Embrace the cold on the Leelanau Peninsula

IMG_3038Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

With full winter now upon us, it’s time to embrace the cold and get some snow time scheduled. In my family, only one of us likes to ski or be outside at all in the cold. As a result, we needed a weekend escape that combined my husband’s love of sitting by a warm fire, wine glass in hand, and my desire to get my schuss on. Luckily for us, Northern Michigan offers both.

We decided to head to the Leelanau Peninsula, above Traverse City. The area features an entire wine trail for my husband to choose from, and to check out my ski legs, I could spend some time at the small, eight-run Hickory Hills Ski Area.

While we like the larger resorts of Crystal Mountain and Boyne, I hadn’t skied at Hickory Hills before, and it seemed like a good compromise location. Hickory Hills began operations before I was born, on 12 acres owned by Traverse City. Now it occupies nearly 125 acres. I knew I’d get a workout, since the hill only offers rope tows instead of chair lifts.

For sustenance, we stopped for fondue at the Hearth & Vine restaurant on the Black Star Farms estate. The cheese in the fondue was Leelanau Cheese Company’s raclette cut with a cherry brandy to ensure the right consistency for dipping the bread.

I’d like to come back up to the farm for one of their harvest dinners, a six-course extravaganza paired with their wines. How about a Valentine’s weekend stay, in our favorite suite with a fireplace and enjoying the root vegetables and chocolate tasting menu? The chocolate sounds perfect, but I’m not sure about root vegetables. I would just have to trust Chef Jonathan Dayton to make turnips, parsnips, potatoes and carrots into six wonderful courses.

In the meantime, we sampled just a few wines from the extensive list of varietal wines and unique spirits at the Barrel Tasting Room.

We did a quick tour of downtown Suttons Bay before heading to our overnight stay with friends. Next weekend, Jan. 30, will be a great time to visit this charming town, as they are having their annual YetiFest, in honor of that mythical snow creature. There will be a Yeti Variety Show, with a look-alike contest, a Yeti Stew cook-off and a Library Yeti Discovery program. This is not to be missed for all big, hairy Yeti aficionados.

While in the area, my husband toured two of his favorite wineries, L. Mawby and Ciccone. Ciccone Vineyard and Winery has the distinction of having been founded by pop singer Madonna’s father, Tony Ciccone. The Old World tasting room features wines bottled on the estate.

Larry Mawby’s tasting room sports a sign saying, “Welcome Bubbleheads,” and the charming tasting room offers at least two sparkling wines for tasting, free of charge.

Coming up Feb. 6-7 along the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail is “Taste the Passion,” an annual celebration of wine, chocolate and love. Participants pick their own course on the wine trail between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday and 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday.

You might have noticed I haven’t written much about the skiing. It turns out I wasn’t quite yet ready for ski season. After a run down the intermediate slope, I ended up sitting by the fireplace, nursing my knee. The good news is that I have several more months of the cold white stuff, and I can hit the slopes again. My husband has more wineries to visit, too.

Michigan’s winter wonderland of fun

Published in The Battle Creek Enquirer January 17, 2014

Even with the bitter cold this month, many Michiganders live for the winter season and all of its outside activities. My winter sport is downhill skiing, while my husband prefers to stay by the fire and drink hot, spiced wine (he had a falling out with the bunny slope many years ago). Snowboarding is the preferred sport for my daughter and her group.

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No matter what you love or where you live in Michigan, however, you can easily find one of the 51 ski areas, more than 260 chairlifts, 1,000 runs and 50 terrain parks.

Locally, we have skied at both Bittersweet and Timber Ridge ski areas. It’s a great thing to be able to be on the hill after a 45-minute drive from home. Bittersweet is located in Otsego. They offer night skiing, which can be a fun change of pace. Some 20 runs offer a variety of terrain for all levels of skiers. My daughter learned to ski using the Wondercarpet to go up the hill. You just step on the non-slip surface and ride. That’s a big improvement over the old fashioned rope tow I remember. My husband likes the heated patio as the place to sip his beverage of choice.

Just eight miles away is Timber Ridge ski area in Gobles, which offers 15 trails named after trees. I like the quad chair, which carries four skiers at a time and moves a lot of people up the hill in a very short time. The Lodge, with its big windows, is a nice place to warm up and keep an eye on the slopes. The Snowshoe Bar has all the usual skiers’ fare like pizza and chili. A nicer than usual picnic area is provided for those of us who like to pack our own lunch.

