Covered in a coat of freshly fallen snow, the slopes at Boyne Highlands opened for the season on Tuesday, Nov. 27, marking the beginning of winter in Michigan.
For skiers, snowboarders and the like, it’s a magical time — as exciting as the first day of summer vacation.
But it doesn’t take a pair of skis or youthful age to find outdoor fun in the cold.
There’s a little something for everyone, here in Michigan: ice fishing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, tubing, ice skating and sledding.
From the bottom of the mitten on up, Michigan is a playground for winter fun. Here are just a few things available for winter enthusiasts.
The Boyne resorts — Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands — boast multiple activities at each resort.
“We have 35K of cross-country skiing, zip-lining and tubing at both properties,” said Erin Ernst, the director of communications for Boyne Resorts. “The zip lines vary by height and length, and at Boyne Highlands, we have the longest zip line in Michigan. It’s 1,550 feet. We offer a variety of zip lining packages, including the zip line adventure, where you can ride nine lines at one location and seven lines at the other location, and end with the double line so you can actually race someone.”
That’s all in addition to the 435 acres of ski terrain and 10 chairlifts at Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs, and the 415 acres and eight chairlifts at Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls.
The slopes range from beginner to expert, and both resorts offer classes for beginners, featuring a two-hour lesson, equipment rental for the day and lift passes for the beginner area. And new this year, Boyne unveiled Burton Park, a snowboarding playground/training center for beginning boarders, ages 3-6.
“We also offer horse-drawn sleigh rides and dog sledding at Boyne Highlands,” Ernst added.
The dogsled rides are something to be experienced, according to Ernst. The sled holds two adults, or one adult and a couple of kids, and the rides run about $75 for a half-hour and $150 for an hour.
“The hour-long ride contains a midway stop, as well, so you can take pictures,” Ernst said. “The group we work with is Nature’s Kennel, and they actually participate in the Iditarod every year. They are so informative and helpful, too. They can tell you all about the Iditarod and answer any questions while you’re on your ride.”
When it’s time to warm up, both Boyne resorts feature spas, along with multiple dining and nightlife establishments. Ernst recommends the Aonach Mor Moonlight dinner.
“You take a sleigh ride to the top of the North Peak, which is a day ski lodge during the day, but transforms to white-linen dining at night, with a candlelit meal, an acoustic guitarist and a family-style dinner,” she said.
Not far from Boyne, the cozy Up-North city of Gaylord features more wintry pleasure with multiple locations to go snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
“Our (cross-country) trails allow you to do anything — from 100-feet to two miles,” said Ed Knoll, the superintendent of public works in Gaylord.
Aspen Park is one of the most popular spots for cross-country skiing in Gaylord. The park is right in the middle of the downtown area and sits adjacent to an elk herd, offering great sightseeing. The trails are groomed throughout the winter and stay lit for use until 11 p.m. The multiple snowshoeing and cross-country trails are a big draw for wintertime visitors to Gaylord, but there is another type of trail that makes this city an even more popular destination.
“Snowmobiling is huge here,” Knoll said. “We have a trail that goes from here to Mackinaw City, over to the Jordan River and down to Lewiston, and there are plenty of places to park around town, right near the snowmobile trails.”
Gaylord is the headquarters for the North Central Country State Trail, the 62-mile trek that reaches up to Mackinaw City. It’s a Mecca for avid snowmobile riders and first-timers, alike. The nearby Marsh Ridge Resort rents snowmobiles for 24 hours, with starting prices at $199 for a single and $239 for a double. They rent snow gear, too — helmets and snowsuits rent for $16 and $39, respectively.
Adding to Gaylord’s appeal is an abundance of inland lakes, perfect for ice fishing.
“We have 100 lakes in Otsego County, so there are also plenty of ice fishing opportunities here,” said Paul Beacheau of the Gaylord Area Tourism Bureau. “Even if you haven’t fished before, a beginner can go out and give it a try. The staff at Jay’s (sporting goods shop) will tell you what to do and show you what equipment you need, and even tell you what kind of bait to get for what type of fish you’re trying to catch.”
The Gaylord area also features downhill skiing at the nearby Treetops Resort.
Even more places to go
There are dozens of other ski hills across the state, from Big Powderhorn Mountain in the Upper Peninsula to Mount Holly, just an hour outside of metro Detroit.
And closer to home, there is more frosty fun. You can go ice skating at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit, where admission is $6 for seniors and children and $7 for adults, and skate rental is only $3; and you can sled at Hines Park in Northville, where admission is free.