Looking for a driveable ski resort from Chicago? At first glance, you might dismiss Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa in Thompsonville, Michigan, given its seemingly small 375-foot vertical drop, which hardly seems worth the five-plus hour drive to upper Michigan. But try not to judge a ski resort by its stats: Crystal Mountain packs a punch with interesting runs and the kind of high-touch resort experience more commonly found out West. Crystal Mountain is typically open for ski through the end of March. And with all the snow it’s received so far this year—186 inches compared to an annual average of 125—now is the time to go. Here’s why Crystal Mountain is worth the trip:
1. A Fun Mountain
The mountain may be short but boasts excellent and varied terrain across 85 acres. Most of the 48 runs are designed for intermediate skiers and include moguls, gentle winding runs, steep and wide descents, loads of tree-lined trails to jump off on, NASTAR racing, and boardercross-style trails. All are serviced by notably fast chair lifts, including the ski-under Loki Quad, which transports you by moving walkway to the chair. Be sure to check out Buckaroo, Buck Glades, and Gorge Glades, three new black-diamond runs added this season. Lifts start at $50 for adults, $45 for ages 13 to 17, $40 for ages 7 to 12, and free for ages six and under (buy in advance online and save up to 40 percent).
2. Great Amenities
A family-owned ski resort, Crystal Mountain delivers way more than you’d expect in the Midwest. The resort village is instantly charming and leaves you feeling like you have arrived somewhere. A main drag and paved paths connect shops, a full-service spa, an ice rink, and an activities center where you can book dog sledding experiences ($75 a person) and rent fat tire bikes ($10 an hour). There’s also a bar facing the runs, a small grocery store, and several restaurants. Try the upscale Thistle Pub & Grill, with its coffered ceilings criss-crossed by giant wood beams, which also has an awesome kid’s menu (order the rainbow trout and beef tenderloin). Speaking of kids, drop them off for lessons at the two-acre Totem Park with its easy wonder carpets. Adults will love the instruction at the ski and snowboard school, run by Ron Sheppard, formerly with Deer Valley ski resort in Park City.
3. Cozy Lodgings for Everyone
Lodging options—peppered across the village, into the woods, and even at the top of the mountain—are abundant and adorable. Families who want space and convenience should book the Cottages at Water’s Edge (from $199) or the brightly colored Bungalows at Crystal Glen (from $259), which are walking distance to everything. Couples might like the condos at the Scottish-inspired Kinlochen (from $169). Those who want ski-in/ski-out access should go for a Mountain Top condo (from $289). All rates are per person per day and include lift tickets.
While you’re in the area: For an interesting excursion on the way back to Chicago, stop at the Michigan shore to explore the crazy ice caves that have formed during this crazy winter.
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