In today's jargon, it's popular to talk about the perfect storm, where a combination of circumstances and forces converge and create a situation of huge and perfect proportion. Such is the case on the left coast of lower Michigan, just south of Traverse City and minutes from the shores of Lake Michigan. Here the topography presents rolling mountains with vertical drops reaching 400 feet and a natural snow generator (Lake Michigan) that between November and April creates 125 inches of the finest snow found anywhere (also known as lake-effect snow).
In this winter wonderland, modern-day entrepreneurs have created the Crystal Mountain ski area, a playground that attracts and caters to tens of thousands of outdoor winter enthusiasts who come from across the heartland of America. We weren't familiar with it, but as soon as we heard about it, we wanted to learn first-hand why folks travel such great distances to vacation there. Arriving in a four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ, we had the experience of being totally immersed in challenging winter driving conditions and in the process came to fully appreciate the utility, functionality, and pure luxury this 2009 SUV routinely delivers.
DOWNHILL, SNOWBOARDING, AND CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING
With 45 slopes on 85 manicured acres of skiable area, Crystal Mountain offers a nice mix of terrain to accommodate all levels of downhill-skiing ability. Of those slopes, 27 percent are rated as easy, 47 percent intermediate, and 26 percent difficult, plus Crystal Mountain features 27 slopes that are lit for night skiing until 10 p.m., seven days a week during the season. And when temperatures dip below 28 degrees F and the occasional day comes along when there is no lake-effect snow, the resort's 125-plus snow guns (capable of covering 98 percent of the skiable terrain) deliver 1500 tons of manmade snow per hour. With its nine lifts, Crystal Mountain routinely serves a quarter-million skiers a year.
Crystal Mountain pays special attention to the needs of the snowboard enthusiast and those who want to become snowboard enthusiasts. It has designed and engineered a 600-foot-long groomed half-pipe into the one of the mountain ski runs, designed to test the mettle of those where the thrill of operating on the cusp of being out of control is in their DNA. Snowboarding is allowed on all 45 of Crystal Mountain's slopes, with lessons for beginning snowboarders as well as for beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiing. For snowboarders there is also Tuck's Terrain Park, and for the total novice there is one called Giggles where the necessary skill sets can be learned. On the staff of 70 ski and/or snowboard instructors, 97 percent are Level 1, certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America, the American Association of Snowboard Instructors, or both. Even if you've never been on a pair of cross-country skis, instructors like Scott Wilson can have you mastering the basics in 30 minutes and enjoying the miles of groomed cross-country trails that lace the 1500-acre property. Ingenious use of the huge open areas magically turns this acreage into a premier golf course during the summer months. This is as pristine a place as you could possibly hope for to learn and enjoy cross-country skiing. We saw Scott take a group of beginners and in minutes have all of them negotiating the groomed trails, enjoying their newfound skill set.