Nordic skiers explore Michigan’s winter beauty by day and relax and unwind at night.
By Marla R. Miller
While downhill skiers chase fresh powder and vertical drop, cross-country skiers often are looking for a nice glide through the woods on a well-groomed trail surrounded by snow-covered trees and the sounds of nature. Several Michigan ski resorts cater to both crowds, offering secluded Nordic trails that head away from the bustle of the ski village, traverse golf courses, and pass through hardwood forests, pine forests and scenic river valleys, plus they afford all the luxury of staying at an upscale hotel.
Lower Michigan’s two largest resorts, Boyne Mountain (boyne.com/boynemountain) and Boyne Highlands (boyne.com/boynehighlands), have 35 kilometers (about 21 miles) of groomed cross-country trails and chairlift access to an upper mountain trail system. The resorts have Nordic directors and a dedicated team to keep the groomed trails in top condition, along with rental equipment, group and private instruction, and racing and touring experiences.
“We try to attract skiers by having the best groomed and prepared trails in the area,” said Nickola Baic, Nordic director at Boyne Mountain Resort. “Because we have such a variety of trails, we can take the first-time skier or people training for the Olympics.”
Nordic skiers can set off on their own for a challenging hill loop, a brisk skate, or some backcountry skiing on ungroomed trails during daylight hours. Boyne’s upper mountain system affords vista views of Deer Lake and the surrounding landscape and a nice intermediate trail, but skiers also discover more hilly and technical terrain when they have to make their way down.
Boyne Mountain offers a two-hour guided tour for more advanced skiers or an introductory outing on flat trails through pine forests near the Nordic Center.
“We do have a brand-new fleet of rental equipment; we’re hoping to have people enjoy it this year,” Baic said. “You can do everything from walking around on skis to exercising. Some people go slow and some people go really fast.”
For those looking to make a weekend out of it, Boyne Mountain and Highlands are celebrated for their amenities. Both resorts have over 400 accommodations on the property from standard hotel rooms, condos and cottages that can sleep 12, said Erin Ernst, director of communications.
Back at the condo or lodge, skiers can rest their sore muscles with some pampering at the spa or fill up at several restaurants and pubs. And those who tire of skiing can try tubing, zip lining, fat tire bike trails, or relax with a horse-drawn wagon or sleigh ride around the property.
“The spas offer treatments geared toward the sports enthusiast,” Ernst said. “The Spa at Boyne Mountain even has a Ski Boot Relief add-on treatment to our pedicure services that provides an extra 25 minutes to enjoy a lovely foot soak, reflexology and lotion application.”
Above: Crystal Mountain visitors can enjoy fine dining and casual dining. Relax with a massage
or body wrap at Crystal Spa after skiing.
Crystal Mountain (crystalmountain.com) near Thompsonville has 25 kilometers of dedicated cross-country trails, 5 kilometers of which are lighted for night skiing. The Nordic Shop, where skiers can rent classic and skate equipment or sign up for lessons, is located in Kinlochen, which also houses the Thistle Pub & Grille Restaurant and condominiums.
“We have some great trails right in the core of village that work well for people who want to try it out,” said Brian Lawson, director of public relations. “It’s lit up at night and essentially right across the street from our Nordic shop, but we’ve also got some more advanced terrain.”
Some of the more advanced trails run through or are parallel to Michigan Legacy Art Park, a 30-acre outdoor sculpture park. The resort also participates in Winter Trails Day in January, which offers free clinics and other activities.
“There’s a mental and physical aspect of the sport that people are really drawn to,” Lawson said.
“It’s incredibly peaceful out there in addition to being hard work, as hard as you want to make it.”
Crystal Spa is another popular stop for cross-country skiers, and this winter, it will be operational as part of an $11-million expansion to the Inn at the Mountain, Lawson said. The new building includes 25 new suites, a lobby bar, Mountain Market and rooftop terrace open year-round. The resort features a variety of lodging, including over 250 hotel rooms, suites, condos, townhomes and vacation home rentals, many with jacuzzi tubs and fireplaces.
