Winter in The Mitten

Ski, swim, snowshoe and explore the Petoskey area’s premier resorts

Many of us travel upstate in the summer months to experience the warmth of Michigan sunshine on sandy beaches or to enjoy lake life with a craft beer in hand on the family pontoon.

But the true allure of Northern Michigan is its year-round beauty.

A vacation “Up North” as the warm seasons turn cold can be just as enjoyable. Instead of clutching cold drinks on hot beaches, we cling to the warmth of our mugs in the brisk air or revel at sparkling, snow-covered pines out our frosty cabin windows.

For many, finding winter adventures in The Mitten is easy. The hard part comes when choosing where to go.

Winter variety for veterans and novices

Boyne Mountain Resort

“Visiting Northern Michigan in the winter is like walking into a snow globe,” said Diane Dakins, assistant director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau. “The scenic beauty is amazing, and when you combine that with the variety the Petoskey Area provides for visitors, it’s worth driving a few hours to get away from the business of everyday life and relax.”

Nestled at the base of Little Traverse Bay, the Petoskey Area spans five communities — Alanson, Bay Harbor, Boyne City/Boyne Falls, Harbor Springs and Petoskey — and offers a roster of excursions and destinations that would impress any winter enthusiast. From boutique shopping and first-class restaurants to nature preserves and winter sports parks, the options for entertainment and winter entertainment seem endless.

“The Petoskey Area provides a variety [of experiences] that you just can’t find anywhere else,” Dakins added. “Everyone has their favorite winter activity to participate in, from snowshoeing and fat tire biking to cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. If you just need that runaway weekend, even if you’re not into outdoor recreation, the Petoskey Area is the perfect getaway to come and explore.”

Petoskey’s ski resorts tend to top the to-do list for many travelers headed north, as the region is home to the trifecta of Michigan downhill skiing: Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands and Nub’s Nob. Skiers and snowboarders have plenty of slopes to choose from — 168 between all three destinations, to be exact.

“Most other resorts across the state are smaller in scale, but here in Petoskey, you can come to our resorts no matter if you’re a seasoned skier or a first-timer,” Dakins said.

And beyond the slopes, the Petoskey region is also well-known for its dozens of miles of cross-country ski trails, including some that take you through the scenic vineyards at Crooked Vine Vineyard & Winery.

“There are so many different places to do outdoor activities here,” Dakins said. “Everyone has their favorite winter activity to participate in. The Petoskey Area provides the variety that travelers of all kinds are looking for.”

Nub’s Nob: Snow worth shredding

Nub's Nob
Nub’s Nob

The team at Nub’s Nob recognizes that without great snow, nothing else matters on the ski hill.

Perched above Little Traverse Bay in Harbor Springs, Nub’s Nob stands up to almost any other resort in the state in terms of snow quality and trail conditions. It’s more than 248 skiable acres — which are coated in snow made by more than 315 snow guns — give riders access to more than 50 trails and glades areas to explore and shred.

“Our entire focus is on snowmaking and grooming, and providing a ski experience that is paramount,” said Ben Doornbos, general manager at Nub’s Nob. “All of our time, energy and effort is making the ski experience as best as it can be, and we’re one of the few ski areas in the state that builds and maintains its own snow guns.”

For expert skiers, Nub’s Nob has some of the best runs in the Midwest in terms of terrain and challenges. The mountain’s terrain park is award winning, and this year, it’s hoping to rebuild its halfpipe that sends expert riders soaring up its 12-foot walls.

For those just starting their ski or snowboard journey, the mountain does a great job providing access to the hills and the training to learn. A beginner run, called the “Easy Mile,” winds its way from the top of the ski area down to the bottom and is arguably one of the best hills to learn on in the state. Additionally, the mountain is known for its beginner ski area and this year will open its covered conveyor lift, the longest in the Midwest at 150 feet.

“Kids eight and under can ski here every day with a skiing adult, and for families trying to learn to ski and snowboard, we open up our beginner ski area free to anyone who wants to learn,” Doornbos added.

Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain: Adventure beyond the slopes

Boyne Highlands Resort

If you’re looking for quintessential Michigan skiing paired with entertainment that goes beyond the slopes, look no further than the Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain.

