In Traverse City, winter’s arrival is cause for celebration! Blanketed with soft white snow, the gently sculpted hills and valleys of this region become the perfect winter playground – a glittering, unearthly landscape waiting to be explored, enjoyed and savored.
Cross country skiers have a wide range of choices, from well-groomed tracks and skating lanes that meander through the Pere Marquette State Forest to a variety of backwoods trails that follow rushing streams, descend through quiet forests and climb massive sand dunes to breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and its ice-encrusted shoreline.
Snowshoe hikers can penetrate even further into this same environment by heading off onto less traveled trails. Others simply ascend the steep hills above Traverse City, using the fine network of trails at the Grand Traverse Commons-- the area’s 19th century mental asylum-- which lead to some spectacular views of the city and its striking setting at the foot of Grand Traverse Bay.
When it comes to skiing and snowboarding, the region’s premiere full-service 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 Traverse City. Ski Magazine rated Shanty Creek the Midwest’s No. 1 destination in value, dining, lodging, weather and après ski activities--and it’s easy to see why. The resort’s two ski areas, Summit and Schuss Mountain, feature a 450-foot vertical with 55 runs for every ability level, plus four snowboarding terrain parks and a tubing park.
Some skiers, on the other hand, have discovered the fun of staying closer to town, taking advantage of off-season lodging rates and a broad choice of shopping, dining and entertainment options. For them, Traverse City’s Mt. Holiday and Hickory Hills, provide an in-town alternative. Mt. Holiday is a community-run ski area just east of town with 16 runs, two chairlifts, a tubing run and terrain park, a pleasant day lodge and awesome views of East Bay. Hickory Hills is a small municipal ski area nestled in a deep bowl of tree-topped hills less than five minutes from downtown that offers eight runs served by old-fashioned rope tows.
Snowmobilers tend to head south and east of town, where more than 200 miles of the country’s finest and most diverse snowmobiling wait for them in the enchanted Boardman and Jordan River valley areas. There’s something for every taste – whether it’s twisting and turning through dense hardwood forests, touring over hills, bridges, and waterways, or racing across wide-open spaces with plenty of room to enjoy the fresh white powder. Best of all, both trail systems are close to Traverse City’s hotels, resorts and restaurants – an important consideration at the end of a long day of sledding.
On the other hand, you don’t have to be an accomplished athlete or own a snowmobile to enjoy some winter thrills around Traverse City. Snow tubing, one of the nation’s fastest-growing winter pastimes, is offered at many nearby ski hills – and doesn’t require much more than the ability to sit down, hang on tight and do a little high-pitched screaming as you hurtle downhill on a large inflated rubber tube.
Shanty Creek and Mt. Holiday have excellent tubing runs, and Timberlee, a former ski resort in the hills just northwest of town with breathtaking views of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Leelanau, is Michigan’s largest snow tubing hill. They even have tandem tubes that allow friends and families to hurtle down the hill together, and an automatic lift to bring them back to the top when the ride’s over.