Known for its golf course during the summer months, Garland Lodge & Golf Resort (garlandusa.com) in Lewiston opens its property to cross-country skiers, snowmobilers and other winter enthusiasts on weekends and holidays from Christmas to early March. The property includes three-bedroom homes to standard hotel rooms and fine dining in a relaxed environment, meaning no dress code, but with good food and pristine beauty, said Aaron Gentry, director of sales.
“We’re more of a destination resort in the wintertime for sure,” Gentry said. “It’s an unspoiled area. When you drive in, you’re driving through miles and miles of forest.”
Garland’s 22 kilometers of groomed trails are mostly flat, gentle and easy for beginners to learn on, but there are some with more rolling terrain through beautiful countryside, said Larry Kinney, Nordic manager. Garland also has rental equipment, and Kinney is happy to help first-timers.
“We’ll take time to fit them properly and get them out on the snow, teach them as much as they want to learn,” he said.
Like other resorts, Garland links to the state snowmobile trail network, or guests can try ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing, wagon rides to Fish Camp, and special activities in the lounge. The resort hosts a Fish Camp and Nordic Nibble & Nosh for cross-country skiers on select Saturdays. Both activities travel along a 4.5-kilometer trail to Garland’s rainbow trout-stocked pond. Nordic Nibble & Nosh includes stops along the trail where skiers can warm up by a fire, have a snack and adult beverages, and fill up with fresh fish and chili during lunch.
“Even a beginner, with a little instruction, can enjoy that event,” Kinney said.
Bellaire’s Shanty Creek (shantycreek.com) boasts 30 kilometers of groomed and track set trails showcasing the area’s natural beauty. The Nordic skiing center at Cedar River Valley offers cross-country skiing rentals or lessons, plus the resort offers a variety of lodging packages and has cross-country trailheads at all three villages.
Those looking for a more low-key winter weekend of fun can find it at smaller resorts like Timber Ridge RV & Resort (timberridgeresort.net) near Traverse City and Thunder Bay Resort (thunderbayresort.com) in Hillman. Both have cross-country trails and rentals, lodging and other winter activities.
Guests at Timber Ridge can ski, snowshoe, snowmobile or snow bike up to their cottage or park model home — try night skiing on its lit loops — and find more adventure on the adjacent VASA trails. There’s a cozy lodge with a fireplace, plus Timber Ridge hosts a variety of special winter events.
Thunder Bay makes for a unique winter getaway with its award-winning elk viewing, sleigh ride and gourmet dinner events. Nestled on 400 acres in northeast Michigan, guests can explore over 5 miles of groomed cross-country trails or venture out to the 135,000 acres of accessible state land. Accommodations include luxury cabins, chalets, villas and fairway suites with fireplaces and whirlpool tubs.
Near the heart of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, The Homestead Resort (thehomesteadresort.com) in Glen Arbor offers lodging packages, a spa, dining, rental equipment and lessons. The groomed Nordic skiing trails pass through dense meadows and open forests, feature challenging ascents and descents, and stunning scenery along the way. The 11-kilometer Bay View trail is steps from the resort’s Village and other ungroomed trails are within a short drive.
In the Upper Peninsula, Ski Brule (skibrule.com) maintains 33 kilometers of tracked and flat groomed trails that circle the mountain and wind along the Brule River Valley, said Jessica Polich, operations manager.
“The terrain is gorgeous,” she said. “There is rolling and wooded terrain; it’s a whole variety.”
The trail system, laid out in a series of loops, provides options for shorter or longer treks on beginner to expert terrain. Those who buy a daily downhill pass can try out cross-country for free, so families and skiers can either hit the mountain or ski into the woods and meet at the Homestead Lodge, a mid-mountain lodge built in the 1800s, for lunch, Polich said.
Ski Brule rents cross-country skis, snowshoes and fat bikes, recently adding 30 kilometers of fat tire trails, and hosts other activities, including tubing, sleigh rides and entertainment. Lodging ranges from luxury chalets with private hot tubs, saunas and fireplaces to condos with views of the resort and an outdoor hot tub gazebo.
“It’s wonderful if you have a family with mixed interests,” she said. “The lodging is all right within walking (distance of) the slopes and trails.” ≈
Marla R. Miller is an award-winning journalist who lives in Norton Shores and enjoys the lakeshore lifestyle.