Skiing in the Midwest is a unique experience. It isn’t the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, or even Vermont – but by no means does that mean it can’t be enjoyable. You’ve just got to approach it with a different attitude. Northern Michigan is incredibly cold in winter, resulting in icy snow and often frigid conditions. That said, the weather can be much more predictable than high altitude resorts so as long as you plan ahead and bring proper gear, enjoying even the coldest days is doable.
Lift tickets are typically around $40-50 and night skiing is available for an additional charge, so you’re not getting gouged out of the gate like at so many bigger resorts. For the cheapest tickets, buy online here.
Shanty Creek is located just outside of Bellaire, a small tourist town and popular golf destination about an hour north of Traverse City, alongside Lake Bellaire. Bellaire itself is more than welcoming, with a laid-back beach town vibe and super friendly locals. I spent a week there during summer playing golf and hanging out on the beaches of Lake Bellaire, and came back in the winter to snowboard and spend the week with a family that lives in the area.
I know what you’re thinking – why is a guy from Colorado going on a ski trip to Michigan? Believe me, I had my doubts- but ended up with a memorable experience and a few good, if icy, days on the hill.
Shanty Creek Resort offers on-mountain lodging that actually allows skiers that stay at Summit Village or Cedar River village to ski down the mountain from their condo, something that is a bit weird given that starting the day almost always requires jumping on a lift first thing. The resort is made up of three villages- Summit Village, Cedar River, and Schuss Village. Each offer lodging and limited dining/nightlife, with Schuss Village offering the best apres scene.
The resort features 52 trails and a peak elevation of 1,125 feet. Not big alpine by any calculation, and there aren’t any double black runs. 51% of the runs are classified as black, however. Blue and black runs each make up 24% of the total- Shanty Creek is a great place to go for beginner to intermediate level skiers and riders, or with larger groups because there is something for everyone. The resort averages 180 inches of snowfall per year.
Flights into Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City are much more affordable than flying into Bellaire itself, but for cheapest airfare fly into Detroit and then drive the 3.5-4 hours, or Grand Rapids and drive the 2.5 hours to Bellaire. I recommend staying in Bellaire, where the lodging is more affordable and it’s easy to take advantage of solid nightlife and dining.
Shanty Creek Resort runs a bus from the resort to town in the afternoon and evenings, cutting off at 11 pm. Antrim County, where Bellaire and Shanty Creek Resort are located, has a bus and taxi service that require advance reservations but only costs a few dollars each way and can get you to the hill. However, if you have a rental car or personal vehicle, you’ll save a lot of time by just driving yourself. It’s a small town with just over 1,000 full-time residents, so navigating the area is pretty easy to do.
Where the locals are riding
The face of Schuss Mountain rising from the village highlights the resort’s steepest and fastest terrain. Kingdom Come and Goosebumps are fun runs that allow for wide turns and are long by Michigan standards. For park rats, the mountain features the Monster Energy Terrain Park which is comprised of two separate runs – Purple Haze and The Natty. The park scene at Shanty Creek is about as solid as you’ll find this side of Nub’s Nob and offers a challenge to distract from the lack of extreme terrain.
Summit Mountain is the place to be on the occasional powder day or anytime the snow is soft. White Downs and Sunlending on either side of the double lift are two of the best runs at Shanty Creek, with steeper pitch and moguls making for challenging turns.
Where to eat and drink
I’m not a member of Shanty Creek’s Mountain Creek Club, and I’ll go out on a limb and guess that you aren’t either- so eating at The Pub at Schuss Mountain isn’t an option. I’m also not going to recommend ski area cafeteria food anywhere, but if you’re a fan of overpriced boil-in-a-bag crap you can get plenty of that on-mountain. There are, however, a few places to check out near the resort starting with Sarducci’s Creekside. A casual pub with pizza as well as Italian and American fare, Sarducci’s is a laid back, independently-owned restaurant with a good dinner-time atmosphere.
Toonie’s Fish and Steakhouse at 216 N. Bridge St. will take care of the seafood fix, which for me is a necessity in a waterfront town. They serve local Great Lakes fish including an amazing Whitefish dish. This place is exactly what you want in a seafood house – laid back, plenty of beer flowing, and menu options even for those who can’t or won’t eat fish.
While in Bellaire, you absolutely must stop at Short’s Brewing Company at 121 N Bridge Street. I visited this place a few times, and will gladly drink their beer anytime I see it. They’ve got hand-made pizza and pub food that’s as delicious as the beer. Be sure to try the Pier Magic and The Magician.
Where to party
On-mountain, the River Bistro is the best apres-ski party spot, with pool tables and entertainment at the base of Schuss Mountain’s purple lift. For nightlife, Bridge Street in the center of Bellaire is the place to be. In the back of the Moka bakery at 102 N. Bridge Street, Starlight Lounge is a great place to head after dinner in Bellaire. They’re only a block from Short’s, so I recommend starting with dinner and ample beers and then walking over to the Starlight Lounge for cocktails and more festive drinking activities.
Bellaire Bar and Restaurant at 217 N. Bridge Street is a local’s favorite and is open till 2 AM. Laid back, divey feel that is very welcoming.
Where to stay
There aren’t any hostels in the area, so unless you’ve got a buddy or want to do couch surfing, you’re looking at a hotel or motel. Of course, you can stay at Shanty Creek Resort and get a lodging and lift ticket package for between $100 and $400, depending on when you go. For more budget-friendly options, All Seasons Motel is a good, cheap option for basic lodging in town.
Stone Waters Inn is a bit classier and features a pool table and nice hot tub to relax after the day on-hill. Other cheap hotel options are available in the area, but I recommend staying in Bellaire to take advantage of the town’s unique vibe and fun atmosphere.
Bellaire and Shanty Creek attract a lot of tourists from around Michigan, and if you know anything about Michiganders you know that they are super laid back people who frequently use their hand as a map. You won’t find any of the attitude of high-class ski resorts like Aspen at Shanty Creek, that crowd wouldn’t even give this place the time of day.
Both the resort and town of Bellaire are casual, and while geared to tourism they remain approachable and welcoming even for beginner skiers. If you’re looking for an affordable, all-encompassing place to take a ski trip in the mid-west, Shanty Creek is a solid option.