There’s nothing like driving past snow-covered countryside, quaint towns, and waterways, looking forward to new experiences and a mind-and-body reset in northern Michigan.
With all the great options available, an Up North winter escape shouldn’t be limited to skiing and snowboarding when plenty of enjoyable outdoor adventures abound beyond the slopes.
Specializing in winter recreation, both Boyne Mountain Resort and Crystal Mountain Resort have legendary histories, are named for nearby bodies of water, and know what they’re doing when it comes to frosty fun this winter.
Boyne Mountain Resort was built in the village of Boyne Falls along the scenic Boyne River, a tributary of Lake Charlevoix. The resort opened in 1948 as Boyne Ski Club, with one run and the first chairlift in the Midwest.
Less than a decade later, in Thompsonville, Crystal Mountain was launched as Buck Hills Ski Area — the result of a clever high school project to find the best location among the area’s forests and farms to start a community ski area. A warming hut was built with donated lumber and the first tow rope was powered by an old pickup truck engine.
Four years later, it became Crystal Mountain Resort, named after nearby Crystal Lake, which is known for its stunningly clear blue water.
Both resorts have come a long way since their humble ski beginnings.
The destinations now offer a variety of outdoor wintertime experiences that range from exhilarating to relaxing, and rely on a sense of adventure and fun — not to mention appropriate layers of clothing and footwear.
“It’s a special, high-energy feel in the winter when we have families and enthusiasts returning to have fun, refresh, and make memories,” says Erin Ernst, director of communications at Boyne Resorts.
Boyne Mountain recently announced its Renaissance 2.0 vision, which includes much-anticipated resort enhancements such as SkyBridge Michigan, the world’s longest timber-towered suspension bridge, slated to open in summer 2022.
Outdoor devotee Karen Carroll, from Bloomfield Hills, enjoys time at both resorts with her husband and young sons. “We’re an active family with two energetic boys, so when it comes to family vacations, we’re looking for fun outdoor activities we can do together,” Carroll says. “Besides skiing, we like hiking, ice-skating, and tubing. Our boys love eating outside, hanging out at fire pits, and the heated indoor/outdoor pool at Boyne (Mountain). We love going Up North in the winter and trying new things.”
When it comes to adrenalin-inducing outdoor winter activities, winter biking is a growing trend. Both resorts offer opportunities to explore groomed, snow-covered trails atop a fat-tire bike. Wide, large-volume fat-tires give the sensation of floating on top of the snow while you’re pedaling through wintry woodlands.
For competitors, Crystal Mountain hosts its annual Iron Fish Distillery Fat Chance Fat-Tire Bike Race in late January.
Another fun biking activity to try at Boyne Mountain is a SNO-GO bike — basically a bike with skis. Adam Rase, the Boyne Mountain Adventure Center’s manager, describes SNO-GO biking as an alternative way for many people to enjoy the slopes, even those who are no longer able to ski due to knee or other issues. “Rip-roaring down the hill on a SNO-GO bike is fun for everyone and a great way to be part of the action, since you’re on the same ski lift and hill,” he says.
Adventurers can also take a Zipline Adventure Tour that lasts about two hours, reaching speeds of 20-25 mph and heights of up to 50 feet. “Flying through the air in the snow, across treetops and the slopes, is an incredible experience. The views are beautiful,” Rase says.
Of course, high-octane activities aren’t everyone’s idea of a vacation. For those seeking more relaxing, yet special, outdoor experiences, there are some wonderful winter options.
Unique to Crystal Mountain and open year-round, Michigan Legacy Art Park is a wooded 30-acre preserve with more than 50 Michigan-inspired sculptures and 30 poetry stones. Meandering at your own pace by foot, cross-country skis, or snowshoes through this tranquil cultural trail experience is a treat for body and soul.
And sometimes, it’s best to sit back and enjoy the ride. Both resorts offer opportunities to bundle up and savor the simplicity of a wagon ride.
“Crystal Mountain is a beautiful place regardless of the season, but sparkling lights strung through trees with falling snow really makes this place feel magical — especially when you’re riding along in a horse-drawn surrey,” says Jen Roberts, recreation manager at Crystal Mountain.
After a fun-filled day of activities, there’s no reason to retreat inside when outdoor dining, cocktails, and stargazing options exist. Reset accomplished!
Boyne Mountain Resort
Crystal Mountain Resort