GTPulse: Beyond Skiing: Northern Michigan Activities to Reclaim Your Winter Joy
As a life-long resident of Northern Michigan, I should be an expert at winter sports. Sadly, that’s not the case—or, at least, that wasn’t the case. Of course, when I was a kid, I wholeheartedly embraced winter. Trudging up hills in my pink snowsuit, saucer sled in hand, I ruled the backyard hills. I skated my heart out most days on my Grandpa’s homemade ice rink. And, I took a tumble or two along with my third grade class for our downhill ski lessons. But, something happened as I got older. I started staying indoors, complaining about the adult chores that accompany winter. Chores like shoveling, snow-blowing, scraping ice from my windshield. I became a winter cynic.
When my boys were growing up, however, I started to see winter again through their curious eyes. Wet gloves and rosy cheeks didn’t deter them from building forts and sliding down hills. When they wanted to learn to snowboard, I decided I would learn, too. An hour after our first lesson, my boys had graduated to bigger hills, while I was still waiting in line with three year olds on the magic carpet. It was embarrassing. I decided to book a private skiing lesson the next day, and surprisingly, many of the things I learned in third grade came back to me. These days, I’m not the fastest bunny on the slope, but taking those lessons, along with seeing the joy of winter through the eyes of my kids revived my love of the snow-covered outdoors.
These days, I try (and fail) to keep up with my son, carving through the hills of Northern Michigan ski resorts, but my return to winter has opened my eyes to dozens of winter outdoors activities. So, if you’re not ready to hit the slopes, but you want to embrace the joy of winter, we came up with a list of activities for the non-skier that will keep you moving, keep you occupied, and they might even reignite your childhood love of winter.
Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville:
I cannot say enough about winter activities on the Crystal Mountain property. Fat tire biking has become a new favorite of mine and Crystal delivers with 12 miles of winter bike trails. Crystal also offers horse drawn surrey rides and ice skating. For those looking for a winter hike, I recommend the Michigan Legacy Art Park trails located along the Crystal Mountain property. Whether you’re enjoying the trails on foot, snow-shoe or Nordic ski, the sculptures along the trail look absolutely magical in the winter. Classical Interlochen Public Radio even created an on-demand playlist curated to accompany a few of the sculptures along the trail.
Mt. Holiday in Traverse City:
Mt. Holiday is a special resort beloved and supported by Traverse City residents for years. I absolutely love Mt. Holiday’s tubing hills, which opened in late December despite unseasonably warm weather. Tubing at Holiday seems like a right of passage for families in Northern Michigan, and special group rates for extended families are available at a discounted rate. I recommend calling ahead to reserve your tubing time and turn it into a safe way to gather with friends and family while enjoying the splendor of the outdoors. Mt. Holiday also offers outdoor dining and drink options for spectators, or, those looking to take a break in between runs.
Treetops Resort in Gaylord:
Located just off Wilkinson road in Gaylord is one of my absolute favorite family resorts in Northern Michigan. Treetops has been named among the best family ski resorts in the state, and it’s not hard to understand why. With Winter Playground packages that include lodging and lift tickets starting at $189 for a family of four, Treetops is not just close to home, it’s affordable. But, it’s more than just skiing. I recently took my nephew on the Spudtacular Snow Shoe Hike that’s designed for families and includes three stops along the trail featuring potato inspired cuisine and hot chocolate. Your guide shares fascinating details about the Gaylord potato railroad and the importance of America’s favorite carbohydrate to the Gaylord community. At the end of the hike, families walk away with a full belly, great memories and, the kids even get their own Mr. Potato Head doll. My nephew, Beckett, especially enjoyed spending time with the dog sled crew at Treetops.
Boyne Mountain Resort:
Earlier this winter, I was at Boyne Mountain Resort when I noticed something a little different on the hill. In the midst of the skiers and snowboarders was something that looks like a bicycle—handlebars and all—but instead of tires, it glides downs the hill on three skis. My curiosity led me to Erin Ernst, Director of Communications for the Boyne properties. Erin explained that the gliders were actually Sno-Go Bikes, and one of the best things about this technology is how easy it is to get started. Parents and Grandparents can join their families on the slopes after one lesson, thanks to Sno-Go’s intuitive design that pairs the motion of riding a bike with downhill ski technology. Boyne offers Sno-Go rentals and lessons, and, Sno-Go can even be used with your regular winter boots. In addition to Snowboard-Go, Boyne offers many other outdoor adventures besides skiing and riding. Families can tube, snowshoe, ice skate and even go horseback riding.
Perhaps the most budget friendly way to spend time outdoors is by embarking on any of the hundreds of Northern Michigan trails that surround us. Winter hiking has become a personal favorite of mine this year. The familiar trails of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons are best when enjoyed with friends, especially when you can gather around one of the villages fire pits after you’re hike and enjoy and outdoor beverage from Earthen Ales.
No matter where you fall on the love of winter spectrum, finding an outdoor activity you enjoy will revive your childhood love of the cold-weather outdoors—and it just might make you look at Michigan’s snowy season a little differently.