Seasonal escapes
Couples, families and other fans of winter are making the most of Michigan’s big chill as property owners at top Northern resorts — whether it’s catching air off a favorite slope or winding down before a blazing fire.

By Robin Luymes

Ancient movements of the earth’s plates created the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, leaving behind a shape that couldn’t be more appropriate considering Northern Michigan’s allure as a winter wonderland.

From shredding slopes and sleigh rides to outdoor bonfires and steaming starlit swims, Michiganders love winter traditions they can make by taking advantage of resort amenities found in the Mitten’s tips — and locking in their piece of the snowy action through a diversity of resort real estate.

Garland Lodge And Resort, Lewiston
Owning property at Garland Lodge and Resort, situated in Lewiston, provides residents an opportunity to enjoy the resort’s wide array of year-round amenities. In the past three years, more than 500 new owners have joined the Garland community through their full or fractional ownership programs for condos, cottages and homes.

But while renowned for its four championship golf courses — Fountains, Monarch, Swampfire, and Reflections — the “Largest Log Resort east of the Mississippi River” becomes a memorable retreat come winter with its rustic charm, glowing warmth and magical expanse of frosted forest.

More than 40 miles of well-groomed, scenic cross-country trails invite residents and guests to get their blood pumping: No cell phones, no Blackberries, just snow-covered pines, glistening trails, and the tranquility and wildlife of the Michigan forest.

“My wife loves to cross-country ski with our daughters,” says Jerry Keena of Jackson, who with his wife, Shirley, has owned vacation property at Garland for 15 years. While Jerry’s not one to strap on the skis, he enjoys snowmobiling.

And Garland serves as a headquarters to snowmobile enthusiasts, providing access to hundreds of miles of groomed state and county wilderness trails. Many of Garland’s property owners have their own rides, but the resort has rentals available for guests as well.

Pairing food with fresh air is another favorite way residents at Garland savor their winter retreats. “The Gourmet Glide has become a bit of a tradition,” Keena shares. This scintillating feast covers 10 kilometers of trails with five strategically placed buffet stations — presenting participants with the challenge of actually leaving each tasty station for the next. At least they know they ’ll burn off some of the calories they’ve consumed!

The Zhivago Night Dinner, meanwhile, treats guests to a horse-drawn sleigh ride through snowy woods to the nearby Bridge Inn for a five-course, wild-game dinner accompanied by exquisite wine and beverages. “It is like stepping back in time,” says Barry Owens, president of Garland. “People don’t know each other on the way out there, but they ’re singing together on the way back.”

Ice fishing is another great bonding (and eating) experience. “You ice fish with your teenager, and the trout you catch is prepared lakeside,” Owens says. “These are the kinds of unique experiences that reconnect parents and kids used to being on the run. ” 

Shanty Creek Resort, Bellaire
Winter’s fans and families may also consider property ownership options at one of three villages — Summit, Schuss, and Cedar River — comprising Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire. “We definitely have something for everybody, whether that is one of 15,000 varying rooms or a million-dollar home,” says Debbie Alexander, an on-site Coldwell Banker Realtor for Shanty Creek.

Once immersed in Shanty Creek’s rolling, forested landscape, “you can go any direction and hit something wonderful year-round,” Alexander notes. The main attractions come winter, though, are the Schuss and Summit Mountain slopes, with 49 runs — the longest a mile — divided evenly between novice, intermediate and expert levels. For the adventurous, three terrain parks and a half-pipe provide skiers and snowboarders plenty of white space to hone and show off their best tricks.

Families looking to create memories off the slopes don’t need to look far; Shanty Creek’s menu includes 30 kilometers of groomed Nordic paths, tubing hills, sleigh rides, and easy access to snowmobile trails, as well.

Beyond its majestic surroundings and amenities, the resort also appeals to property owners for its close proximity to restaurants and other attractions in Bellaire and neighboring communities, including a fast track to larger cities like Traverse City and Charlevoix.

Owners Mike and Liz Striedl and their two daughters have been making the trek up to Shanty Creek from Chicago for 20 years.

“It’s like a hidden treasure up there that most people from Chicago don’t know about,” says Mike, although his family has helped spread the word. These days, the Striedls come up for skiing with extended family and friends, and they hope to keep coming after they have grandkids. “Being able to spend time with family and friends is what vacations are all about for us,” he says. “We’ve traveled all over the world, but Northern Michigan is where my kids want to be. ”

Outdoor bonfires and heated swimming pools swathed in rising steam are among the family’s special memories. But foremost, it is the Shanty Creek friendliness and hospitality that keeps the Striedls coming back.

On one occasion, one of the Striedls’ daughters became very ill while skiing, requiring ski patrol assistance to get her off the slope and to a medical center. That night, the patrol stopped by to check on her at the family ’s cabin.

“Those are the kinds of things you just never forget,” Mike says.

Boyne Highlands, Harbor Springs Boyne Mountain, Boyne City
Boyne’s four-season popularity has only snowballed in an array’s wake of new property ownership options. Those who love winter best may just love venturing here to one of Northern Michigan’s hottest cold spots most.

Blanketed by more than 850 acres of powdered snow and ribboned with more than 100 runs between two mountains, Boyne is steeped in its Swiss-infused legacy as a downhill ski destination, offering a SnowSports Academy to boot.

