Four Heartland ski resorts made some significant improvements adding new chairlifts for the coming season. Most were to improve access to already existing areas of the ski hills, and one was to create more area and add new trails.
Michigan's Boyne Mountain will have the Midwest's first eight-seat, high-speed lift in operation this winter for their Disciples Ridge replacing two older slower lifts. It will dramatically change that area. For some time it has offered some of the best terrain on the Mountain from easy to advanced, but it was way under utilized. It wasn't easy to get over there, and the lifts were very slow cutting down on slope time. All of that will change with new access and this new lift. It will be like discovering a whole new area. And, for those who say it's unneeded in the Midwest you know little about Heartland skiing and riding.
Caberfae Peaks, also in Michigan, has added a new triple chair this past summer replacing an old double that only went half way up the ski hill. The new lift will unload on a new third Peak opening up more terrain including a new trail and easier access to their 25-acre backcountry area. It will increase uphill capacity and dramatically decrease the mid-mountain congestion on the popular first Peak terrain.
In Ohio Boston Mills/Brandywine ski area, located between Cleveland and Akron, have replaced a couple of old chairlifts with quad chairlifts that will greatly increase uphill efficiency at both locations. They replaced a double on the Boston Mills slopes and a triple at Brandywine. The two Vail ski areas, which sit across a small valley from each other, operate as one area sharing a driveway entrance. Located approximately five minutes apart by car lift tickets and season passes are valid at both.
Searchmont Mountain has a new main triple chairlift that will be operational this winter, which will greatly enhance their uphill capacity. The 703-foot vertical mountain, located just north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, is popular with Great Lakes skiers and riders from Michigan.
Recent snow and cold weather are providing an early start to the Heartlands ski season, which is a nice departure from last year when ski areas mostly remained closed over Thanksgiving weekend and had a rough start even in December making enough snow to be fully open over the Christmas holidays.
An early arrival of winter and temperatures cold enough for snowmaking across the upper Midwest are going to allow some ski areas to be open for the Thanksgiving holidays. Minnesota will be offering the most openings with a few in northern Wisconsin and a couple in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The Lower Peninsula ski areas at this point have not announced opening dates, but some have already fired up the snowmaking and hopefully that will come soon.
A couple of ski areas, Wild Mountain in Minnesota and nearby Trollhaugen across the border in Wisconsin have already opened for the season. Afton Alps, Powder Ridge, Andes Towers Hills and Lutsen Mountains are planning on being open this weekend Nov. 18 and 19. Buck Hill is opening on Nov. 22, with Spirit Mountain and Giants Ridge scheduled Nov. 25.
Huff Hills Ski Area, located near Bismarck in North Dakota, is opening for the season on Nov. 20, which will mark their earliest opening ever in the 30 years it has been a ski area. Illinois' Chestnut Mountain plans to open Nov. 26, also one of their earliest openings.
In early season it's always a good idea to check the ski area for conditions before making a long drive. Weather can change in just a few days. You can also log onto Snoountry Snow Reports for an up to date review of what's open and conditions.
Mount Bohemia, located on the witch-like finger of Michigan's UP, offers one of the best early season pass sales in the Midwest. The $99 pass sale takes place for only a little over a week from Nov. 23 through December 3, and the only way you will be able to ski or ride Saturdays throughout the season is with a season pass.
Bohemia, which the locals call Boho, is an anomaly for the Heartland. A big vertical drop for the Great Lakes Region, 900 feet with cliffs, chutes, trees, steep drops and all natural snow. They have no snowmaking, and don't do any grooming. Bohemia claims all expert terrain and, they aren't exaggerating. The terrain is typical of what you find out west in the backcountry. There is nothing else even remotely like it mid-continent. Two chairlifts whisk you back to the top to find another line through the trees, boulders and cliff drops spread out over 600 acres. Beginners aren’t allowed and wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. It also offers cat-served skiing on it's sister Voodoo Mountain, which is available on Wednesday and Saturday during the season.
