It’s 2012? Well, Let’s Go Out and Enjoy Some WINTER!

Silly hat, happy snowshoer -- at the Pelizzari Natural Area.
Silly hat, happy snowshoer — at the Pelizzari Natural Area.

By MIKE NORTON

Winter and I were not always friends.

I grew up in the city, where this time of year meant dark gray skies, dirty gray slush, icy sidewalks and wet feet. Skiing was something rich people did. Snowshoes were for Eskimos. As soon as I could get away from it, I did – first to Florida and then to California. How could I ever have foreseen how much I’d come to love the winter season once I moved to Traverse City?

Here, winter is a different creature entirely.  Maybe it’s this rolling, glacier-carved terrain with all its wide vistas and high lookouts; maybe it’s the predominance of pine, spruce, hemlock and fir (so much prettier in winter than those scraggly hardwoods). Or maybe it’s just that rural settings are better suited to winter than cityscapes.

The secret, of course, is that you have to embrace winter in all its chilly wonder – and although some people can do this while looking out the window, I find I just have to get outdoors and do something. Doesn’t matter what, really — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking (until the lake freezes) or just tramping around in the woods.

And here’s the payoff: to come around a corner on the trail and see a herd of deer raise their heads, steam snorting from their noses as they look at you and silently bound off into the trees. To stand in the moonlight in a forest clearing as a fine dusting of diamond-bright powder sifts through the branches around you. To emerge from the woods onto a high bluff at Sleeping Bear, the broad blue sweep of Lake Michigan below you like a giant polished turquoise, and feel as though you’re the first (or last) person on Earth.

Speaking from personal experience, I know that winter-sports newbies can sometimes be discouraged by all the unfamiliar gear, terminology and techniques they’re confronted with. But really, it’s a lot easier and a lot less expensive than you think. And fortunately, there are all kinds of people and organizations here in the Traverse City area who are eager to help you get into your winter groove.

This Saturday for instance, the folks from the Vasa Ski Club, Traverse Trails and Brick Wheels are holding their annual Winter Trails Day at Timber Ridge Resort.  Winter Trails Day is a nationwide event that offers children and adults new to snow sports the chance to try snowshoeing and cross-country skiing free. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., they’ll be providing free ski lessons, free demos and free use of snowshoes and skis (both classic and skate styles). (You do have to register ahead of time, so there’ll be enough equipment to go around, but you can do it on line at www.traversetrails.org)

Another wonderful program starts this week at Shanty Creek Resorts and other Michigan ski areas. It’s called Discover Michigan Skiing & Snowboarding, and it’s being sponsored by the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association. All through January (Monday through Friday at 1:30 p.m. at Schuss Mountain and on Saturdays and Sundays at Summit Mountain) novice skiers and snowboarders can receive lessons, lift tickets and equipment for a low fee of $30 for skiers and $40 for snowboarders.

Downhilling at Shanty Creek's Schuss Mountain
Downhilling at Shanty Creek’s Schuss Mountain

Speaking of Shanty Creek, this is college week, when college students can qualify for big savings simply by flashing their student ID cards. And on Saturday, Shanty brings back one of its strangest retro traditions – the Sardine Special, where you’re encouraged to jam as many people as possible into your car for a flat lift-ticket fee of $100 per carload all day at Schuss Mountain.

If you’d rather improve your knowledge of winter wildlife, the Boardman River Nature Center is putting on a very different kind of outdoor experience on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s called Snowbird Bingo. Here’s how it works: you stop by the Nature Center on Cass Road and pick up a Bird Hike Bingo card, then head out to the nearby hiking trail. As you hike, mark off all of the birds you see – only birds that winter in Northern Michigan are in the game – and if you get BINGO, bring your card back to the Nature Center for a prize.

(By the way, if you haven’t been to the Nature Center yet, you’re missing a splendid way to learn about the amazing natural wonders in our own backyard, no matter what time of year it is!)

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About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
This entry was posted in nature, Outdoor Sports, Shanty Creek, skiing, Sleeping Bear, winter and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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