Crystal Mountain Paintball Adventure

Cindy Richards, Michigan Travel Ideas contributing writer, and her family channel their inner GI Joe and Jane during their latest vacation in Michigan.

I discovered the secret to getting a 16-year-old excited about a family vacation: Let him shoot you.

OK, so I didn’t let him use real bullets, but the paintballs were painful enough, and the mere promise of two hours on a paintball course was enough to get him excited about the trip and keep him in good spirits throughout.

We were spending a week in northern Michigan and stopped for his paintball fix at one of our favorite Michigan haunts, Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville. The paintball course—new this year—is a squared-off section of land at the base of the mountain outfitted with bales of hay and other barriers to hide behind.

Paintball is played in teams with one team shooting at the other. Once all of the players on one team are “dead” (shot and safely crouched behind a home-base barrier), out of ammunition or for any other good reason, the referee blows a whistle and everyone stops to reload, strategize and gloat over their sniper shots and crafty hiding places.

It was a transformative experience for my peace-loving family, who morphed into warriors before my eyes.

My husband and son spent the entire two hours pretending they were GI Joes, running, jumping, hiding and rolling around like Tim Allen attempting to dodge the aliens in Galaxy Quest. I had to bite my tongue not to say to hubby, “Does it help when you roll around?” in the same snarky tone Sigourney Weaver uses when she delivers that line to Allen.

But it was my 14-year-old daughter who truly surprised me. She was nervous about the idea of paintball and wore layers of heavy clothes to cushion the paintball blows, figuring she would be her brother’s favorite target. After just a couple rounds of battle, though, she had the glazed look in her eyes. “I really like this,” she confided in a breathless whisper. “They’re afraid of me. Really afraid. I feel so powerful.” And with that, another paintball fanatic was born. What have I gotten myself into?

The paintball course is open weekends through October 30, 2010.

Cindy Richards is a veteran journalist and travel writer who lives in Chicago with her husband and two terrific teens. She has written for newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, and national and regional magazines, including Chicago Parent. She currently is editor and part-owner of, the survival guide for moms who travel with and without their kids.