The powdery, Colorado-like, lake effect snow, is a key ingredient for backcountry skiing. Bohemia has appeared among the top four resort's of Powder Magazine's annual reader poll for the best powder skiing in North America, It's currently ranked among the top four ski resorts in USA Today's annual reader vote for North America's best ski resorts, which shows its appeal.
“Mount Bohemia is one of the premier places for tree skiing in North America. With an abundant snowfall of close to 300 inches a year and acres of tree skiing Bohemia has the perfect set up for great inbounds back country skiing,” according to Powder.
Daily lift tickets will be $87 this season, which must be bought online ahead of arrival. They offer a variety of lodging, which includes trailside cabins and yurts, a marina cabin on lake Lac Labelle, a hostel, and they even allow camping in the parking lot for a fee.
Michigan based Wisconsin Resorts that owns six Heartland ski areas scattered around the Great Lakes is offering a new season pass good at all six ski areas. It owns Pine Knob, Mt. Holly, Alpine Valley Ski Area and Bittersweet, all in southern Michigan, Alpine Valley Resort in southern Wisconsin, and Searchmont, just across the border in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
If you like to experience different ski areas throughout the season, which many skiers and riders enjoy, it's a nice deal. You only have to visit one of the ski area websites to purchase a season pass, and you are good at all six Wisconsin Resorts' locations.
The cost for an adult pass is $761 through the end of November. A daily lift ticket at any of the ski areas will be $80 this season. A kid's pass is $595 and a senior pass (65+) is $693. Kids and seniors daily lift tickets are also $80 this season. Do the math. If you were to ski just 10 times during the season at just one of the areas you will spend more than the cost of a season pass. The choice to be able to visit all six ski areas, including Searchmont, one of the largest ski resorts around the Great Lakes that's just five hours north of Detroit, is a pretty sweet deal. It offers you lots of choices.
Alpine Valley, Michigan, close to the Knob and Holly, offers a fine trio of ski areas in the Detroit burbs for Michigan skiers and Bittersweet is not far away. It's also enticing for snowsports enthusiasts in the southern part of the Badger State, Chicagoland, and northern Indiana for weekend road trips during the season. Remember the offer is only good through the end of the month and prices will be going up in December.
Located in the rugged, rocky Canadian Shield, Searchmont, with a 750-foot vertical, 21 trails and terrain parks offers a true mountain feel. It's popular with many Michigan and Wisconsin skiers and riders for weekend trips to experience the Shield's mountainous terrain.
The Michigan Snowsports Industries Association (MSIA) and Minnesota Ski Areas Association (MNSAA) offer passport programs allowing elementary age kids the chance to try skiing and snowboarding for free. In Michigan it covers both fourth and fifth graders, and Minnesota’s program covers fourth graders.
Michigan’s Cold is Cool Ski & Ride Passport program offers students’ three free lift tickets at 29 participating ski areas scattered throughout the state and additional discounts on the slopes and at participating ski shops. Families obtain a Passport App for their students that gives them up to three free lift tickets or trail passes at participating ski areas. MSIA charges $30 for the passport; $25 covers operating expenses and $5 goes to a new charitable organization Misnow that helps get underprivileged kids out on our slopes & trails in the winter.
The Passport is an app to download on your phone, making it contactless at the lift ticket window. Once the application is complete, you will receive an email with instructions on how to download the app. You can also show proof of grade at a participating ski shop and gain instant access to the Cold is Cool App. The Passport also includes a coupon for 20% off a helmet purchase and $20 off the purchase of $100 at participating ski shops across the state. Some ski areas have also included coupons for equipment rental and free or discounted lessons.
All Minnesota ski areas are participating this season. The cost of the MNSAA Passport is $34.95, which includes tax, payment processing fee and administrative costs of program. Your fourth grader receives an e-pass which includes a minimum of two free lift tickets for the passport holder at each Minnesota ski area. Some offer more than the minimum of two passes. Additional information on program offerings by area and a link to more details at each member area is provided on the website.
