While the east and west coasts boast varied mountain terrain and majestic mountain peaks, the Midwest’s collection of skiing and snowboarding runs near Chicago isn’t to be ignored. Snow enthusiasts will be impressed with the heartland’s ski resorts that include something for everyone, from easy cruiser trails to challenging runs with steep vertical drops. As the country prepares to usher in another ski season, consider these Midwestern-style ski and snowboarding picks. (Suggested reading: Chicago Annual Events 2012
l Ice Skating in Chicago
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The Mount Bohemia Ski Resort in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is where you will find some of the Midwest’s longest runs with 900-foot vertical drops and deep powder. It is also where you can ski the Bad Seed run built over a prehistoric volcano with challenging terrain that includes cliff drops. Two other rigorous runs to keep on your radar are at northern Michigan’s Boyne Mountain, including the Olympic with a steep vertical pitch and the mogul filled The Dark Side. (Tip: Scarface at Nub’s Nob in Michigan has earned the respect of the United States Ski Association’s racing program as one of the best training runs in the Midwest. The trail is also flanked by two expert runs, Smokey and Chute, a triple threat known as the toughest trio of runs in the Midwest.) On-site accommodations at Mount Bohemia include access to the resort’s activity building with a fireplace, TV and small kitchen. The resort is also two miles from Lake Superior, a picturesque spot for ice fishing.
The name may be appropriate for newbie skiers: The Chicken's Choice at Michigan’s Shanty Creek is a gentle gliding trail that weaves its way around the east side of Schuss Mountain. It’s nice cruiser run for those learning to ski, and with an average of 200 inches of snow each year, the trail has a consistent coding of powder that helps coast skiers down the mountain. Also beginner friendly are the country’s first “free” beginner run at Nub’s Nob in Harbor Springs, Michigan with its own chairlift and 10 acres of easy terrain to practice turning and stopping, and Ramblewood, also at Nub’s Nob, that ambles past northern Michigan’s hardwoods. On-site accommodations and restaurants can be found at Shanty Creek, including three- and four-bedroom condos.
While many resorts offer ski lessons for kids, the Nanny McSki Doorstep Program at the Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa near Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan goes one step further giving mom and dad the day off to ski on their own or to enjoy the resort’s LEED-certified spa with a saltwater pool, infrared sauna and mediation lounge. A ski instructor arrives at your room in the morning or early afternoon to pick up the kids, get them fitted for skis and boots or snowboards, and then to breakfast or lunch before lessons begin. (Tip: Kids also love cross-country skiing through the resort’s Michigan Legacy Art Park that winds past 43 works of art that includes sculptures and poems inscribed on rocks.)
The Granite Peak Ski Area in Wausau located in Central Wisconsin has five parks for snowboarders with 15 jumps, 40 jibs, as well as rollers, rails and spines. The resort also has the tallest vertical drop in Wisconsin at 700 feet (second tallest in the Midwest), six double-black diamond runs for serious boarders and the Midwest’s longest high-speed chairlift. (Tip: Overnight at the nearby Rib Mountain Inn with easy access to the slopes through scenic wooded trails.)
For tubing enthusiasts (the Midwest’s version of the summer waterpark) there is the new six-lane tube park at Spirit Mountain’s Adventure Park in Duluth, Minnesota, which opened on December 26, and the 800-foot long tubing chutes at Cascade Mountain in Portage, Wisconsin. (Tip: Cascade Mountain’s ungroomed Mogul Monster offers plenty of bumps and is considered the most challenging run in Wisconsin.)
For those who prefer to drive a snowmobile than a car, the 500 miles of groomed trails in the “Snowmobile Capital of the World,” Eagle River, Wisconsin, wind through dense forests and across frozen lakes. In Duluth, the A.G. Thomson House, a 1909 Dutch colonial style structure, is close to Spirit Mountain. Skiers at Cascade Mountain will found lodging at the nearby Wisconsin Dells, including the Chula Vista Resort with 80,000 square feet of water park space and the Sundara Inn & Spa, one of the top resort spas in the country. The Wild Eagle Lodge in Eagle River, WI has two- and three-bedroom suites and a self-guided snowmobiling trail.
7. Bonus Tip: Getting to the Slopes from Chicago
Many ski resorts are only a couple hours' drive from Chicago. Here are some "getting there tips" for some of the Midwest's most popular ski areas. From Traverse City, Michigan (roughly five hours from most Chicago suburbs taking Interstate Highway 94 east to Interstate Highway 196 north toward Grand Rapids), skiers can easily get to Nub’s Nob, Shanty Creek, Crystal Mountain, Otsego and Boyne resorts, all about an hour’s drive away. Want an even faster route? Fly Lakeshore Express
from Midway Airport to Pellston Airport in Michigan (about a one-hour flight) and drive 15 minutes to Nub’s Nob and Boyne resorts or one hour to Crystal Mountain and Otsego. To get to Granite Peak, Minocqua Winter Park and Cascade Mountain in Wisconsin, take Interstate Highway 90 West to U.S. Highway 51 north. You’ll hit Cascade Mountain in Portage, WI first, which is about two hours from the Chicago suburbs, and then Granite Peak and Minocqua. For skiing in Indiana and Ohio, Perfect North Slopes in Lawrence, Indiana and Paoli Peaks in Paoli, Indiana are south of the Chicago suburbs taking Interstate Highway 65. The Snow Trails Winter Park in Mansfield, OH is about three hours north of Perfect North Slopes. Your farthest journey will be to Mount Bohemia in Mohawk, Michigan and Spirit Mountain in Duluth. MN, which are about four hours from each other and about seven hours from Chicago.
8. More Midwest Skiing and Winter Activity Ideas
For more ideas on the best ski resorts and runs and winter activities near Chicago, check out USA Today's Chicago City Guide
, which includes a story I did on the Best Midwest Ski Resorts.