By Mary Schmidt
Just about the time down-staters are thumbing through garden magazines, spring means only one thing to skiers—longer days for downhill sports. In the weeks between wind chill warnings and ice breaking up on Lake Winnebago lays the sweet spot for spring skiing in the Western Upper Peninsula.
Some of the Midwest’s best spots for spring skiing are found at Big Snow Resort, home to Indianhead and Blackjack mountains. The two mountains offer 410 skiable acres with 56 trails, 15 lifts and activities for the entire family. Located near Lake Superior, the mountains average 17-feet of fresh snowfall annually making the destination one of the most popular for those seeking a “real snow” experience.
Indianhead and Blackjack are on the edge of the Ottawa National Forest and are part of the Porcupine Mountains, one of the largest tracts of old-growth hardwood forests in the United States. These forests support populations of bear, deer, timber wolves and even moose that live on the clean rivers, untouched woodlands and virgin ecosystem of the Upper Peninsula.
Spring in the U.P. delivers the best ski conditions
While Northeast Wisconsin lawns are covered with snirt (the combination of snow and dirt) and slush overflows area parking lots, the Upper Peninsula continues to get fresh snow on tr
ails and runs at Big Snow Resort. In March, skiers benefit from a season’s worth of base snow, plus fresh snowfall. According to Tim Moon, Assistant General Manager at Big Snow Resort, Indianhead and Blackjack offer an experience as close to big mountain skiing as you can get in the Midwest.
“Our snowmaking technology has gotten better,” Moon said, “it delivers harder, denser snow and a great base. Pair that with the natural snowfall and guests have better chances of great skiing conditions over longer, wider runs.”
The longest runs are one mile, and Indianhead is home to Voyagers’ Highway, a run that is more than 40 acres in area – larger than many other ski areas. These long runs cut a wide path from top to bottom and give Midwest skiers an experience to rival western mountains. Blackjack skiers get a big air experience and snowboarders favor the rugged courses at three terrain parks on the mountain.
“Boarders love the fast trails to work on jumps and tricks and Blackjack delivers,” Moon said.
Barry Bolich is general manager of Blackjack.
“We get snow almost every day during the season,” Bolich said. “Our snow-making equipment is purely for back up thanks to Mother Nature’s snow machine called lake-effect snow. There is no substitute for natural snow that almost every skier prefers. Groomed trails offer more control for intermediate and beginning skiers, but also provide the high speeds and carved turns snowboarders crave.”
Expert skiers and boarders will enjoy the many black diamond and double black diamond trails that range in elevation from 1,185 feet to 1,935 feet, and can even race against the best of the best on the NASTAR course.
The Big Snow Experience includes 638 vertical feet of runs, three snowboarding terrain parks, chair lifts, rope tows, magic carpets, and runs for the first-time skier/boarder to the most advanced. Skiing, boarding and snowshoeing lessons are available for all including family lessons and free beginner’s lessons for overnight guests. However, if you’re planning a weekend stay, book lessons early as Saturdays and Sundays fill fast.
The staying power of Big Snow Resort
If you’ve stayed on the mountains before, you haven’t really stayed. A recent change in ownership prompted significant upgrades in lodging areas and amenities and consolidated the facilities at both mountains. Between the two mountains, Big Snow Resort features 50 lodge rooms and 40 condos. The Mountaintop Village Chalets on Indianhead are at a 1,900 elevation and offer secluded views without being too far out in the wilderness. Trailside condos on both mountains are situated close to the runs and are perfect for hitting the slopes quickly. Rooms in the main lodge guarantee you are at the center of the action day or night.
“We updated all décor in our hotel rooms including premium mattresses and bedding to bring our guests a more restful stay,” Moon said. “All rooms have new flat screen TVs and the whole resort is equipped with free WIFI service. A free shuttle runs between campuses on weekends and gives guests the pick of activities.”
Both sites offer family cafes, four bar and grill’s with three located at Indianhead’s main lodge, base and summit and one located at Blackjack. Full dinner menus are featured at The Lodge Restaurant in the Indianhead Mountain Main Lodge and Logger’s Lounge at Blackjack Mountain.
The spacious Big Snow Resort Health and Recreation Club located at Indianhead Mountain, is available for all guests during their stay. It features a warm-water indoor pool (with water aerobics classes), giant Jacuzzi, sauna and fitness area. Racquetball, tanning and massage services are available for an additional fee and reservations are required.
Spring fever Upper Peninsula style
Longer days bring out the unconventional weekend celebrations as only residents of the U.P. can do (Yoopers as the residents are commonly called). Events at Big Snow Resort take an eccentric turn and celebrate in a borderline outrageous fashion.
“It’s common to see people skiing in shorts,” said Misty Vander Wolde, Marketing and Group/Event Coordinator at Big Snow Resort. “Guests line up for the annual Pirate Party weekend on Blackjack Mountain that transforms the resort into Blackjack Beach. On the weekend of March 17 & 18, the resort features the Mountaintop Music festival with four stages and 19 live bands.”
A hallmark attraction of the weekend is the annual Bikini Ski Races, and this year there’s a men’s division. Rules clearly state, ‘no ski pants or jackets are allowed during the timed race, swimsuits only.’
Perhaps the most creative celebration is the annual Slush Cup. In this event, participants board or ski down a hill, launch off a modest jump and see who can go furthest across a man-made pool of water. Although some skill is required, the most at risk in this competition is bragging rights.
Add evening bonfires, outdoor grilling areas near the slopes and you have a whole different vibe for late season skiing in Michigan’s snow belt.
Family Fun doesn’t depend on the weather
As part of Big Snow Resort’s improvements, owners added more family-oriented activities.
“Every year we host a lot of families, and not everyone is an expert skier,” says Barry Bolich, General Manager at Big Snow Resort. “Expanded winter activities provide options for everyone. If you’re laid back, there are art classes for kids and adults, a family board game area, Saturday night bonfires, even a Yeti Snow Fort designed just for kids.”
For lively activities, ice skating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, a bungee jump trampoline, or ice-skating are just some of the options.
“We’ve always been family focused,” Bolich said. “In the last few years we’ve organized our facilities and added activities that allow the whole family to enjoy winter and everything it has to offer.”
Big Snow also offers Kinder Country where little ones up to age 8 can play while mom and dad take on the black diamond runs. Full or half day packages provide supervised programming including ski lessons, lift tickets and rental or indoor play options.
Getting to Big Snow
Big Snow Resort is located in the heart of the Western Upper Peninsula snow belt between Bessemer and Wakefield, Michigan, but don’t let that keep you from winter driving. Michigan’s U.S. Highway 2 is one of the most scenic drives in the north country and takes you through lumber country, Wisconsin’s lake district, historic mining country and eventually the north woods. On the way to Big Snow Resort, a side trip to the shores of Lake Superior will only take you a couple miles out of your way.
For more information to plan your spring ski trip, visit bigsnow.com.