The Boyne Resorts have a long legacy of providing some of the best skiing not only in Michigan, but throughout the Midwest. Boyne Mountain welcomed the Midwest’s first ski lift from Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1947, and ever since, staked its claim as one of the premier ski and snowboard destinations in the region. Today, the resorts are known for much more than their beautiful vistas and top-tier terrain. Yet the mountains, scenery and downhill slopes are what truly keep visitors flocking to the area year after year.

Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain boast a combined 850 acres of skiable terrain and, on average, collect a total of 140 inches of yearly snowfall. Downhill thrill seekers can take on more than 500 feet of vertical at each resort and have their choice of 115 different trails between both mountains. For cross-country ski enthusiasts, each location maintains 22 miles of groomed trails. And if that’s not impressive enough, Boyne Highlands stakes its claim as the Michigan resort with the longest ski run. The Highlands’ North Peak Pass takes riders on a journey along 1¼ miles of tree-lined trail, a popular and likely bucket-list route for many Michigan skiers and snowboarders.

“Both mountains have been a tradition for many families throughout generations,” said Erin Ernst, director of communications at Boyne Resorts. “Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands are the two largest ski resorts in the state, and not only do we offer some of the state’s best skiing, but we also offer off-slope activities that provide a full resort experience unlike any other.”

Après-ski at the Boyne Resorts

Boyne Highlands Resort
Boyne Highlands Resort

From Sno-Go bikes, tubing and ice skating to snowshoeing, winter horseback riding and the state’s largest indoor water park — Boyne Resorts live up their name as a winter entertainment mecca.

“Boyne Mountain provides a larger breadth of après-ski (after-ski) offerings, giving the resort more of a village atmosphere with activities to take advantage of all day,” Ernst added. “At Boyne Highlands, guests can spread out a bit more but still have access to a number of experiences that go beyond downhill skiing.”

With access to as many activities off the slope as they do on them, it’s hard to whittle down an itinerary, however, crowd favorites at both resorts include:

Sno-Go bikes — The resorts’ unique Sno-Go bikes combine the best of biking and skiing into one experience. Riders can hop on the saddle and carve down the mountain on a bike that swaps wheels for skis. The tripod bike lets riders carve right and left, with the ease of turning a handle, and is great for families with kids of all ages.

Zipline adventures — If you’re looking for a more thrilling adventure, Boyne Mountain’s winter zipline, a 780-foot journey through the trees, takes riders flying up to 25 mph through the trees for an unforgettable, aerial view of the mountain. At Boyne Highlands, zipliners can have an even longer riding experience on the Zipline Adventure Tour. The trip features seven ziplines that top an elevation of 1,325 feet, and the whole tour lasts up to 2½ hours.

Winter trails — Snowshoe along powdery trails and hike under snow covered pines. At Boyne Mountain, 2½ miles of pristine nature trails allow visitors to take a self-guided adventure. Or, if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind winter hike experience, try the Enchanted Trail at Boyne Highlands. On this 2-mile round-trip journey, hike or snowshoe under a dazzling display of twinkling lights and warm up at the halfway point next to a radiating fire. You should also bring your appetite, as hot chocolate and s’mores are included.

Avalanche Bay — Only at Boyne Mountain can you enjoy 80-degree weather in a swimsuit from your lounge chair in the middle of winter. About 80,000 square feet of rides and slides make this the largest water park in the state. Crowd favorites include an exciting race on the Mat Racer, relaxing in a tube on the Lazy River Adventure and warming up in the Glacier Hot Springs hot tub.

Boyne Highlands Resort - Guest Room
Boyne Highlands Resort

As an added bonus, and new for winter 2021, all lodging guests of Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain Resorts will receive 10% off lift ticket purchases during their stay if they’re also a resort lodging guest.

“Our resorts, which sit 45 minutes apart, provide a full resort experience between two of the best mountains to ski in the state,” Ernst said. “We offer over 400 accommodations at each property, including everything from standard hotel rooms, fully stocked condos with kitchens and cottages that sleep up to 12 people.”

When it comes to experiencing the beauty of northern Michigan in the winter, there’s nowhere like Petoskey.  From the action-packed adventures at the Boyne Resorts, to a day on snow-covered slopes at Nub’s Nob, the Petoskey region and its surrounding towns boast the best of Michigan winter that can be enjoyed by all.

Article written by Erica Zazo – Featured image by Boyne Mountain Resort

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