Cool places to play and chill
Few regional resorts can match the offerings at one-stop play-and-stay Crystal Mountain; nearby Boyne Mountain comes the closest, with a deluxe spa, an indoor water park and tons of lodging options. Others score high for impressive runs, well-tended facilities, and comfortable, satisfying restaurants. New ownership and an extensive renovation transformed Granite Peak Ski Area in Wausau, Wisconsin, from a so-so stop for skiers into a primo destination for winter -travelers who use one of the town’s bed-and-breakfasts or hotels as a home base. Nearby Sylvan Tubing Hill offers long runs and powered lifts that make going up and down the hills a cinch. Michael’s Supper Club serves twists on steak and seafood dishes, and several microbreweries in Wausau promise flavorful pints and friendly service.
Moody Lake Superior churns near Spirit Mountain Recreation Area in Duluth and Lutsen Mountains (90 miles northeast of Duluth). Lutsen, home to the Midwest’s largest downhill ski resort, has more than 90 runs—known as some of the region’s highest—and a slew of North Woods lodgings, including classy Caribou Highlands Lodge and restful Lutsen Resort. Just 18 miles north on US-61, tiny Grand Marais has worth-the-trip locally sourced dinner destinations along the lake, including the Gun Flint Tavern, the Pie Place Cafe and the Crooked Spoon.
Dogsleds, an art park and more at Crystal
No matter which destination travelers choose, they’ll discover a common delight: The morning after a snowfall, the landscape glistens as if it’s been brushed with vanilla frosting. Back at Crystal Mountain, this scene is best viewed from a dogsled. Two guests bundled in blankets nestle in a sled behind a tail-wagging crew of eight. “Haw-haw-haw!” hollers musher John Fink. On command, the dogs veer left along a tree-lined trail. Lead dog Thor, who raced in Alaska’s Iditarod, guides the others while kicked-up snow tickles riders’ cheeks.
At the opposite end of the resort, more than 40 nature-inspired sculptures dot hilly Michigan Legacy Art Park, where guests enjoy peaceful hiking. Lofty canvas sails attached to tall pine trunks form the captivating Five Needles sculpture, a towering piece of natural art that makes hikers feel tiny. The prickly pines seem far away in the 18,000-square-foot Crystal Spa, where guests wrapped in fleece robes sink into cream, cushioned lounge chairs before their treatments. Facials and massages that combine piping hot towels with heady lavender and mint essential oils await.
At night, bagpipe tunes welcome diners to the Scottish-theme Thistle Pub and Grille. Sweater-clad patrons order crispy potato-crusted Great Lakes walleye, and an acorn squash bowl overflows with risotto and roasted veggies. Tart Michigan cherries swimming in brandy blaze during a tableside cherries jubilee prep. Much like these Midwest resorts, the dessert is a tantalizing combination of excitement and tranquility—the ideal finale to a winter’s day on or off the slopes.