Remember last winter? You can bet that nearly all of Michigan’s ski areas would love to forget it. That lack of snow was devastating.
It also meant that the adage plagued ski areas again. You know the one: if there’s no snow in your yard, that obviously means there’s no snow at ski areas. Michigan’s skiers should kiss that one goodbye by now, but it keeps on hangin’ on.
Snowmaking helped save the season for many resorts, while others scraped by on what Nature gave them, and some were lucky to receive lake-effect snowfalls from the Great Lakes, A huge early March snowfall helped extend the season, too.
This fall, those lakes, which help power snowfalls for much of northern Michigan, are at near-record low levels following a very hot, and very dry, summer. So your first job is to do a snow dance to ensure we don’t go through another snowless winter this season. And then hope for at least a closer-to-normal winter so the state’s ski resorts attract plenty of skiers and boarders, and keep more Michiganians employed, not to mention having fun on their boards.
That said, here’s a look at what skiers and boarders will find new at many of the state’s ski resorts. When cross-country areas also are figured in, the state has 51 ski areas boasting over 260 lifts, about 1,000 runs, more than 50 terrain parks and hundreds of kilometers of groomed cross-country trails.
Thanks to those who’ve planned for reduced snowfalls through the years, slope maintenance and snowmaking capabilities have improved dramatically, So even if there is no snow in your front yard, there is on ski slopes when the weather turns cold.
Here’s a partial rundown of improvements and special offers for the 2012-2013 season. Most ski areas offer discounts on their season ski passes if they are purchased before the snow flies. For more information, visit goskimichigan.com, which has quick links to Michigan ski area websites.
Michigan’s U.P. resorts are busy getting ready for winter. Big Powderhorn near Bessemer is celebrating the first full winter season for the new Gun Barrel Lodge. A fire destroyed the resort’s original lodge early last season. Gun Barrel has received high praise for its convenient and modern design.
All skier services are on the lower level with direct access to the beginner area and convenient access on and off the other slopes. The second floor offers ground level ski-in/ski-out access, two fireplaces and an outdoor gas fire pit on the patio.
The third floor has a large gas fireplace, bar and restaurant with outstanding views of the slopes. In addition Powderhorn is offering one free ski day at Pine Mountain, Mont Ripley and Mt. Ashwabay in nearby Bayfield, Wis., to all season pass holders.
First-time skiers and snowboarders eight years and older can take advantage of “Learn It & Love It.” The program includes one two-hour lesson, ski or snowboard rental and beginner slope lift ticket. The price is $55 for the ski package and $65 for snowboard. 1-800-501-SNOW (7669).
A few miles away at Blackjack Resort, also near Bessemer, there are continued improvements in snowmaking as well as added glade skiing.
“Board ‘til You Drop” will be on March 9 and 10. This unique event involves lapping the terrain park to raise money for Special Olympics. (906) 229-5115.
Pine Mountain near Iron Mountain is again partnering with the local Kiwanis Ski Club to host the Pine Mountain Ski Jump Weekend, Feb. 9-10. The top jumpers in the world will be participating. Records in all classes have been set at Pine Mountain and the U.S. record is still held there. (906) 774-2747 or 1-877-553-PINE.
Skiers and boarders at Mount Bohemia in the Keweenaw Peninsula will see new glade runs and the possibility of a new snow cat skiing area. There also are two new ski-in/ski-out cabins. Rent a cabain this year and get breakfast and dinner included. Buy your season pass on Dec. 1 for just $99. (231) 420-5405.
Mont Ripley in Houghton has increased the size of its rental department and ski shops. (906) 487-2340.
The folks at Marquette Mountain in Marquette have marked nine new gladed runs for this year. Snowmaking capacity has been increased with the purchase of additional snowmaking guns and work continues on a new terrain park layout.
In addition, Marquette Mountain is adding more weekday hours by opening at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. (906) 225-1155 or 1-800-944-SNOW.
Ski Brule near Iron River is teaming with school districts in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois to reward students with good grades and attendance.
Students who earn perfect attendance or all “A” status during the first or second marking periods will receive a free day of skiing or snowboarding. The free day includes a lift ticket, rental, and lesson. 1-800-DO BRULE.
In the Lower Peninsula, Nub’s Nob near Harbor Springs again increased snowmaking capacity as it does nearly every year, with the addition of six guns to the Easy Mile Slope, bringing the total snowgun arsenal to 282.
The purchase of a new Pisten Bully snow grooming machine and advanced alpine tiller enlarges the size of Nub’s grooming fleet.
Parents and little ones alike will be excited about the addition of a “just for kids” trail on the Nub’s Nob South, and additional night lighting was added to sections of Nub’s South and Dorie’s Bowl.
Nub’s has earned a top spot in Transworld Snowboard magazine’s 2012 annual reader survey poll of top snowboarding parks in the Midwest. (231) 526-2131 or 1-800-SKI-NUBS.
Across the street from Nub’s, Boyne Highlands opened a new spa a, and the Main Lodge hotel, which wraps around its outdoor pool, has undergone upgrades.
The Highlands also increased snowmaking capacity with the addition of 40 Low-E fan guns and the resort has added electronic live-time signage at the base of the slopes providing easy access to the open/close status of trails and chairlifts.
Boyne Highlands also has partnered with Burton Snowboards to develop Riglet Park for this season. Riglet Parks offer on-snow play areas with fun terrain and features designed to introduce children ages 3 to 6 to snowboarding. 1-800-GO-BOYNE.
In Boyne Falls, Boyne Mountain’s snowmaking efficiency and capacity has been upgraded with the installation of an additional 1,000 gallons-per-minute water pump and 10 Boyne Low-E fan guns.
