While the Midwest may not have 3,000 foot descents like some Rocky Mountain resorts, there are a number of fun places to ski and snowboard, with drops ranging from 300 to 900 feet. In addition, the further north you go, the lighter and more abundant the snow. Especially along Lake Superior, which receives what meteorologists call “lake effect” dumps. Options abound along the Wisconsin-Michigan border and on the Keweenaw Peninsula as well.
Dave Cushman, a seasoned Cascade patroller and native of Glenview, has been skiing the Upper Peninsula for over half a century. He, too, said he plans to head to UP, as most locals call the Upper Peninsula, at least several times this winter.
Cushman first visited the resorts of Indianhead (snowriver.com) and Whitecap (whiteresort.com) to ski with his father when he was young. He remembers long cruising runs, skiing in clearings among the trees, difficult terrain and a greater variety of slopes than in areas further south.
“But it’s fine,” said Cushman, who said he had little patience for those who despise Midwestern resorts. “If you live here and ski or snowboard, you should take advantage of the recreational opportunities we have. After all, we can’t go to Utah every weekend.
Cushman, who has skied several times in Colorado, has also taken a few trips to the Lutsen Mountains (lutsen.com), near Grand Marais, Minnesota, and is what he considers the closest thing to Western skiing in the Midwest. He said he liked the 2-mile-long cruising tracks best that descend 825 vertical feet on Moose Mountain.
But he said he was most excited this season about the changes now transforming the former ski areas of Indianhead and Blackjack near Wakefield in UP. The two resorts, which have a combined area of nearly 400 acres and are 400 miles from Chicago, were purchased in late August by the Skinner family of Minnesota, which also owns granite peak (skigranitepeak.com) outside of Wausau, Wisconsin and Lutsen as part of the Midwest Family Ski Resorts corporation. All three are part of the company’s Legendary Pass (snowriver.com/season-passes).
Along with renaming Indianhead to Jackson Creek Summit, Blackjack is now Black River Basin, both named after the rivers that flow nearby. The nickname for both areas is now Snowriver Ski Resort (snowriver.com), which is scheduled to open November 24. The changes were made in part to respect Native American culture, owner Charles Skinner said, and because another ski company was using the resort’s old combined name, Big Snow.
Skinner has pledged to spend millions of dollars upgrading the resorts, which feature lifts dating back to the 1960s. Work this fall has included extensive lodge and guest room renovations, a new kitchen and the addition 25 state-of-the-art SMI snow cannons.
By this time next season, Skinner said the resort hopes to have replaced the Chippewa Double, Leelinaw Triple and Voyager Quad chairs out of the Jackson Creek Summit area with the Voyageur Express, the first six-person high-speed detachable chairlift in the Upper Peninsula. The new lift will be faster and carry more skiers and snowboarders than the three lifts it replaces.
Lonie Glieberman, who runs the Mount Bohemia (mtbohemia.com) near Copper Harbor on UP’s Keweenaw Peninsula, said he was thrilled the Skinner family is investing heavily in Snowriver.
“It’s good news for Upper Peninsula skiing and snowboarding, for sure,” said Glieberman, whose resort is opening two new runs – Fireball and Triton – this season in the Outer Limits section of the mountain. .
“We’ve also added another bedroom to our lodge,” said Glieberman, whose resort has the highest vertical descent in the Midwest at 900 feet. It sits above Lac La Belle and is only a stone’s throw from Lake Superior. He said he should open around Christmas.
Bohemian, which bills itself as a wilderness adventure getaway, is 455 miles, or about a 7.5-hour drive, from Chicago. It caters primarily to advanced and expert skiers, doesn’t deliberately groom its slopes, and has no artificial snow — thanks to Lake Superior’s abundant natural snow, Glieberman said. It also features cliff drops and drops on select trails on its 585 acres of land.
The only way to ski or snowboard on Saturday is to hold a season pass, which goes on sale November 23 through December 3 and will cost just $99, one of the best deals in the ski industry. . Bohemia has two elevators, a spa with eucalyptus steam room, a nine-person yurt, a lodge, a restaurant, and an inn that costs $60 a night including dinner.