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For a long weekend of skiing, we like to go up north. Crystal Mountain is located in Thompsonville near Traverse City. It’s a nice-sized resort with 45 runs. We’ve stayed in a Mountainside Townhouse with five bedrooms and a ski-in/ski-out location. We’ve also stayed at the Inn (Kinlochen), Pinehurst Condos and Mountain Top.

Kinlochen was our favorite for its location at the bottom of the lifts and the proximity of the Thistle Pub and Grille on the first floor. Favorites at the Pub include a smoked turkey and pesto sandwich, the Mountain Burger and macaroni and cheese. The outdoor hot tub, indoor swimming pool and Peak Fitness Center are all great ways to spend your non-slope time. After a hard day of skiing, a visit to Crystal Spa was high on my list.

Boyne is a larger resort with two separate mountains and 115 runs. We’ve only been to Boyne once. Between Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands, you can find 18 different styles of resorts, hotels and cottages. Everett’s, located in the Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa, serves a really good steak and has a nice fireplace. My husband approved of their extensive wine list.

Until the end of January, you can learn to ski at a deep discount at many ski areas across the state. Check out the “Discover Michigan Skiing Value Voucher.” The voucher entitles you to a beginner lesson, ski or snowboard rental equipment and a beginner-area ski lift pass or cross-country trail pass all for a fraction of the regular cost. Find more information online at goskimichigan.com.

Time to hit the slopes.

 

Enjoy a Ski Vacation with no Snow

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer 4/15/2012

We were pushing our luck planning a ski trip the first week of April. Topnotch Resort in the Green Mountains of Vermont was our choice. We nursed a small hope for one last skiing and snowboarding hurrah until we got to the hotel and were told by everyone that skiing was really not an option—no snow even though the mountain was still open. So what do you do on a ski trip with no snow?

Eat, swim and have spa appointments, of course! Tennis was part of the schedule, too (and Topnotch has a world-renowned tennis program)! Luckily for us, Stowe is a charming destination no matter what the season. As the mountain was closing, everything was “on sale.” Our room rate was the lowest of the year, and spa appointments were two-for-one. When planning vacations, look for what the travel industry calls the shoulder season—that time in-between a destination’s low and high seasons. If you can travel then, you get the best prices and uncrowded places, but you do roll the dice on the weather.

TopNotch is a full service resort with a top-rated spa and tennis program. Great for those who actually want to exercise and improve their game and for those of us for whom lounging around the pool is the full extent of our interest in exercise. We had lots of choices between inside and outside hot tubs and swimming pools. With the sun shining, outside was almost warm enough to catch a few rays, jumping between the heated pool and the steaming hot tub. The beautiful Green Mountains frame every vista from the pool and spa area.

At the spa, I sampled the seasonal smoothie wrap that combined combines a sugar body polish with a seasonal enzyme mask to smooth and polish my winter rough skin—yummy and relaxing.  My newly pampered toes soon sported the latest t color of the season! To me, it looked like orange, but some might call it pink. I just call it a topline pedicure, heaven.

Over at the indoor tennis facility, other family members were getting tips from Milan Kubala, Director of Tennis who came to TopNotch from the Midland Community Tennis Center in Michigan.  He now heads one of the foremost tennis programs in the country.

Stowe is a quaint town of 4,300 souls and boasts almost as many restaurants as Boston. Our first stop was at Frida’s Taqueria & Grill, a high-quality Mexican restaurant with quick service, good prices and a killer margarita. We needed a pasta fix, so we stopped at Pie in the Sky. The pizza looked tempting, but we loaded up on huge plates of pasta and bowls of salad. Two other poplar stops were The Bagel, where they make their own fresh bagels every day and the Harvest, an upscale deli and market. Absolutely fabulous desserts at Harvest included scones and cream cheese brownies.

Stowe is near the home of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream’s biggest factory in Waterbury. A tour of their facilities—complete with the testing of a new flavor—was a great way to pass a few hours. Ben and Jerry’s is a great story of two friends who turned a five-dollar correspondence course into a highly successful international ice cream company.

On our last ski tip to Stowe, there was lots of snow but it was 10 below zero, grey and blustery. I think I almost prefer, sunny, blue skies and high 60s, even without any of the white stuff!