Kudos to the associations. It bodes well for the future of Heartland snowsports programs.
The Indy Pass for Heartland skiers and riders, with the new ski areas that have joined, is a great choice. Many of the ski areas and resorts are located near each other, which presents an excellent opportunity for several multi-day road trips across the Heartland.
Many buy a season pass for convenience at a ski area near them and that they enjoy skiing or riding, which is fine. If you like to visit a variety of ski areas throughout the season rather than just staying with one you might consider purchasing the Indy Pass, which offers the most choices of any multiple ski area pass in the Midwest. It's good at 30 ski areas scattered across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and South Dakota.
Several of the ski areas are grouped within easy driving distance of each other, which means you can take road trips to visit two or three different resorts over a week long trip. There are trips like that in northwestern Lower Michigan, Upper Michigan, northern Wisconsin and Minnesota around the Great Lakes. The Indy Pass is also good at three of the Heartland's largest ski resorts, Lutsen Mountains, near a 900 foot vertical in the Gopher State, Granite Peak, at 700 feet, in the Badger State, and Terry Peak, over a 1,000 feet, in South Dakota's Black Hills.
The pass is currently on sale through November at $329 for adults and $149 children for the regular Indy Pass that does have blackout dates at some of the areas. The Indy+ Pass is $429 adults and $199 children with no blackout dates. The pass is good for two free days of skiing or snowboarding at each ski area and 25% off the daily rate for a third day on the slopes. Once your Indy Pass has been registered you simply go to the ticket window, get your lift ticket with your driver's license or photo ID for each day you wish to ski or ride.
For Midwest road trips it doesn't get any easier to combine ski areas for easy access and multiple days of skiing and riding. Of course it is also good at 70 other ski areas across the Lower 48, which means it’s easier than ever to maximize both your turns and your season.
Three ski areas in the Midwest, Wild Mountain and Andes Tower Hills, Minnesota, and Trollhaugen in western Wisconsin, were able to open limited terrain last week. Four other ski resorts, one each in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and two in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP) have planned openings in the next three weeks. The Heartland ski season is underway.
Ski Brule in the UP has the planned earliest season opener slated for November 11. They are routinely one of the earliest opening ski resorts in the Heartland. Lift tickets are free on opening day. They have a Thanksgiving special offering half-off on Wednesday night lodging if you plan on staying through the holiday weekend for four nights. Their highly regarded Thanksgiving Race Camp is taking place over the four days.
Lutsen Mountains in Minnesota and Snowriver Mountain Resort, also in the UP have planned season openers slated for November 19. Lutsen plans on having 10 runs open on Eagle Mountain and early season lift tickets are $79 through December 16. Ski in/ski out lodging specials at Lutsen are available from $109 per night. Snowriver lift tickets will be the same as Lutsen, $69 through December 16, and you can purchase two day lift tickets for $10 off online. No lodging specials were listed on their website. Both resorts will be limiting lift ticket sales on weekends and holidays, which means buy ahead online.
Wisconsin's Granite Peak has an opening slated during the week before Thanksgiving. No lodging specials were listed on their website, but affordable lodging is within minutes of the ski area. Lift tickets are $79 from opening day through December 16. Purchase before November 15 and save 20% off the posted rates. They will also be limiting lift ticket sales on holidays and weekends, which means purchase online ahead of time.
Boyne Mountain is stepping up its attraction for Midwest visitors and skiers with a couple of significant new additions to its landscape.
The SkyBridge, which just opened, is the world's longest timber-towered suspension bridge. The 1,200-foot-long walking bridge is located between the resort's McLouth and Disciples Ridge peaks. The five foot walking surface is suspended 118 feet above the valley floor and will offer breathtaking panoramic views of surrounding Boyne valley and Northern Michigan's rolling hills. The scenery will be spectacular throughout the fall season with the area known for its eye-catching fall color foliage. It will be open year round for pedestrians.
