What do you need when you go downhill skiing? Hot tubs and hillside accommodations are nice, but if you’re just learning the sport, your top priority is the bunny hill — and getting down it in one piece. By skiing small on community slopes, you can also practice more often.
Hanson Hills Recreation Area. Operated by the Grayling Recreation Authority and just minutes from I-75, Hanson Hills features a terrain park, tubing and 11 runs, the longest a respectable 2,640 feet. The slopes are serviced by four tow ropes and a T-bar lift, and on Friday evenings, a lift ticket is only $1, rental skis just $4 (hansonhills.org).
Hickory Hills. Just a mile from US-31 is Traverse City’s hidden gem, Hickory Hills, a hilly tract where eight downhill runs and five kilometers of cross-country ski trails have been carved out of the woods. Since 1950 locals have been enjoying the slopes and especially the sweeping views from the top of Grand Traverse Bay, and the classic lodge is still the place to warm up between runs (ci.traverse-city.mi.us).
Mt. McSauba Recreation Area. Named after a local Indian chief who probably never downhilled in his life, Mt. McSauba has been a community hill in Charlevoix since 1956. Serviced by four tow ropes, most of Mt. McSauba’s six runs are on the front facing the day lodge, but on the backside is Tornado Alley, so named because it catches the wind blowing off Lake Michigan. At the top of the Alley you can enjoy a panorama of the lake and frozen shoreline before tackling Mt. McSauba’s longest run, a 1,100-foot-long intermediate slope (cityofcharlevoix.org).
Cannonsburg Ski Area. While lift tickets are a bit pricier at this popular West Michigan destination, it offers new runs and lifts geared to first-timers and certified instructors are on-site to lend a hand. Both skiers and snowboarders will find runs that suit their skill levels within Cannonsburg’s multiple parks, including one of the Midwest’s largest terrain sites (cannonsburg.com).
Petoskey Winter Sports Park. How affordable are city-operated downhill slopes? At Petoskey Winter Sports Park there’s no such thing as a lift ticket. It’s free. Of course, there’s only one 460-foot run, serviced by one tow rope, and rental skis aren’t available. But the delightful park also features an ice-skating rink, sledding hill and wonderful warming house with a fireplace. Such a deal (231-347-2500).
Jim DuFresne is a Clarkston-based travel writer and the main contributor to MichiganTrailMaps.com.