TRAVERSE CITY — Last season, COVID-19 interrupted the normal patterns and habits of snowsports enthusiasts at all northern Michigan ski resorts.

After a winter with mask mandates, restrictions of people on lifts, and having to reserve your place on the slopes ahead of time, local ski resorts expect this ski season to be a more normal experience. It is expected to be more like seasons’ past.

Another bit of good news, especially considering the slow start to the ski season last winter, is that several ski resorts are considering opening this weekend or in the near future. The ski season of 2021/22 is underway.

While many resorts dropped some of their COVID-19-related policies, reserving lift tickets online well ahead of the day you desire to ski or ride is still en vogue. Sold-out slope days are still expected this season.

“Right now it does look like this season will be a return to more normal, with the added amenities of indoor dining and no masking requirements for vaccinated individuals. We understand that this is a fluid situation, and we are ready to respond as the pandemic continues to unfold,” said Ben Doornbos, Nubs Nob general manager, when I contacted him.

“Our goal is to welcome skiers and riders back to the slopes and be able to interact with the ski area in a way that they are comfortable. If they feel more comfortable masked that is fine. We will be providing options for folks to enjoy the ski area indoors or outdoors.

“We spent a lot of time this past summer making continued improvements to our winter garden where they can order food and drinks without having to go inside. Radiant heat was added was added to entire winter garden deck, added two more fire pits, and a large new sliding glass door entrance to the lodge for improved guest flow,” Doornbos added.

Lodge restrooms were completely remodeled for easier ingress and regress. A covered magic carpet was added to the free beginner area, another Piston Bully groomer was purchased, and nine new snow guns line the slopes. Nubs routinely has one of the longest seasons in the Midwest.

Hickory Hills is happy to have the new lodge available this winter instead of skiers having to use their vehicles to change and warm up in. It will include food service and an assortment of brand new rental equipment, according to manager Cindy Anderson. New rails for the terrain park have also been added.

Mt. Holiday will also welcome snowsports enthusiasts with an open lodge, rentals and the return of the Kiwanis/Record-Eagle ski school lessons. They also plan on offering a series of freestyle type lesson separate from the ski school, according to manager Josh Rhem.

Boyne Mountain announced a couple major changes coming next year. A peak-to-peak, pedestrian sky bridge is being built between the peaks of McLouth and Disciples Ridge with an anticipated opening in June 2022. It will be the world’s longest timber-towered suspension bridge stretching 1,203 feet, nearly a quarter-mile, and 118 feet high offering panoramic valley views. It will be open year-round. The first eight-passenger chairlift in the Midwest is slated to begin operation at the beginning of next ski season, the winter of 2022/23, replacing Disciples I and II chairlifts, offering about a three-minute ride to the top. It will transform the skiing experience along the ridge, which offers several popular runs.

Dual-frequency RFID technology, direct-to-lift access, for daily lift tickets and season passholders will be available at at both the Mountain and Boyne Highlands. RFID media cards will be available throughout resort grounds.

Lift tickets and season passes can be purchased online, and both offer discount cards, the Mountain’s Cherry Picker Plus and Highland’s Happiness Card, that allow you to save up to 40-percent off daily lift ticket prices. The cards are good for up to five days throughout the season. Both resorts had sold out days last season, and they expect the demand to be as high or higher this season. Plan ahead.

Crystal Mountain also saw a high demand for outdoor activities last season on the slopes, cross-country ski trails and fat tire biking, according to Brittney Buti, public relations manager.

“We expect the same high demand this winter. The one thing we implemented last season for COVID precautions that we will continue this season is the RFID (radio frequency identification device) ticketing and lift gates for chairlift access. It’s direct-to-lift access, which cuts down on time spent waiting in lift ticket lines. We recommend purchasing lift tickets online in advance to guarantee access to the mountain this winter.

Some weekends and especially holiday periods may be sold out.”

Crystal also added more snowmaking firepower with 14 new guns and about three-quarters mile of new piping. They now have five terrain parks, including the return of Michigan’s only Pump Track, enhancing their freestyle terrain.

Treetops Resort will continue to encourage line staging outside as opposed to indoors with lift ticket windows. They also plan to highly encourage mask wearing on the slopes and plan to mandate if necessary. Glade skiing was added last season and additional slope lighting. Their popular outdoor gourmet winter tours — cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and sleigh ride dinners — will continue on weekends in January, February and early March. Indoor dining is available through the resort’s many restaurants.

Shanty Creek added a new tuning center in the Schuss Mountain day lodge as well as new alpine and Nordic equipment rentals. They also improved on-slope lighting for night skiing and added additional snowmaking guns. The popular alpine tubing at Summit Mountain will be offering extended hours this season.

Caberfae Peaks added a new run that will be open this winter, which comes off Smiling Irishman. It will be one of the main runs served by a new chairlift coming next summer that will be ready the winter of 2022/23. It’s the first new run that the Peak has added in years. Much of the old Skyview Lodge was renovated over the summer. Midweek lift tickets are just $39.

Otsego Resort made several improvements over the last couple of years including more lights for night skiing, an expanded tubing park and additional terrain parks. This winter they are also featuring a wine walk, wild game dinner and a craft beer trail, which will be held in December and January. The resort is closed on Monday and Tuesday.

The earlier you purchase lift tickets online instead of waiting to buy them the day you go the more you will save.

Daily ticket window prices at some resorts, especially weekend and holidays, are approaching $100.

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