With its timber-frame design, the bridge is a nod to the logging heritage of Northern Michigan. The four wooden timber towers, which anchor the ends of the Sky Bridge are 52 feet high. The bridge is a five foot wide walking surface suspended 118 feet above the valley floor by cables and is nearly a quarter-mile, 1200 feet, long. The bridge will be available operating on the same schedule as the daily ski lifts.
You won't be allowed to take ski equipment across. You access the Sky Bridge just beyond the Eagle's Nest restaurant and the exit ramp for the high-speed, six-seat lift. It is open daily through the end of the month from 10 a..m.-8:30 pm. From Nov. 4 through Dec. 4 it will only be open Friday through Sunday. For the winter season it will be open daily starting Dec. 9. Pricing is $25 adults, $20 seniors, and $15 children.
The other big Boyne Mountain news is the installation of the Heartland's first eight-person, high-speed lift, which is being installed on Disciples Ridge. It will be open for the 2022/23 snowsports season. It's replacing the old, slow Disciples I and II lifts. The new eight seater will get you to the top in just a little over three minutes. The old lifts used to take at least twice as long. It will feature automatic safety bars and a raisable loading carpet for young skiers and riders. Disciples Ridge was always underused. That should change this coming season.
They put the 180 Disciples chairs from the old lifts on sale this past May and sold them all in one hour raising about $100,000 for the newly formed Boyne Mountain Fund for Youth supporting programs and projects benefiting youth within Charlevoix County, home to the Mountain.
Frost Fire Park, located just six miles south of the Canadian border near Walhalla, was seeking help through a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $50,000 in order to repair its ski and mountain bike trails this past summer. Spring flooding caused hundreds of thousands of dollars to the park's downhill trails. The area where skiers lined up to board the area's only chairlift was reported to be a ravine this summer.
They are planning on being open this winter at last report, which is good news for skiers in that region. The small ski area, popular with with Canadian skiers from Winnipeg and nearby Grand Forks, North Dakota, is not immune from adversity, but has always managed to overcome problems.
The Pembina Gorge Foundation purchased the ski area the summer of 2017 and found the old chairlift needed to be replaced right after the purchase and lost the ski season of 2017/18 while raising money for a new lift. There are only three ski areas in the state. Skiers don't have a lot of choices in this part of the Midwest. Bottineau Winter Park is located in the nearby Turtle Mountains, and Huff Hills is located four hours south near Bismarck.
Frost Fire, which first opened in 1976. The ski area has a 350-foot vertical, which is decent for this part of the Midwest. It offers a quad chair, seven runs and a terrain park. When the Pembina Foundation bought the ski area they opened a day lodge with restaurant to stay open year round. Summer activities include an outdoor amphitheater, hosting a youth arts camp, and offering eight world class mountain bike trails, racing and lift service. Long range plans when they took over the ski area also called for brining kayaking, canoeing, a campground, fossil digging, and educational programs to the Pembina Gorge Recreation Area.
Big Snow is actually two older Midwestern ski resorts, Indianhead and Black Jack operated as one resort under one owner that are less than a mile apart across a valley from each other. It's the largest ski area in the UP. Indianhead has a 638-foot vertical and Blackjack is 490 feet. Skinner has already announced he is changing the name from Big Snow to Snowriver Mountain Resort, and the two historic base areas will be renamed for the rivers flowing through the resort, Black River Basin for Blackjack and Jackson Creek Summit for Indianhead. The two areas provide 400-acres for snowsports with the possibility of expanding to 500-acres.
Both ski areas are antiquated with old Riblet chairlifts and base lodges that need a lot of updating. Jackson Creek has five chairlifts and Black River has four. Both offer lodging and a hotel is located at the top of Jackson Creek, which is an upside-down resort with its base area on top as you drive in. Look for big changes in the future, including tying the two ski areas together in the valley with a connecting lift so they won't have to run a shuttle between them. A single lift ticket is good at both locations.
