Mt. Bohemia qualifies as heaven on Earth.
BACKCOUNTRY TERRAIN // CABERFAE PEAKS
It’s not easy to find places to boot-in (aka, hike up the hill) around here, so extra props to Caberfae Peaks in Cadillac for making the conscious choice a few years ago to give off-piste purists a chance to earn their turns. Located to the east of the resort’s North Peak, the area is an au naturale gladed 25-plus-acre spot boasting chutes, glades, and untracked powder. No grooming and no lift access means the workout is worthy of bragging rights at the pub après ski.
BUCK GLADES // CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN
An enormous glade tucked between Hoot Owl (easy) and Buckaroo (expert), Buck Glades has all the fixings for wild and rugged fun without any hassle. The Buck Quad chairlift leaves skiers and riders super close to the glade’s drop-in, which powder hounds can’t praise enough after a big storm. The woods in the Buck Glades are narrow in spots and open in others, making great practice for finding the best fall lines (without smacking face-first into a tree).
ARENA GLADE // NUB’S NOB
While known for phenomenal snowmaking and corduroy-track grooming, real ski and board fanatics know Nub’s has a secret stash of some of the state’s best glade runs. The “no friends on powder days” rule definitely applies here, as the glades are popular enough that, even after a good blizzard, they get tracked out in half a day. Of the four official glades at Nub’s, Arena Glades typically generates the most buzz. To reach the top, grab hold of the high-speed rope tow that runs alongside a super steep run dedicated to ski race training, then hike a short distance to the best lines through the woods. The Nub’s grooming crew doesn’t mess with the glades, so that means fallen trees and handmade jumps make for natural park-skiing fun when the fresh powder is not falling.
CRYSTAL CLIPPER HIGH SPEED CHAIR // CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN
Ride the resort’s high speed quad to reach a view of the village below that stops skiers in their tracks, especially at night. There are beginning, intermediate and expert run options all a stone’s throw from the lift, making it accessible to all. The view sums up the resort’s vibe and the 375-foot vertical drop and wide-open slopes present plenty of turn time to enjoy it. Cool fact: the resort purchased enough power in a wind farm to equal the electricity needs of the Clipper lift.
BIRCH RUN/ROUND HOUSE // TREETOPS RESORT
There’s no sense trying to compare Michigan ski resort views with the dramatic views of big mountains, so instead embrace where we are: a land carved by glaciers and populated by more trees than people. The view from the top of Birch Run and Round House shows a horizon of red maple, aspen and beech hardwood forests, smattered with evergreen hemlocks and pines. On a powder day, the panorama is an intricate natural web of white-lined branches and low-slung clouds. It’s an understated beauty. It’s home.
PEARLY EVERLASTING // HOMESTEAD RESORT
No surprise this resort made the cut, considering the Homestead is nestled along Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore—voted the most beautiful place in the country during a Good Morning America TV show contest back in 2011. Lake Michigan takes center stage here, with a horizon of blue so close that one look is worth an entire weekend trip (the ski hill here is open weekends and holidays only, though the resort is open seven days a week). While the bay side can come with Arctic breezes, the soft slope and stunning sights more than make up for the windchill. On sunny days, the snow and blue of water and sky are the ultimate reminder of why it’s important to see the lake in all seasons.
The Belly Flippers
KINGDOM COME // SCHUSS MOUNTAIN/SHANTY CREEK
Some people might drop a swear word or two. Some simply turn around and say, “no way.” But for the brave souls that seek serious steeps in Michigan, Kingdom Come has one of the best gut-drop lines in the tip of the mitt. The 450 feet of vertical has hosted its fair share of regional and state high school ski meets, but there’s no need to don a Spandex speedsuit to get in on the action. It’s fast, has a wicked pitch and boasts a rollercoaster-like roll down the front. What’s not to love?
HEMLOCK // BOYNE MOUNTAIN
A 500-foot vertical drop is hard to come by around these parts, so Boyne Mountain’s Hemlock has long been the stuff of ski legends. It’s the OG of scary steeps. You can’t follow the full line of the slope from the top, so you know the drop is dramatic. While the run itself may take less than a minute for most folks, the memory of the first time down Hemlock lasts a lifetime.
THE DARK SIDE // BOYNE HIGHLANDS
With a double-pitch and end-of-run roller, this hill collects adrenaline-junkie screams all winter long. It’s funky fall line is challenge enough, and the mogul build up is gnarly, but the real stomach twister when taking on The Dark Side is the spectator action, since the run is positioned in direct-line view of the Heather High Speed chair. The experience is almost like skiing in a stadium, so if your turns are on-point, you’ll get cheers. If you’re struggling, well, remember that jeers from fellow skiers should be taken in good humor.
Kate Bassett is news director at the Harbor Light, in Harbor Springs. Her first novel, Words and Their Meanings, is available in bookstores and on the web. [email protected] // Beth Price shoots active lifestyle, weddings and commercial photography from Traverse City. bethpricephotography.com.
Thank you to Shanty Creek Resorts for hosting our 2018 Ski Guide photo shoot.