Like Boyne Highlands, the mountain also features new live-time signage provides immediate open/close status of trails and chairlifts, and Boyne Mountain’s beginner chairlift, Boyneland, will see increased up-hill capacity this season with the addition of 13 triple chairs.
Boyne Mountain is also introducing a Riglet Park this winter and opening a Burton-exclusive store at the resort. Boyne Mountain’s tubing park is being expanded and the resort is introducing winter fly fishing trips. 1-800-GO-BOYNE.
Hanson Hills Recreation Area in Grayling has something to offer at every level, and every type of skier. Hanson Hoppers is a four- or eight-week program designed for children from ages 4-7 that teaches ski skills and fun in the snow.
Another four- or eight- week class called the Snowboard Academy is designed for the beginning snowboarder. This program will teach students the fundamentals, including turning and stopping. For more advanced skiers, a freestyle skills training session is available with three-time Canadian Olympic Coach Tom Hutchinson. 1-888-876-2196.
In Gaylord, Treetops Resort offers extreme tubing again this year. Adjacent to the ski slopes, and behind its top-of-the-hill lodge, tubing is perfect for children and adults alike, and offers another option for outdoor fun (see video).
Treetops also offers some special reduced-rate season pass programs. Any student aged eight and older who has a grade point average (GPA) of 3.5 or above earns a season pass for just $40. A GPA of 3.0 to 3.49 will qualify for a $60 season pass. However, rates go up after Nov. 30, and the special rates are only available through Dec. 24.
For the very young and the young-at-heart, skiing is also very affordable at Treetops. Senior citizens 65+ and kids under age eight can get a season pass for just $10. 1-888-TREETOPS.
Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire, in partnership with Monster Energy, has completed a major renovation and expansion of its terrain parks. The ski area is retiring its half pipe and in its place adding Big Air ramps and landings to Elf Shelf.
In addition, it is adding a beginner’s terrain park called “Low Rider.” Like many other ski areas, Shanty Creek has made improvements to its snowmaking equipment by adding 10 new snow guns.
For cross-country skiers, Shanty Creek is doubling the lighting on Moonlite Run. For additional diverse winter activity, the resort expanded its tubing park and snowmobile rentals are returning this winter. And, there will hopefully be fewer lines for pre-booking ski lessons. The resort is simplifying the process and is offering skiers and snowboarders the option of purchasing discounted lift tickets online in advance.
In September, members of the Schuss Mountain Ski Patrol accepted the National Small Ski Area Patrol of the Year award. 1-800-678-4111.
Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville is adding snow bikes this winter for northern Michigan’s only dedicated snow bike trail system. The resort has added to its snowmaking capacity this year with new water pipes and more snow guns. More than half of the Wintergreen condominiums units have been upgraded with new kitchens (many with new bathrooms as well) and are ready for this ski season.
Also new this year, a Sunday-only pass is available for $159 and kids under 8 can get a season pass for $25. 1-800-968-7686 or (231) 378-2000
Happy 75th Birthday to Caberfae Peaks just west of Cadillac! To celebrate, starting in January, a family of three can enjoy skiing from 3 p.m. to close any Sunday for only $49. This program will include lift tickets, rental equipment and lessons. Add other family members for just $15 each.
In addition, Caberfae’s been busy keeping its runs looking young and fresh by contouring the slopes and increasing snowmaking. Thirty-two additional energy-efficient snowmaking fan guns, (22 permanently mounted, 10 mobile) along with the expansion of the snowmaking reservoir, several snowmaking pipe installations and various electrical upgrades all add up to a major increase in snowmaking ability, while a new Bombardier Snow Groomer will help keep it all groomed for skiing and boarding.
Plus, skiers and snowboarders will be able to purchase lift ticket and rental equipment online in advance and save. (231) 862-3000.
Cross Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon has extended the Rolling Hills Trail and installed a big outdoor bonfire pit on the sun deck of the Stone Turtle Day Lodge.
Every full moon during the ski season (snow permitting), Cross Country Ski Headquarters is again lighting the Trapper’s Cabin ski trail with torches, creating a truly unique and memorable nighttime experience. This year begins the new “Bring a Friend Skiing” program. Skiers who bring a friend can enter to win a trip for two to one of three ski destinations: Park City, Utah; Sun Valley, Idaho; or Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont. For trail conditions, call (989) 821-6661.
Mt. Holiday in Traverse City has added a new rope tow. (231) 938-2500
Snow Snake Ski & Golf in Harrison is ready for winter with an increase to both its snowmaking capabilities and the rental equipment. The beginner terrain park, introduced mid-season last year, is now a permanent fixture, in addition to the main terrain park. Skiers and riders of all levels can enjoy the quick access with the rope tow for numerous park laps. The Zip Line, which will be open this winter, received new, upgraded landings. (989) 539-6583.
Timber Ridge Ski Area near Gobles has expanded ski and snowboard programs and discounts. Family Learn to Ski/Snowbard is offered on Sunday evenings, with lift tickets, lessons and rental included for $30 skiing and $33 for snowboarding.
A new program called Sunday Kids is designed for children 6 to 8 years old to explore skiing. “Free Lunch Friday,” offers a $5 food coupon with every lift ticket purchase before 4 p.m. There are also discounts for military families and college students and anyone can receive a lift ticket for $14 on Tuesdays with a special Timber Ridge “Tweet” password. Details are available on the Timber Ridge website. 800-253-2928.
In Southeast Michigan Mt. Holly, Holly has expanded its snowmaking system by about 20 percent. More water means more snow when temperatures dip below 28 degrees. Call (248) 634-8269.