Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An eye-opening family ski trip to Crystal Mountain Resort

I’ve been to Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa in Thompsonville, southwest of Traverse City, a handful of times over the years.

But I’ve never seen this northern Michigan resort sparkle like a jewel in the snow until last week. It was a new experience for me. I’m used to reveling in sun-drenched fairways on the resort’s two courses.

Seeing the ski trails was an eye-opener. It made me wonder why did I ever retire from skiing in the first place?

It was easy to see why Crystal Mountain has been named the No. 1 ski resort in the Midwest by a respected ski magazine. There were so many entertainment options my family ran out of time to try everything.

My children – ages 7 and 5 – are new to skiing. Thankfully the resort caters to all ages. The “bunny hill” is separate from the main ski area, allowing beginners plenty of time and space to hone their budding skills. My kids found the Crystal Carpet, a sort of hands-free escalator that people ride to the top of the hill, much friendlier to use than a tow rope. Riding the Crystal Clipper, the fastest ski lift in the Midwest, was a little too much stimulation for my children on the main hill. As they get older, though, I’m sure they’ll appreciate the chance to get a few more runs in because of its speed.

By the end of our three-day trip, my 7-year-old skied well enough to conquer a “more difficult” blue run and my 5-year-old amazingly survived the easiest green run all by herself. They can’t wait to go again. They even tried ice skating for the first time by renting a pair of double-bladed skates.

We spent our time off the hill lounging in our spacious, 3-bedroom Cottage at Water’s Edge watching the Winter Olympics snuggled up to a warm fireplace and sitting in the nearby outdoor hot tub. One night, we rode a horse-carriage with several other families through the darkness before ending with a bonfire, roasted marsh mellows and hot chocolate. A chance to go dog-sledding or swimming in the brand new fitness center will just have to wait for next time.

Over the years, I’ve skied on some bigger mountains – Mt. Baker and Stevens Pass in Washington and Big Sky in Montana and Searchmont Resort in Canada – but I kind of lost touch with the sport. This visit made me realize that we don’t have to fly to Florida for winter break to have fun with the family. I’ll probably always be a golfer at heart who loves the sun, but thanks to Crystal Mountain, I now realize even winter can be a hoot.

Friday, February 12, 2010

King's Challenge now called Manitou Passage Golf Club

First came the chocolate golf ball in the mail, a mysterious gift signaling something was brewing on the Michigan golf scene.

The next day, the mystery was solved when another package arrived ... a Manitou Passage Golf Club hat revealed the new logo and name for the former King's Challenge Golf Club in Cedar.

The changes officially signal a new era for the club, which was purchased last year by a group of investors, led by Bob Kuras, the president of The Homestead, a fabulous resort in Glen Arbor.

I was the first golf writer to visit the site for a tour of the potential changes (read more here) to the course last June, while construction of the new clubhouse was in full swing. The plans were ambitious but necessary to revive the neglected property. The course opened last July but continues to undergo changes, and more TLC, to enhance the Arnold Palmer-designed course.

"While working on the new tee boxes for No. 8, we discovered a view of Lake Michigan's Manitou Passage," Kuras says. "Immediately, we realized that name was the tie to Leelanau County."

The new Web site,, is still under construction, but a message on the front page hints at a grand opening this summer and a $5,000 sweepstakes to celebrate the event.

Those who attend the Grand Rapids Golf Show this weekend can stop by The Homestead booth for the club to find out more about tee times and rates this summer.