When Skinner purchased Granite Peak it was a rundown rustic ski area with a big vertical, 700 feet, and a lot of promise. The old area, called Rib Mountain didn't even get to the top. In less than two decades he transformed it into one of the largest in the Midwest adding more terrain, trails, high-speed lifts and creating a vibrant new base area. Lutsen Mountains is the largest ski resort in the Heartland operating off four mountain peaks with an 860-foot vertical and the only gondola mid-America.
All three resorts are now operated as the Midwest Family Ski Resorts, which was created by Skinner and his daughter Charlotte Skinner, who joined her father after graduating from Columbia University and gaining finance experience through public technology companies she worked for. The Midwest Family Ski Resorts offers what they call the Legendary Pass, which offered unlimited skiing and snowboarding at Lutsen and Granite Peak last season. Snowriver Mountain Resort is being added for the 2022/23 season. The Legendary Pass is currently on sale for $899. All three resorts are also members of the Indy Pass.
Boyne Mountain offers a nice selection of summer activities, especially biking with paved bike path options as well as over 20 miles of mountain bike trails. A new paved pathway runs from Boyne Falls over to Boyne City on Lake Charlevoix, and the other paved option is on Boyne property. Both are nice rides.
The Boyne Valley Trailway offers a scenic ride through countryside mostly away from roads. It's a little over six miles one way, and the Mountain has a scenic mile connecter trail that joins the Trailway as it leaves Boyne Falls. You really feel like you're riding through countryside. Enjoy pedaling around the old town, which comes alive in summer with people and music in late afternoon and early evening. It's around 16 miles out-and-back.
The other paved ride flows over the Mountain Pass Road from the village down to the golf course area and Beach House on Deer Lake. Then ride the seven mile scenic cart path, open to bikers and hikers, that winds up along the golf course and back over the ski hill back to the village. There are nice scenic vistas from the upper trail of the countryside. As you start back down to the village it runs along the ski slopes. The total round trip is 15 miles.
An extensive collection of mountain bike trails are on the north side of the Mountain Pass. I found the lower trails offered some nice riding through forest and meadows. The upper trails, in a forest setting, are considered difficult and most difficult. There are a couple of entrances to the trails on top of the Mountain Pass Road as you head over to Deer Lake. You can also get chairlift access with your personal mountain bike to the top and trails lead over to the upper trail system. There are close to 22 miles of mountain bike trails.
Other summer activities include a nine-station zipline, paintball, horseback riding, and, of course, golf on their award winning courses.
I stayed in the newly remodeled Chalet Edelweiss, a European inspired guest haus sitting at the base of the ski slopes overlooking the village. A bike fleet is included for lodging guests to use during their stay. Luxurious would best describe it with all the amenities included.
Spend a couple of nights to divide the rides into a couple of days and enjoy riding up their chairlift for some great early evening views of the surrounding countryside. You can also get a look at the new peak-to-peak, pedestrian sky bridge being built between the peaks of McLouth and Disciples Ridge with an anticipated opening in late September. It will be the world's longest timber-towered suspension bridge stretching 1,203 feet, nearly a quarter-mile, and 118 feet high offering panoramic views of the valley.
Wisconsin is Midwest Ski Country in winter, but come summer Door County is one of the Great Lakes top destinations. Looking at a Wisconsin map it's the long pointy thumb sticking out in Lake Michigan. Surrounded by lake waters it makes a cool, lush environment to beat the stagnant summer heat inland. It's often been called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.”
Part of the Niagara Escarpment, it's 75 miles long, averages about 15 miles across and offers over 300 miles of shoreline to explore with a blend of diverse activities and numerous quaint villages tucked into bays along the coastline. The charm of the peninsula begins above Sturgeon Bay, which you cross about halfway up.
Much of the Door is rural with agriculture featuring orchards, vineyards and farms in the highlands between the Lake Michigan side and the Green Bay side. You can hike to lighthouses scattered around the peninsula, through state and county parks, and hike and bike along cliffs that rise over 200 feet above the water The county roads make a wonderful area for road biking between small villages. Kayak among numerous off-shore islands and underneath the cliffs.