To Whitecap Mountains, (whitecaresort.com) which is near Upson, Wis. — 409 miles from Chicago and 10 miles from the UP border — the resort has renovated part of its hotel and added a magic carpet to its novice area, said general manager Dave Dzubian, who was born in Elmhurst and raised in the western suburbs of Chicago. He says he hopes to open his slopes in early December.
Whitecap, which has 43 trails and five lifts on 250 acres, has also revamped its snowmaking system and purchased another snow groomer to use this season. Dzubian, who became the resort’s sole owner in September, said he could add a new base lodge and a smaller facility atop the area next year.
He said Whitecap, which spans three mountains and is 15 miles from Lake Superior, often receives up to 17 feet of snow a year.
“We really get dumped,” he said. “Thanks to the lake effect, we can have thunderstorms that bring us 30 to 40 inches of powder, which means skiing and snowboarding in chest-deep snow sometimes. Northerly winds pick up moisture off Lake Superior, move it through the cold atmosphere, and then it falls as snow. We are very lucky this way.
Mount Ripley, (mtu.edu/mount-ripley/) which is 417 miles north of Chicago in Hancock, Michigan, has finally reopened two trails – Deer Track Trail and Powder Stash – which were swept away by a huge deluge of rain from 2018 which left 500 – Hole 300 feet long, 300 feet wide and 50 feet deep. The resort, which is operated by Michigan Technical University, has four lifts, a vertical drop of 440 feet, and this year again has 24 trails, spread over 100 acres.
“This gigantic storm caused over $250 million in damage in this region, and we were not immune to it,” said Mount Ripley general manager Nick Sirdenis. “The side of our mountain slipped and it took four years to fix it because we had to overcome many obstacles and even do an archaeological study.
“Our claim to fame is that we’re the snowiest city in the Midwest and the third snowiest in the entire country,” boasted Sirdenis, who said adult lift tickets this year cost $60. The resort, which is slated to open Nov. 25, is 45 miles south of Mount Bohemia, so some skiers and snowboarders from the south are combining visits to the two areas.
Burned Ski, (skibrule.com) located near Iron River, Michigan, and 343 miles from Chicago, has upgraded its snowmaking system to open terrain faster and produce more snow, said operations manager Jessica Polich, originally from Lake Zurich. The resort, which has a 500-foot drop, also overhauled the motors of its 11 lifts and painted some to “beautify” them, she said.
She said Ski Brule, which has 17 trails on 150 acres of skiable terrain, is part of a 3,000-acre resort that also offers cross-country, snowshoe and fat bike trails. Its scheduled opening date was Friday.
Lift tickets will cost $70 for adults this season, but she said skiers and boarders who download a Krist Oil app (kristoil.com/ski-brule-adventure) can use it to get $15 off on this price to buy tickets in advance. Children 9 and under ski free with an adult. Polich said Krist Oil has 90 gas stations in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.
Lutsen Mountains (lutsen.com) may be the furthest beach resort from Chicago at 561 miles, but it’s worth the trip and a multi-day visit. With 1,000 acres spread across four mountains – Eagle, Ullr, Mystery and Moose – it’s by far the largest resort in the Midwest and boasts the area’s only gondola, one of the resort’s eight lifts, as well only views of Lake Superior reminiscent of skiing at Lake Tahoe.
Charlotte Skinner, chief financial officer of Midwest Family Skiing, said Lutsen replaced several bridges connecting the resort’s mountains damaged by storms this year. The station, which should open on November 19, has also installed new artificial snowmaking equipment.
But the biggest change is the renovation of the popular Papa Charlie restaurant, which has been remodeled and expanded to create what Skinner called a casual dining experience. This part of the building is now called Legends. Longtime fans will still be able to enjoy their après-ski, happy hour, music and bar experience on the tavern side of the building, she said.
Plans for next year include a six-person high-speed lift on the Bridge Run, she added.
Brian E. Clark is a freelance writer.
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