Thursday, February 24, 2011

Shanty Creek Resorts an up north winter wonderland

I'm always amazed at the transformation that occurs at Michigan's top golf resorts in winter.

Some don't look like golf resorts at all. They look like they were made to be ski resorts down to every last detail.

Take Shanty Creek Resorts for instance.

I’ve always viewed Shanty Creek Resorts in tiny Bellaire through green-colored glasses. Shanty Creek’s The Legend and Cedar River are two of my favorite golf courses in the entire state.

I never knew the uphill driving range at Cedar River transformed seamlessly into a fun, speedy six-lane race course for tubing (see below). It even has its own ski lift of sorts, a rope that pulls riders sitting in their tube to the top of the hill. I call it luxury sledding because you get to skip the worst part of the whole activity: walking uphill dragging your ride.

Nor did I realize that the hillside leading to the first fairway at The Legend – which tumbles dramatically downhill – serves as a makeshift home for youngsters sledding. Where were those beautiful golf courses I adore? Buried in bunches of snow.

My “oh wow” moment at Shanty Creek Resorts came while standing atop the slopes behind the Lakeview Hotel & Conference Center.

On the horizon, out past the snowy Summit Village’s ski slopes, the setting sun hung over Lake Bellaire like a night light, shimmering hues of orange, pink and yellow. It was a cool northern Michigan lightshow (see top photo).

I got to experience the resort from a new perspective on a blustery February weekend – with skis instead of golf clubs, with white ski trails instead of green fairways. It was a real treat.

Shanty Creek’s two mountains, the Summit and Schuss, deliver thrills and spills with 53 well-groomed runs and 450 feet of vertical terrain. Snowboarders can ride through four terrain parks and a half-pipe. Cross-country skiers can revel in 31 kilometers of trails.

Shanty Creek’s three villages – Summit, Schuss and Cedar River (see the bottom photo) – ensure there’s something for everyone. Staying at the Summit village is perfect for younger and beginner skiers like those in my family. The slopes aren’t as steep as they are at Schuss, and there’s an indoor pool and hot tub to relax in. The hotel is fresh off a $10 million renovation. The timber-laden Grand Lobby and the Lakeview Restaurant & Lounge, good for fine dining or a casual breakfast buffet, overlooks the slopes and Lake Bellaire. Our spacious, modern room had a fireplace and kitchen. We could have stayed there a week and not felt cramped, crowded or homesick.

Schuss Mountain had one amenity – the Magic Carpet – that my children missed when skiing at Summit. It’s so much easier to step onto the moving escalator than trying to arm-wrestle a tow rope. Schuss is also home to Ivan’s, a tavern-style restaurant that serves all the comfort foods people crave when on vacation. At night it’s a hoppin’ joint with live music or a deejay and dancing.

We didn’t have time to explore all the trappings of the resort in winter. Friday nights, there’s free popcorn and hot chocolate and family movie night in the Lakeview lobby. Dog sled rides, sleigh rides, music/magic shows – all at Schuss Mountain – and the Summit Scavenger Hunt provide nonstop action on Saturdays. (Sleigh rides are Sundays, too.). Snow schools were packed the weekend we visited.

All this comes at affordable prices. Shanty Creek touts the “Midwest’s Most Affordable Ski Package,” including the Summit Ski package starting at $75 per person on weekends and the Midweek Ski package starting at $54 per person. Both require a two-night minimum and include lodging in a condo guestroom, two-day ski passes and complimentary skiing on your arrival night. Children under 8 ski free and those under 12 eat free. Day passes to ski at Summit can cost as low as $18.

I’ve always thought of golf as the ultimate family sport, but every time I go skiing with my wife and two kids, I start to realize how much more bonding occurs on the slopes than the fairways. My children, ages 6 and 8, are in their second seasons of skiing, so it’s been fun teaching them the few tricks I know. I can’t take my 6-year-old golfing, so skiing already has a leg up on golf in that regard.

By the looks of things around here, winter isn’t going away anytime soon. There’s still plenty on tap at the resort:

March 5-6, Mardi Gras and Slush Cup Weekend: An up north Cajun celebration on the slopes of Schuss Mountain with bead bobbing, a frozen-fish toss, shovel races, dummy darts, Mardi Gras Party and much more. Included in this celebration is Shanty Creek’s most popular winter event – a racecourse on an icy 40′ pond.

March 7–11, Friends of Facebook Week: “Friends” of Shanty Creek Resorts on Facebook will be privy to exclusive deals.

March 12–13, Irish Weekend: All things Irish will fill this weekend plus the annual downhill Cardboard Classic. Utilizing only cardboard, glue and tape for their sleds, contestants will race down the ski slopes at Schuss Mountain.

March 14–18, Canadian Week: Our friendly neighbors to the north can score some deals.

March 26, The Schuss Mountain Snow Challenge: This unique and exciting off road truck race, in its third year, features side-by-side racing up the snow covered face of Schuss Mountain’s Good Knight run. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes will participate. The cost for competitors is $20.00 per vehicle entry.

It took me years to figure out – I gave up skiing for 10 years before taking it up again last year – that it just doesn’t pay to fight Mother Nature. A mid-winter visit to Shanty Creek might help you learn appreciate the cold, too, even if you’re secretly waiting for the snow to melt. Like me.

Visit for more.