In addition to the many outdoor activities there are numerous art galleries, painters and stores offering a unique blend of culture, and an outdoor amphitheater, Northern Sky Theater, that's been putting on plays for over 50 years. One of the best ways to get a feel for the lay of the land is to board the Door County Trolley for a narrated tour.
Whitefish Dunes State Park, on the Lake Michigan side, attracts more annual visitors than any other day-use park in the Badger State. It offers three miles of sandy shoreline, windswept dunes and the state's largest sand dune. Peninsula State Park, on the Green Bay side, offers a dramatic landscape. Limestone bluffs rise a couple-hundred feet above the park's cobblestone shoreline. Nicolet Bay's secluded beach is considered one of the 10 best around the Great Lakes, according to Midwest Living. The Sunset Trail, a graveled biking path, runs past the beach and underneath rocky bluffs as it circles the park. Another 14 miles of woodland trails are available for mountain biking. The Ridges Sanctuary, in existence since 1937, preserves ancient dune swells, which is home to dozens of rare wildflowers and a boreal forest. Located in Bailey's Harbor the 1,600-acre preserve with over five miles of hiking trails and boardwalks is considered one of the most biological diverse areas around the Great Lakes.
For kayak tours check out Door County Adventure Center in Rowley's Bay on Lake Michigan for a blissful tour of the Mink River. While you're there check out Grandma's Swedish Bakery next door for delectable treats.. Also check out the geological wonders of the rugged, rocky Lake Michigan shoreline with a guided tour of Cave Point Country Park with Door County Kayak Tours.
A tour of the Open Door Bird Sanctuary that provides a home for un-releasable or injured birds of prey offers unusual up close encounters with a variety of birds and narrative by founder Rob Hult and his passion for the birds.
For dinners offering wonderful local dishes, seafood and lake fish check out the rooftop dining at the Mezzanine in Egg Harbor with eye-catching sunset vistas over Green Bay, and the gourmet dinners served at the Harbor Fish Market & Grille in Bailey's Harbor. For a couple of great lunch spots you can't beat Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay. Outstanding Swedish food and the attraction of live goats munching daily on the grass thatched roof. Also you can't beat the old fashioned Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor that's been attracting visitors for nearly 70 years.
A quiet place in the middle of the country for lodging and easy access to all of the above mentioned locations is Gustave's Getaway: Henson Haus. It's an updated stone house with four bedrooms and lots or room for families or multiple friends. Quiet and very nice. Dogs are included.
Michigan's Kent County is considering purchasing the 272-acre Cannonsburg Ski Area, located just north of Grand Rapids, for a county outdoor recreation area, according to a recent report by MLIVE News.
How would you like to ski, and ride over 20 of the Midwest's top ski areas this winter, every day of the season for just $525?
Montana's Red Lodge Mountain, popular with snowsports enthusiasts on the western side of the Heartland, has announced they are beginning an improvement plan to upgrade the ski area's lift service to the lower mountain and improve the learning area terrain.
It's that time of year when the 2022/23 season passes are going on sale, and at the lowest price point before they start going up in a month or two. If you are a season pass holder now is the time to think about renewing, and if not maybe you want to consider your best option for next winter.
Three ski resorts—Lutsen Mountains, Ski Brule and Boyne Mountain—plan on being open over Easter Weekend and weekends through the month. Mount Bohemia, which SnoCountry just posted last week, is also staying open weekends through April.
It might not be a record-breaking year for snowfall in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but some areas of the Keweenaw Peninsula, home to Mount Bohemia, have received more than 300 inches of snow already this season. Officially the resort has recorded over 280” this season, and it will continue to snow through April.
Founding families of Minnesota’s Giants Ridge, located in the Gopher State's snowy Iron Range, recently celebrated it's original founding as a local ski hill this past March.
It's been a good winter at Whitefish Mountain Resort. February visitations were up over previous years, which were also good.