SNOWSHOES
Most people want to try this unique mode of foot travel, but don't own a set of snowshoes. That's okay--in the village area at Park Water's Edge they're available for rent (and it's both inexpensive and a lot of fun). We found that figuring out how to put them on your feet is the real challenge, for walking across even very deep snow in snowshoes is a no-brainer. Be sure and ask the rental folks for detailed instructions about which snowshoe goes on which foot and where and how the straps go across and behind each foot.

One really cool snowshoe adventure (even for the beginner) is to take Crystal Mountain's complimentary shuttle from the snowshoe rental area out to the Michigan Legacy Art Park (10 minutes away), where a 1.6-mile trail loops through a three-acre preserve of wooded hills. Several years ago, Crystal Mountain invited well-known Michigan sculptors to create sculptures, which the resort placed along the Michigan Legacy Art Park trail. In this winter setting, the mix of nature and art reveals some interesting visual synergies that verge on the surreal.

OUR VEHICLE: Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ
There's something about the Bow Tie being on the front of an SUV that helps create a comfort zone when driving in beautiful but treacherous winter conditions. With operator choices that include 2WD, Auto 4WD, 4WD Hi, and 4WD Lo, we felt totally confident about setting out in the hands of whatever Michigan's weather could throw at us. For example, wanting to enjoy breakfast with our group each morning down in the village at the Wild Tomato, we would work our way down from our mountain chalet before the snowplow had a chance to clear the roads. It's not at all unusual for a foot of snow to fall overnight, but each day, our Tahoe LTZ delivered us safely and comfortably down the mountain to feast on the sumptuous epicurean delights the Wild Tomato routinely serves for breakfast.

The Tahoe's fuel economy fell right into the EPA fuel-economy estimates provided by Chevy. Featuring a Vortec 6.2L V-8 with a six-speed automatic transmission, the overall fuel-economy figure we calculated (over 300 miles) was 16 mpg. Equipped with all the goodies, the Tahoe featured a touchscreen navigation system, which was great when visibility issues prevailed in pristine settings and we couldn't work from visual cues. It was especially handy when we took side trips to unfamiliar towns. The options included a CD/DVD player, XM navigation traffic, rearview camera system, rear-seat entertainment system, and a power-sliding sunroof. The MSRP for this Chevy Tahoe is $52,350. Our options brought the price to $57,000 and some change.

OTHER REALLY GOOD STUFF
It may never cross your mind to venture away from Crystal Mountain while you're having the time of your life, but if you're in the right vehicle, we highly encourage you to take a look around. Other things in this virgin area of Michigan are worth seeing, and since we were in the ideal sport/utility for this type of exploring, we set out on a side trip. We weren't disappointed.

Getting behind the wheel of the Tahoe, we drove out to see two lighthouses that have been beacons in the night--especially during storms--for mariners aboard the freighters that have plied the Great Lakes for the last 150 years. Loaded with raw materials or finished products, these lake freighters never stop navigating to and from Detroit, out west to Duluth and Minnesota, and east to the St. Lawrence Seaway--until the locks freeze shut, that is. One lighthouse to visit is at Pt. Betsie, minutes north of the Michigan lakeshore town of Frankfort. The other lighthouse is at the end of the jetty that protects the harbor at Frankfort itself. Watching the roiling waves break against the jetty and lighthouse, you can see the huge walls of layered ice that continue to build as the spray freezes upon contact.

One night, after traversing ice-covered roads through howling winds and blowing snow, we arrived in the town of Benzonia (15 minutes from Crystal Mountain) and at the Roadhouse Mexican Bar & Grill that serves some of the best Mexican food anywhere. We were oblivious to the lake-effect storm roaring outside, as we enjoyed bottles of Corona with slices of lime, chips and salsa, and entres from a menu that is legendary.