Cross These Seven Traverse City Activities Off Your Snow Day Bucket List

Winter is on its way, and Traverse City is ready for snow! Today, guest blogger Mike Norton from Traverse City Tourism shares some suggestions for your next Traverse City snow day. 

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

I know there are people who aren’t big fans of winter. But personally, I can’t wait to see those first fat flakes of snow come spiraling out of the sky.

Maybe it’s because I live in a place where there’s so much to do in the wintertime – especially in the Great Outdoors. I like to be outside as much as possible, and Traverse City is full of opportunities for outdoor winter fun. Each winter, this region’s gently sculpted landscape (carved 15,000 years ago by the last retreating glaciers of the Ice Age) becomes a playground for skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoe hikers. Like me, they consider it one of the country’s most beautiful winter destinations.

Skiing, Snowboarding and “Silent Snow Sports”

For skiers and snowboarders, our premiere winter destination is undoubtedly Shanty Creek Resorts, a 4,500-acre recreational complex in the beautiful Chain of Lakes region, about 30 miles northeast of town. Shanty’s two ski areas, Schuss Mountain and Summit Mountain, provide 53 downhill slopes, six terrain parks, 30km of cross country Nordic trails, and a multi-lane alpine tubing park. (Ski Magazine rated it the Midwest’s number-one destination in value, dining, lodging, weather and après ski activities.)

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

But lots of other skiers and snowboarders have discovered the fun of staying closer to town, taking advantage of low lodging rates and a broad choice of shopping, dining and entertainment options while skiing at TC’s two day ski areas, Mt. Holiday and Hickory Hills.

Still, for me (and for many others) this area is loved mostly for the quality of its winter “silent sports” — snowshoeing and cross-country skiing — thanks to its vast acreage of forest and parkland. Just one example – and one of my favorites: the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has eight marked trails, some leading up to panoramic overlooks high above Lake Michigan.

And there are so many other marked trail systems that you couldn’t explore them all if you stayed here all winter. There’s the Lost Lake Pathway near Interlochen and the Vasa Pathway, one of the finest cross-country ski trails in the nation. Within the city, the 300-acre Grand Traverse Commons features superb snowshoeing among century-old, castle-style buildings and stands of old-growth pines.

Snowmobiling

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Snowmobilers tend to head south and east of town to more than 200 miles of the country’s finest and most diverse snowmobiling. The Boardman Valley Trail, just minutes from downtown, is an 81-mile trail system in the Pere Marquette State Forest, where sightings of turkeys, eagles, deer and other wildlife are commonplace. The Jordan Valley Trail, about a half-hour to the northeast, is a network featuring over 130 miles of spectacular trails not far from Shanty Creek and the picturesque village of Bellaire.

Snow Biking and Snow Tubing

Traverse City is also becoming a hub for one of the newest winter sports: fat biking. Fat bikes are specially-adapted mountain bikes with large tires that can actually allow you to ride over the snow, and over the past two years they’ve become part of the local winter landscape. We’ve always been a favorite year-round destination for all kinds of outdoor sports enthusiasts; given the opportunity to add cycling to their repertoire of winter sports, they’ve wasted no time embracing the Fat Bike phenomenon.

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

But you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy winter recreation in Traverse City. Lots of us have discovered that there are plenty of thrills to be had in snow-tubing. Tubing has all the thrilling speed of a toboggan or sled – but you get to sit in the middle of a big soft inner tube and ride down a groomed hill where there are people keeping an eye on you. And when you get to the bottom, there’s a towline waiting to take you back to the top so you can do it all over again.

As it happens, the largest tubing hill in Michigan is at TimberLee Hills, a former ski resort in the hills just northwest of town. (On clear days, it has breathtaking views of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Leelanau.) Lots of local ski resorts also have tubing hills; Shanty Creek Resorts, for instance, has a sophisticated tubing park just above their Cedar River lodge. Mt. Holiday Ski Area also has a dedicated tubing park. All three have mechanical lifts, which helps you make the most of your allotted time. These things are popular, especially on weekends and school snow days, so they can get busy!

Winter Ziplining

Mt. Holiday has yet another winter activity available for winter fun: a new zipline system that lets you soar through the air above the ski slopes. Its “Green Zipper” is a two-station zipline (the first leg is 288 feet and then second is 306 feet) and its new 10-station zipline has a total of over 4,000 feet of cable. You have to make advance reservations for both of them, and you need to be part of a group of at least four people.

