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.

Indulging along Garland’s Gourmet Glide

Food can make just about any activity that much better as Dianna Stampfler, Michigan Travel Ideas contributing writer, learns during the “Gourmet Glide” at Garland Lodge & Resort in Lewiston.

Gourmet Glide at the Garland Lodge & Resort

Gourmet Glide at the Garland Lodge & Resort

It’s a beautiful day when I slide into my cross-country skis and set out in search of tantalizing delectables. Garland’s “Gourmet Glide” lives up its name, with five trailside and warming stations set up along a picturesque 10-kilometer trail.

The invigorating effects of the crisp morning air not to mention constant motion of skiing put a smile on my face soon after setting out on my adventure. Occasionally, I would encounter another participant. But mostly, it’s just me on the trail absorbing the sounds of nature.

Station #2: Hard Wax Cafe
Rounding a corner the warming hut comes into view—just in time. By now, I have worked up a sweat and am in need of nourishment. I grab a diet soda and b-line for the buffet, with its impressive spread of smoked salmon, whitefish dip, crackers and cheese.  

On the Trail Again
After a short rest, I hit the trail. A fellow glider and I carry on a light-hearted conversation. In what seems like a few minutes, we approach the next stop where we know we’re in for a treat!

Station #3: Trout Camp
More than a dozen gliders are standing over various holes in the ice, reels in hand. Having never been ice fishing, I am nearly giddy as I reel in a trout within minutes. No worries, it’s catch and release (the staff handles the release). A giant fire crackles pond-side and the skiing congregation enjoys steaming bowls of trout chowder and fried trout filets. Life is good!

Warming up pond side during the 10k Gourmet Glide

Warming up pond side during the 10k Gourmet Glide

The Final Stretch
By now, skiing seems second nature and I am no longer thinking about moving one leg after another. The resort’s log covered bridge comes into view as I approach the next warming station, the fourth stop.

Surprisingly, I am a bit hungry—although it seems I have been eating nonstop for hours. The continued exercise of skiing burns calories as fast as I consume them—a good thing.

An End to a Great Day
It’s back to the lodge—the largest log lodge this side of the Mississippi—where it all started just hours before. I feel recharged and slightly proud that the nonathletic has made the entire 10k route without too much effort or falling!

Insider Tips

  • The Gourmet Glide is a go-at-your-own pace that may last from a half-day to seven hours.
  • Go ahead, fill up at the five food stations. Participants work off calories while cross-county skiing 10k (six mile-plus).

Trip Planner

  • Garland Lodge & Resort’s Gourmet Glide is held on winter Saturdays, January through early March.
  • Gourmet Glide tickets are $59 for hotel guests, $69 for nonguests; children 17 and under, $39. Gourmet Glide overnight packages start at $116.50 per person, making it a good value winter getaway.

Dianna Stampfler loves Michigan so much, she’s made a career out of it! Her marketing consultant company, Promote Michigan, is just one of the many ways this fourth-generation Michigan resident shows her appreciation for the Great Lakes State. Besides being a full-time cheerleader for Michigan, Dianna enjoys reading, gardening, traveling and visiting with friends.

Nordic Skiing in Marquette County

With an 1896 lighthouse as a base lodge, Michigan Travel Ideas freelance writer Tina Lassen samples the wealth of Nordic ski trails that weave through the woods between Marquette and Big Bay.

Maybe the skiing can wait. Cradling a mug of coffee, I’m curled deep in an overstuffed chair in the living room of the Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast. The enticing aroma of innkeeper Linda Gamble’s homemade scones wafts from the kitchen and a fire dances before me. It will take some resolve to pull myself from the seductive comforts of this lighthouse-turned-inn.

Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast

Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast

But a fresh sifting of snow has settled over the hilly forests northwest of Marquette. The other—and more convincing—part of me is eager to snap into Nordic skis and explore. Marquette County maintains miles of ski trails, and some of the most extensive networks happen to be along the scenic road to Big Bay (CR 550).

Twelve miles south of Big Bay, 12 kilometers of challenging trails rollercoaster alongside Saux Head Lake. Part of the nonprofit Noquemanon Trail Network, the Saux Head Trails are well-marked and beautifully groomed. As I struggle up a steep pitch near Wilson Creek, I’m grateful for the user-friendly corduroy surface. As I pause to catch my breath, I marvel at the shadows of stark-white birches against swales of untouched snow.

Next, I continue south on CR 550 to sample the Forestville trails. This area on the outskirts of Marquette, serves as the finish line of the annual Noquemanon Ski Marathon, a popular 50-kilometer race. Some 40 kilometers of trails wind along the Forestville ponds and Dead River. The spot is popular with locals, since some trails allow dogs and another loop is lit for night skiing.

Saux Head/Noquemanon Trail

Saux Head/Noquemanon Trail

But by the time Forestville’s lights flicker on, I’m headed toward the flashing lighthouse beacon at Big Bay. I’m eager to explore in this beautifully preserved 1896 light keeper’s home—to bask in the sauna and maybe browse through the bookshelves of its library. And inn guests are welcome to scale the tower steps for a private Lake Superior view. It’s always a treat to tour a lighthouse, but how often can you do it in your slippers?

Travel Guide

Rates at Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast start at $135/night, including full breakfast. Spa treatments available for an additional cost.

Rent ski gear ($20/day) from Down Wind Sports, 514 N. Third St., Marquette.

Pick up the free Marquette Region Cross Country Ski Trail Guide from the Marquette Country Convention and Visitors Bureau, 337 W. Washington St., or area ski shops.

Tina LassenFreelance writer Tina Lassen has spent more than 25 years exploring and writing about Michigan’s outdoor adventures. She is a frequent contributor to Michigan Travel Ideas and has written extensively about Michigan in guidebooks such as National Geographic’s Guide to America’s Outdoors: Great Lakes.