Fat tire winter biking, an option at some resorts in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and northern Minnesota, also now offers rentals and one even lift service. Check it out.
Heartland snowsports enthusiasts can climb aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder for an easy, scenic ride to Whitefish Mountain Resort. There are several places you can board the train. It leaves Chicago’s Union Station with stops in Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, and several other boarding locations across North Dakota and eastern Montana before arriving at Whitefish. When you book early, at least 7-14 days in advance, you can save 20-percent on your fare.
January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard month, and throughout the Midwest ski areas are offering discounted lesson programs. Michigan offers the only statewide program, which is available at ski areas throughout the Wolverine State. None of the other Heartland state associations offer a statewide program for easy access, cost, and simplicity. The nice thing is that if you live near either one of Michigan's peninsulas you can cross the border and enroll in a ski area near you.
Heartland snow sports enthusiasts don’t have to fly to Lake Tahoe to mix a little gaming and skiing or enjoy the enticing lodging packages that you find there because of the casinos. Just head to Terry Peak and South Dakota’s famed Black Hills.
Three old-time Midwest ski areas that have aged well join the “baby boomer” generation. Turning 55 this season are Big Powderhorn, Michigan’s UP, and Welch Village, located in the deep river valleys southeast of the Twin Cities. Chestnut Mountain, the senior member of the group, turns 60 this season.
The Michigan Snowsports Industries Association (MSIA) and Minnesota Ski Areas Association offer passport programs that allow elementary-age kids to give skiing and snowboarding a try for free. In Michigan, it covers both fourth and fifth graders. Minnesota’s program covers just fourth graders. Surprisingly Wisconsin, the Heartland state just behind Michigan for a number of ski areas doesn't offer such a program.
Indiana's Perfect North Slopes is expanding its territory with the acquisition of West Virginia's Timberline Four Seasons Resort. It was purchased at an auction on November 20 with a bid of $2.2 million. Timberline had filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year when it abruptly closed for the 1918/19 season at the end of February.
Montana ski areas are opening over the next couple of weeks, and lift ticket deals are still available at several of them. Frequent skier cards, packs and punch cards can substantially help lower daily lift ticket costs. Check out early season specials and what's new around the state.
Tyrol Basin, located in the Wisconsin hill country southwest of the State Capital, went through an ownership change last season when new owner Nathan McGee bought the ski area in 2018. One of the older ski areas in the Badger State it first opened in 1958. Tyrol was also one of the first ski areas in the state to enthusiastically welcome snowboarders and is still considered one of the top places to ride.
Boyne Highlands' classic three-story hotel with its vine-covered alpine motif and ski hill rising behind the roofline is arguably one of the most iconic views among Heartland ski resorts. Rising over 550 feet, the largest vertical in Lower Michigan. An upgrade, transforming the iconic lodge into an upscale, luxury hotel is taking place in four phases with the first phase beginning this winter. When complete 85 newly furnished rooms and suites should be ready for next season.
The resort’s Saturday night Aonach Mor Moonlight Dinner held during January and February is a must; a sleigh ride up to the North Peak Lodge, elegantly set and a gourmet dinner with strolling minstrels tops off the evening. The popular dinner is being held nightly Dec. 26-30 and Jan. 1 and 4.The hotel dining room is one of the best in the Harbor Springs area. Overlooking the lit slopes is your “eye candy” for the meal. Teddy Griffin’s Roadhouse, just down the road, is a popular offsite restaurant.
The best place to stay is the hotel; the high-speed lift is right outside the door to the slopes. Two more nearby options: The Bartley House, a longtime family favorite, is home to the largest hot tub in the Midwest; the Heather Highlands Inn, just a short stroll from the main lodge, also offers hotel rooms and condominium suites.
The ski hill offers 55 runs, some over a mile long, four terrain parks, numerous glades, and eight lifts, including a high-speed quad. This classic Midwest ridge, bent and folded by the last retreating glacier, offers a visual distinctiveness with varied slopes and contours that are rare for the Heartland. It’s one of few resorts around the Great Lakes where you really need a trail map. The secluded North Face runs feel like a separate ski area. The front face offers over a dozen black-star slopes, one double-black and plenty of long cruising runs in between. Beginners have their own area and chairlift plus a magi-carpet.
Midweek three-night packages start from $98 per person, per night and include lift tickets and a hot buffet breakfast each morning. They are available all season long excluding holidays.
When I first started visiting the resort years ago skiing was about the only reason you went. Today there are many other activities to enjoy. You can try the multiple-stage zipline tour, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, horseback riding, and tubing in addition to skiing and riding.
With the winter-like cold air that's settled in over the Great Lakes, three more Midwest ski areas plan to open later this week with a couple more scheduled to open the following weekend.
A couple of ski areas near Detroit offer a popular combination season pass that benefits thousands of snowsports enthusiasts in the Motor City. Four popular Ohio ski areas grouped around the Cleveland/Akron metropolis also offer a similar season pass, again benefiting thousands.
From a stroll in a haunted forest to great pumpkin races, and a zipline of terror a trio of Heartland ski resorts have some haunting good fun planned leading up to this Halloween. It’s also prime fall color for chairlift rides to the top of the ski hills for some brilliant vistas.