Downhill Skiing in the Western UP

The rugged hills and reliable snows of the Western Upper Peninsula make it a favorite destination for skiers. Tina Lassen, a longtime Michigan Travel Ideas freelance writer and avid skier, writes about a recent getaway to Ironwood-area ski resorts.

As if on cue, the snow begins falling in earnest when I cross the border into the Western Upper Peninsula’s “snow belt.” As I drive along US-2 near Wakefield, it floats down fluffy and thick, piling up to the windowsills of farmhouses and draping across broad hemlock boughs.

Excellent timing, since I’m meeting up with three Yooper friends (UP locals, that is). We’ve planned a day each at Big Powderhorn Mountain and Indianhead Mountain Resort neighboring destinations northeast of Ironwood.

Big Powderhorn

On day one we opt for Big Powderhorn with meticulously groomed runs winding through the pines. Powderhorn is great for beginners, families, or anyone with rusty ski legs. I particularly like starting out on runs such as Alpen and Little Horn, bathed in morning sun.

We spend much of the day carving up the corduroy on long, mellow cruisers, then cap off the afternoon with a stop at one of Powderhorn’s slopeside wine huts. New this year, you can call ahead to reserve one of the three wine huts for a private lunch spot. The ski area provides the grill and charcoal, and will transport food to your hut.

Indianhead

The next day, I’m primed to tackle the steeper terrain of Indianhead. We charge down the headwall on West Winnebago and careen through the bumps on Crazy Horse. I even steel my nerves to try a few of the smallest jumps in the Big Chief terrain park. I quickly decide it’s probably better for my middle-age knees to watch others get air.

Indianhead does a great job with this park, building jumps and rails for all ability levels. By the time we call it a day, a lively après scene is taking shape in the Sky Bar, where old chairlifts get a second life as booth seats.

Around the ski areas

Plenty of restaurants, lodgings and gear shops scatter between Indianhead and Powderhorn, creating a fun, mountain-town atmosphere. The Caribou Lodge (906/932-4714) at Big Powderhorn Mountain is one of my favorites, for its great from-scratch soups, huge salad bar and hearty specialties like bacon-wrapped pork loin. You can find great Italian food around here, too—Tacconelli’s in Ironwood is a sure bet.

After a social day of skiing, I love the solitude of the Black River Lodge. Although it’s just a short drive from the slopes, it feels like a wilderness outpost thanks to its 65-acre spread along the Black River. It’s also pretty sweet to kick back in the lodge’s wood-fired hot tub and 54-foot-long swimming pool.

Freelance writer Tina Lassen has spent more than 25 years exploring and writing about Michigan’s outdoor adventures. She is a frequent contributor to Midwest Living magazine and has written extensively about Michigan in guidebooks like National Geographic’s Guide to America’s Outdoors: Great Lakes.