The formula for a memorable family winter getaway in northern Michigan starts with what nature contributes: plenty. Of snow, that is. Each winter, lake-effect powder coats a wide swath of the state’s northwest lower Peninsula. Resort ingenuity does the rest, offering a vacation’s worth of fun for even those family members who don’t ski and never intend to. Dogsled rides thrill all ages, as do multi-lane tubing runs, terrain parks, ziplines, eco-friendly spas, steaming outdoor pools and thrill-inducing indoor water parks.
Variety in slopes and lessons makes it easy to challenge the most accomplished in the group and assure success for the most timid, and there are increasingly tasty ways to come back together and share adventures over craft beer, traditional cheese fondue or around a mountaintop fireplace. Here are just a few top gathering spots for a winter oasis weekend.
SHANTY CREEK RESORTS
If there’s a holdout still unsure about the whole idea of a family getaway weekend, Shanty Creek — a dual-mountain, multi-village resort in Bellaire near Torch Lake — has a secret weapon. Few adrenaline junkies can resist the resort’s Monster Energy Terrain Park, built through sponsorship from the beverage company, and featuring a 40-foot roller coaster rail, a 35-foot battleship box and a jump line of at least five back-to-back jumps. There’s even a “natty Park” subsection that uses natural features like trees for rails and boulders for jumps.
The resort is particularly well suited for the skier- or snowboarder-in-training. The expansive four-acre learning area — Michigan’s largest — was moved recently to create more peace of mind for first-timers and their parents. The learning hill also includes a mini NASTAR race run complete with flags, a small terrain park and a new warming hut and transportation option.
The hallmark of the complex is variety, says Chris Hale, the resort’s vice president of sales and marketing. skiers and snowboarders have 53 groomed runs to choose from, spread across two distinct ski hills. Nordic ski trails connect the three lodging villages, offering what the resort calls a hut-to-hut experience. Families can select from some 400 lodging options, from hotel-style rooms offered for the budget-conscious to six-bedroom rental homes that suit extended- or multi-family trips. Food is also an increasing focus; especially popular are the fresh-squeezed juices for custom craft cocktails and the homemade ice cream of the day.
“I remember when my kids were younger, just sitting on a chairlift with them and smiling about how cool it was we were doing this together,” Hale says. “The older they get, the more they want to do other things — the tubing hill, the indoor and outdoor pools, the dogsledding, or to just take the shuttle into Bellaire.”
For many years, the Crystal Mountain resort in Thompsonville, about 30 minutes south of Traverse City, has topped Ski Magazine’s list of the Midwest’s best resorts for families. Figuring out why takes only a quick glance at the activity list that greets you upon check-in, with a choice of dogsledding, a magic show, snow castle building and sleigh rides.
The hill boasts 50 runs, many accessible from the ski-in, ski-out condos, as well as a new, dedicated beginner terrain park and 30 kilometers of cross-country ski trails. snowshoeing is popular here, too, particularly within the snowshoe-only Michigan legacy art Park, an outdoor gallery of 48 works of art in the woods.
For those who feel like they need to find their ski legs again, Crystal has some particularly creative lesson options like the 25-minute private “quick fix.” Instructors at an official Burton learn to Ride Center help get snowboarders up to speed by pulling them over bumps and rollers to offer the sensation of boarding before working on tricks. and parents or grandparents wanting a little solo time can enroll kids into the “Nanny Mcski” combination of private lessons and play time.
Fat tire biking-on-snow has taken off in popularity at the resort, and the fleet includes bikes custom-made for kids. But you really can’t beat relaxation time, as interpreted here. The Crystal spa opened to accolades that include being a best spa for families. Treatments focus on relaxation, stress relief or energy work, and there’s always the option of spending the afternoon relaxing in the private outdoor balcony hot tub, eucalyptus steam room or fireplace relaxation area with a cup of locally made herbal tea. afterward, indulge guilt-free at the Scottish-style Thistle Pub for dinner, where the farm-to-table focused peak performance menu of healthy choices can include roasted olive tapenade, smoked trout spread and a rock steak cooked tableside.
The weatherproofing of travel was a popular travel term some years back, and Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls and its sister resort, Boyne Highlands in nearby Harbor springs, have that down to a science.
Families can spend a whole vacation at the resort without going outside — not that they’d want to miss time on the slopes that pioneered Michigan’s ski industry.
Enter the lobby of Boyne’s Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa and see if the term “oasis of fun” doesn’t come to mind. There’s a fire blazing in the corner, behind a painted bear that someone usually decks out with a ski hat and gloves. Tall windows offer a peek at a ski hill glowing with lights, and a clock tower lends an alpine feel. Then two bodies fly by on what you later learn is a Twin Zipline, and if the teens and 20-somethings aren’t text- ing pictures to friends yet, they will once they notice the man in top hat juggling knives in the corner — part of an initiative the resort calls Buskermania.
Families have long been a focus at the Boyne Resorts. While both have some of the lower Peninsula’s most challenging slopes, favorite black diamond runs are situated near large beginner areas, offering an easy way for everyone in the family to ski or snowboard to their comfort level. Then all can meet back in the middle at spots like Boyne Mountain’s eagle’s nest restaurant, with its indoor fire pit and top-of-world views.
Indulging is fun at Boyne Mountain’s solace spa, perhaps with a mimosa and pedicure with a view of the hill. But even adults like the thrills at the tropical 86-degree, 88,000-square-foot avalanche Bay indoor water park, where highlights include a lazy river, surf simulator and thrill-inducing Big Couloir.
Not to be outdone, sister resort Boyne Highlands — Michigan’s largest ski resort — offers dogsled rides behind an Iditarod sled dog team in training, cross-country skiing with chairlift access to an upper trail system, fat tire biking and horseback rides on snowy trails.
This article originally appeared in the 2015 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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