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Crystal Mountain’s ‘Town Village’ design adds charm to family friendly resort

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What began as a high school geography project has transformed into a four-season family resort tucked into the heart of Benzie County in Northern Michigan.

Back in the 1950s, a local geography class was tasked with finding the best place for a ski hill in Benzie County based on diverse terrain and snowfall. After some research, the class pinpointed what was once known as Buck Hills Range in the village of Thompsonville. That high school class project became a reality when the community came together to open Buck Hills Ski Area in 1956.

Today, what started with three downhill trails and a rope tow powered by a pickup engine now features 59 downhill trails across more than 100 acres of skiable terrain. At the top and the bottom of the hill, you’ll find ski-in, ski-out accommodations, including MountainTop Townhomes that can sleep up to 14 people, as well as a range of hotel suites, bungalows and cottages throughout the resort designed to accommodate families and small groups.

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But while Crystal Mountain has extensive options for skiing and snowboarding, there are plenty of other seasonal and year-round activities that draw people to the resort, including hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, outdoor water playground, archery, laser tag, pickleball, tennis, golf and more. Plus, Crystal Mountain is home to the first LEED-certified spa in the Midwest – Crystal Spa. Michigan Legacy Art Park, a 30-acre wooded preserve with more than 50 pieces of art, is another attraction for locals and visitors alike.

Set against the backdrop of the mountain, with its lighted trails, continuous activity and breathtaking views, the village and atmosphere have the look and feel of a hand-painted Thomas Kinkade collectible.

“The village is designed to be a walkable and bikeable destination where you can park the car for the duration of your stay and still explore the 1500-acre property,” said Brittney Primeau, director of communications for Crystal Mountain. “We have a variety of lodging options, dining options, live entertainment, shopping, Crystal Spa and more. And for those who do want to explore the area off-campus, Crystal is a great basecamp in relation to nearby attractions anytime of the year.”

Located just a short drive from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and just 28 miles southwest of Traverse City, Crystal Mountain is a popular destination for weekend getaways as well as midweek and weeklong vacations year-round. Within the resort itself, popular seasonal activities include:

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· Family friendly options for skiing. Crystal Mountain’s ski packages are a great way to get a good deal on lodging and skiing—especially for families with children. “Kids 6 and under sleep, ski and eat breakfast free anytime when staying as part of a package,” Primeau said. Also appealing for families: Guests may arrive before their check-in time and hit the slopes immediately. “We want to make sure guests are able to ski and ride from the moment they arrive up until the moment they depart.”

· Slopes for a variety of skill levels. About a quarter of Crystal Mountain’s downhill runs are “green” runs for beginner skiers and snowboarders. About half are “blue runs” for intermediate skiers and riders, and the other 30% are “black diamond” runs for advanced skiers and riders.

“We run a nationally recognized snowsports school with dozens of certified professional instructors for those who are new to skiing and snowboarding,” Primeau said. “Once beginners are ready to hit the slopes on their own, they’ll have plenty of runs to choose from, day or night. In fact, we offer 27 runs lit for night skiing! This creates a spectacular view for skiers as well as guests in our restaurants and lodging areas, who can watch as the skiers make their way down the mountain.”

Also appealing: Crystal Mountain boasts six chairlifts, two magic carpets (surface lifts) and three terrain parks, including the first-ever skiable and rideable pump track in Michigan, the Pumping Service Pump Track.

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· Onsite attractions for all interests. A stay at Crystal Mountain provides guests with instant access to the Michigan Legacy Art Park, featuring more than 50 sculptures, poetry stones and an outdoor amphitheater. “The Art Park is open year-round, so it’s really neat to see how the art changes with the season,” Primeau said. “All of the artwork has some sort of tie to Michigan through the eyes of the artist, representing Michigan’s culture and history. I like to say it’s exercise for your brain and your body. The art is located on a two-mile loop, so by the time you’re done exploring all the sculptures and reading the descriptions, you’ve walked two miles and maybe learned a little bit about Michigan.” Among Primeau’s favorite sculptures: “Gateway to Black Eden,” created by Detroit-area artist M. Saffell Gardner, a steel sculpture that depicts the depths of Lake Superior, and “The Serpent,” a mound that is shaped like a snake and blends in with the earth.

Other nearby attractions include Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which includes 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and a dune club that takes most visitors about three hours to complete. Also nearby, COGNITION Science and Discovery Center, rivers for canoeing, kayaking and tubing, and Iron Fish Distillery, a family and pet-friendly distillery with indoor and outdoor drinking and dining year-round.

· Crystal Mountain houseguest perks. Those who reserve lodging with Crystal Mountain have complimentary access to Michigan Legacy Art Park, outdoor pool and water playground at the Park at Water’s Edge, indoor pool and fitness center, Peak Fitness Center classes, and seasonal access to scenic chairlift rides, tennis courts and pickleball courts. Crystal Mountain is also home to Crystal Spa, the first LEED-certified spa in the Midwest, which opened in 2009.

· Expansive on-site dining options. All of Crystal Mountain’s restaurants stand out for their locally sourced ingredients and unique atmosphere. The Thistle offers an intimate-yet-laid-back dining experience in a Scottish-themed establishment, with something for every palate (try the Thistle fries). The Wild Tomato is a popular place for breakfast and in the winter, offers a unique igloo dining experience featuring shareables and cocktails. Looking for something more casual? Try Betsie River Pizza and Subs (the Cheeseburger Pizza is an employee favorite). Check out all of Crystal Mountain’s restaurants.

Want to explore Crystal Mountain this winter? Check out Crystal Mountain’s events list online.

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