Snowboarding, tubing, Nordic skiing, ice-skating, snowshoeing, dog-sledding and snowmobiling are all also offered through Boyne, along with horse-drawn wagon rides, a romantic Aonach Mor Rustic Moonlight Dinner, Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark, Solace Spa and heated outdoor pools.

For Chris and Amy Brown of Saline, a chance discovery of Boyne Mountain eventually led to property ownership. Several years ago, the family became stuck in traffic traveling north through Gaylord. A quick decision to pull off the highway and stop at Boyne led to repeat visits the next four weekends.  

A meeting with a real estate agent that fourth weekend changed the Brown ’s vacation habits.

“Before Boyne we were like gypsies on our vacations,” says Chris. But now they’ve staked out their vacation plans for the foreseeable future through property ownership at Boyne. “This is our most favorite spot in Michigan and in the entire U.S.,” he enthuses.

The Browns are now in serious tradition-building mode with their two sons and daughter. Each year, Chris and sons ritually prepare for the opening of ski season.

“The anticipation of opening day and the preparation that goes into it are all part of new winter traditions for us,” says Chris. It starts with waxing their skis and boards, followed by the drive up to Boyne and “that first chair lift of the season with a boy on either side.”

And afterwards, when the family decides to drive the nip away, they relish strolling over to Avalanche Bay, Michigan’s largest indoor water park. With slides, a lazy river, a watery climbing wall, and indoor surf zone, the park provides respite from nature’s chill.

“It’s just nice to thaw out in 90-degree heat for a few hours,” says Chris. “And it brightens up those grayer days.” 

The Homestead Resort, Glen Arbor
For Brian and Fabienne Potestivo, creating memories in Northern Michigan started well before they even started their family. But now, with four kids, they cherish the quality time they’ve invested in family as condominium owners at The Homestead Resort near Glen Arbor.

“It’s just so family-oriented,” says Fabienne of their treasured Northern escape, noting that The Homestead’s activity menu has something for each of her kids, ranging from ages 6 to 17.

Flanked by a scenic mile sweep of Lake Michigan frontage and three serene miles along Crystal River, The Homestead’s 435 total acres extend unending opportunity for winter excursions, including 16 ski runs, two terrain parks, Nordic ski trails and ever-memorable snowshoe hikes in the crystal-blanketed Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where park rangers can be tapped as guides.

The skiing, however, is the big draw. “Growing up in France, I never had skied where you could see so much water,” shares Fabienne of the resort’s grand lakeside slopes. She also appreciates that there’s terrain to satisfy varying skill ranges in her family.

Residential developments at The Homestead have been carefully planned, expanding upon the original resort established more than 90 years ago. More than 600 sites — single and multi-family homes — have been developed at the resort’s original 247 acres, but intentionally at a much lower density than allowed by zoning to ensure the natural feel was maintained. An additional 100-acre portion of land bought by The Homestead is now being developed with new condominiums as The Homestead ’s popularity grows.

Residing in Addison Township north of Detroit, the Potestivos make it up to The Homestead every chance they get. Their condo unit faces the forest, and often in the morning they see fox, deer and other Michigan wildlife.

The kids also love making barricades with their snow brick maker and having “crazy snowball fights,” Fabienne adds. “It’s just a great place to go with family and friends. ”

Crystal Mountain Resort And Spa, Thompsonville
Just 28 miles southwest of Traverse City, Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa provides property owners the opportunity to partake in all a Michigan winter has to offer, plus nearby access to an array of restaurants, wineries, and other Northern Michigan attractions. An ample choice of condos, cottages, bungalows, townhomes and residences are available to buyers as sole or fractional owners, allowing them to customize their vacation home needs.

Residents here can also customize their own seasonal traditions.

While popular winter focuses may be the resort’s 45 scenic slopes, an engaging terrain park and try-it-again-and-again half-pipe, more than 40 miles of Nordic trails, Belgian horse-drawn surrey rides complete with hot chocolate, ice-skating on the Inn Lawn, snowshoe tours to Michigan Legacy Art Park, access to 135 snowmobile trail miles and making s’mores around a blazing bonfire are favorite ways of winding down, too.

Staff at Crystal Mountain put together creative programs for every age: Free movie nights, scavenger hunts, a snowman hunt, the Snow Monsters Story Time and more keep the youngest residents entertained — and moms and dads happy. But families revel in their together time most of all.

“We’re different people up here,” agree Coleen and David Lenhart, who own a second home at Crystal Mountain and cherish year-round activities here with their three daughters. “It takes you back to when we were kids — when everyone was outdoors instead of alone indoors with electronics.”

While David savors getting up early to ski with one daughter, Coleen loves watching another fall asleep by the fire. “It’s nice to see the kids let their guard down and relax,” she notes. “At Crystal there ’s less pressure, less stress.”

“One of Randy’s favorite things to do is walk the dogs at night in the crisp, cold air, and hear the snow cats grooming the hill,” shares Jenny Hoover, of her husband. “We love to ski and snowboard here as a family and bringing up friends, too, along with Crystal’s staff here — everyone from the front desk and food service to Fuzzy the lift operator is the best! ” ≈

To learn more about these resort real estate offerings, visit www.garlandusa.com; www.shantycreek.com; www.boyne.com; www.thehomesteadresort.com and www.crystalmountain.com. Robin Luymes is a Grand Rapids-based freelance writer.