No matter what your attitude is towards the fluffy white stuff, the best way to spend a winter in Northern Michigan is to try and enjoy the snow. For those familiar with the sport of skiing, it is not exactly the most affordable activity out there. A full day lift ticket on a Saturday at the big resorts can cost up to $65. A more affordable alternative may be the small ski hills where lift ticket prices start at just $1 (Hansen Hills in Grayling)!
Expert skiers, who spend time out west, might want to skip this story and move on because the terrain at small ski hills caters more to beginners. If, however, you have small kids, snowboarding teens, are a beginner skier or senior citizen just looking to limber up, then a small ski resort is perfect. Plus, many of the smaller hills also offer tubing, cross country skiing, ice skating and even free sledding hills to completely fill your day.
In Traverse City there are two ski resorts, Mt. Holiday and Hickory Hills. Mt. Holiday opened in 1949 and has undergone a number of renovations since becoming a non-profit organization in 2004. Holiday boasts two chair lifts, two rope tows, 12 ski runs and a terrain park that offer a variety of challenging obstacles. All runs are lit for night skiing. The clubhouse was recently remodeled with upgrades to the kitchen to expand the menu. There is also an adult lounge that serves alcoholic beverages and food. Ski and board rental is available, as well as a pro-shop for waxing and repairs. There is also a tubing hill. A Saturday lift ticket for an adult costs $30.
Hickory Hills has been owned and operated by Traverse City since 1950. It features eight runs with one for beginners, five intermediate, and two advanced runs that are serviced by five rope tows. Cross country skiers will find 5k of trails with a 1k trail lighted for night skiing. There is a small warming lodge that serves soft drinks, hot cocoa and basic snack food. A Saturday lift ticket for an adult (age 13 and up) is $17.
Petoskeys Winter Sports Park has it all: In addition to a skiing and snowboarding hill thats accessed by a rope-tow, the park features a huge outdoor skating rink, big enough to satisfy Hans Christian Anderson. Plus, a hockey rink for those who like a little more action.
Located on Winter Park Lane, just off US-31 near Sunset Park, this snow-season jewel opens in late December and closes in early March. The highlight of the season is a Winter Carnival, held on the Saturday prior to Presidents Day in February.
Bonus: the park offers skating, skiing and snowboarding lessons through Petoskeys Department of Parks and Recreation, and you cant beat the price of admission: free.
Cadillac is home to Caberfae Peaks, which promotes itself as being the most family friendly, customer-oriented resort in Northern Michigan. Caberfae consists of two double chair lifts, one triple and one quad, along with two rope tows. There are 34 runs ranging from beginner to expert. The terrain park was relocated this season to better accommodate snowmaking equipment. Cammys Jib Park and Little Jibbers boast a variety of rails, fun boxes and a new 12-foot wall ride. The new lodge has a full-service cafeteria that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Adults can enjoy the small pub. There is also full-service equipment rental and repair. A brand new 36 room ski in/out hotel just opened along with a new huge locker facility where hotel guests get their own boot dryers. A Saturday lift ticket for an adult is $42.
Just north of Charlevoix is Mt. McSauba, owned and operated by the city since 1956. McSauba has adopted the slogan of Little hill, big park due to the incorporation of a group of young snowboarders called the Go Film Crew who have been hired to design, maintain and market the new terrain park. For boarders there will be beginner/intermediate and intermediate/advanced lines to help everyone progress their skills and have a little more fun. The beginner/intermediate area offers a five to 15-foot jump line, flat, butter and rainbow boxes and a 12-foot quarter pipe. The advanced area offers flat boxes in up and down positions, a 32-foot flat box, dragon, flat down and double barrel rails, log jibs and 20 to 40-foot jump line. For downhill skiers, McSauba offers four rope tows and six runs. There is also a 2k cross country trail, ice skating and a free lighted sledding hill. A newer lodge that features food, soft drinks and equipment rental is on site with free wireless and video camera hook-ups to the boarding park so parents can watch the antics. A Saturday tow ticket for an adult costs $12 for residents and $15 for non-residents.
Gaylord is home to Treetops Resort with 23 ski runs, three chairlifts, two rope tows, one of which was expanded this season to include an additional 145 feet. The two terrain parks, one for intermediate and the other advanced, feature tabletops, hips, fun box and rails. There is extreme tubing and 20k groomed cross country skiing. Equipment rental is available along with lots of dining options. A Saturday lift ticket for an adult (18 and up) is $40.
Heading south on I-75 to Grayling is Hanson Hills Recreation Area. This resort is home to the $1 lift tickets on Friday. Hanson Hills is a non-profit organization operated by the Grayling Recreation Authority and boasts seven runs serviced by T-bar and rope tows. The bunny hill for beginners has a paddle lift. For boarders, there is a terrain park with table tops, rails, slider boxes and bigger jumps. There is a 35k groomed cross country trail system that accommodates skating and classic styles and a tubing run. The warming lodge serves concessions. Equipment rental is available for downhill, boarding and classic skiing. A Saturday lift ticket for an adult is $20.
In Lake City the municipal ski hill is called Missaukee Mountain. It offers four runs with a 500-foot vertical drop serviced by rope tows. There is a terrain park and trails for boarders, cross country ski trails, sledding, snowshoeing and even a ski shop. Open weekends and school holidays.
For families with kids who have special needs, there is Challenge Mountain, located in the hills near Boyne Mountain. Challenge Mountain is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping physically impaired, mentally challenged and at-risk youths learn to ski and enjoy winter sports through special adaptive equipment, such as bi skis, mono skis, snow sliders, outriggers, shredder plates and rider bars. Specially trained ski coaches and assistants are available and skiing is by appointment only to ensure a one-on-one instructor ratio. Best of all, the fee is strictly by donation only and no child will be turned away for not having a donation due to a scholarship program funded by the Charlevoix Community Foundation.