Sound like fun? Of course it does!

Mike on SbnowshoesMike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. An avid cyclist, kayaker and snowshoer, he lives in the village of Old Mission.

Embrace the Snow with Winter Sports in Traverse City

In Michigan, winter shouldn’t simply be endured – it should be celebrated! This beautiful state offers hundreds of ways to get outside and enjoy the beauty and enchantment of the season. Here, Mike Norton of Traverse City Tourism explains how he learned to stop shivering and embrace the snow!

Winter and I were not always friends.

I grew up in the city, where this time of year meant dark gray skies, dirty gray slush, icy sidewalks and wet feet. Skiing was something rich people did. Snowshoes were for Eskimos. How could I ever have foreseen how much I’d come to love the winter season once I moved to Traverse City?

Here, winter is a different creature entirely.  Maybe it’s this rolling, glacier-carved terrain with all its wide vistas and high lookouts; maybe it’s the predominance of pine, spruce, hemlock and fir (so much prettier in winter than those scraggly hardwoods). Or maybe it’s just that rural settings are better suited to winter than cityscapes.

The secret, of course, is that you have to embrace winter in all its chilly wonder – and although some people can do this while looking out the window, I find I just have to get outdoors and do something. Doesn’t matter what, really — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just tramping around in the woods.

And here’s the payoff: to come around a corner on the trail and see a herd of deer raise their heads, steam snorting from their noses as they look at you and silently bound off into the trees. To stand in the moonlight in a forest clearing as a fine dusting of diamond-bright powder sifts through the branches around you. To emerge from the woods onto a high bluff at Sleeping Bear, the broad blue sweep of Lake Michigan below you like a giant polished turquoise, and feel as though you’re the first (or last) person on Earth.

Speaking from personal experience, I know that winter-sports newbies can sometimes be discouraged by all the unfamiliar gear, terminology and techniques they’re confronted with. But really, it’s a lot easier and a lot less expensive than you think. And fortunately, there are all kinds of people and organizations here in the Traverse City area who are eager to help you get into your winter groove.

Actually, it doesn’t take a lot of skill or training to use snowshoes. They’re easy to slip on and off, and they’re less likely to suddenly slide out from under you than skis. That’s why I seem to find myself doing more snowshoeing than cross-country skiing these days. Apparently, I’m not the only one, either, since snowshoeing has become America’s top snowsport choice. Last winter over 5 million Americans strapped on a pair of snowshoes and went for a winter hike, and the sport has grown by around 17 percent each year over the past decade.

Traverse City is full of great places for snowshoeing, and one of the best is just south of town on the Muncie Lakes Pathway.  This scenic DNR trail system along the Boardman River, with its rolling forested terrain and small lakes, is a microcosm of the area’s natural beauty and its special winter delights.

The nice thing about the pathway is that it provides a variety of loops and distances so you can easily customize a snowshoe excursion to meet your own endurance and ability levels.  Distances range from an easy two-mile hike to treks of up to 8 or 9 miles, and it’s always possible to take off cross-country and boldly go wherever you like.  A couple of nice side trips along the pathway include snowshoeing along the frozen Muncie Lakes and out across the ice to visit the small islands that dot the lakes, and accessing overlooks of the Boardman River and valley from high bluffs.

Some of my other favorite trail systems include the trail system at Mission Point at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, the Pelizzari Natural Area off Center Road, the Lost Lake Pathway near Interlochen, the 3,500-acre Sand Lakes Quiet Area near Williamsburg and the Vasa Pathway, one of the finest cross-country ski trails in the Midwest. Inside the city, the 300-acre Grand Traverse Commons features great skiing and snowshoeing in parklike grounds among century-old, European-style buildings and stands of old-growth pines.

But seriously, some of the best snowshoeing in the area is at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which has eight marked trails, some leading up to panoramic overlooks high above the Lake Michigan. I just found out about one that I haven’t tried yet, and as soon as I’ve had a chance to check it out I’ll give you a report.

There are a lot of places in the area where you can rent snowshoes for a small fee, by the way. Brick Wheels, the Don Orr Ski n’ Beach Haus, and GT Cycle are several outlets that have snowshoe rentals available.

Mike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. An avid cyclist, kayaker and snowshoer, he lives in the village of Old Mission.