The best downhill ski options in Michigan


Dave Riley

Ben Riley ready to test the slopes.

Ben Riley

What state has the most ski resorts? Colorado and Utah would both be safe bets, but they fall to the number four and twelve spots, respectively. The state to claim that title (drum roll please) is New York with 50 downhill ski areas, followed by our very own Mitten with 41. Of course, none of these 41 boast the vertical or snowfall that resorts out west do, but there are some quality turns to be had in Michigan. Here are some of the best. 


  1. Bittersweet Ski Area

Terrain: 4.6/10

The best part about Bittersweet is their park. Their crew does a great job building rails and updates the features frequently to keep things interesting. The jumps however are a bit of a sore spot, as the landings can be any combination of too flat, steep, short, or long. If the jump doesn’t closely follow the projectile of a skier flying off, then the skier will take a major impact, instead of being softly cradled by a carefully crafted landing. Jumps like these are not only unenjoyable to ride, but also unsafe. As for the rest of the terrain, there isn’t a whole lot of variety. Most of the runs are flat and short, and what Bittersweet claims to be “black diamond” terrain is utter propaganda. Bittersweet’s 20 runs are all on one East facing slope, and what you see from the bottom is what you get. They recently opened up a brand new run that wraps around the right side of the hill (for someone at the bottom) that is a little longer of a ride, but nothing impressive. I do not recommend skiing in the trees here, none of the underbrush is cleared out, and rocks hidden under not enough snow are prevalent. I’ve had sparks come off my skis going through the woods, and I stopped tree skiing here when I started paying for my own skis. The bottom line here is that nobody expects a whole lot with only 350 feet of vertical. When I ski here I usually end up lapping the park and hitting rails.


Snow: 3.9/10 

It seems like every time I go to Bittersweet it is a sheet of ice. Snowmaking covers the entire hill, but the base is never too deep anywhere. They groom the slopes daily, but the corduroy disappears within the first two hours of the ski day and what is under the top layer of snow is usually ice or dirt. Being the farthest south on this list doesn’t do Bittersweet any favors, as the weather in Michigan this far south is warmer and not as snowy. I will say that this year has been a lot better in terms of weather and snow than most. Compared with other resorts though, Bittersweet’s snow is well below average. 


Infrastructure: 6.7/10 

Recent renovations to the lodge improve this score by quite a bit from what it would have been a few years ago. They are also in the process of working on a new detachable high-speed chair to complement the Sweet Express. Bittersweet is packed on weekends, so this new lift will help keep the lines down. The rest of the lifts are not high speed, have limited padding, and are uncomfortable to sit on. As these current renovations wrap up, this score will only get better. 


Hot Chocolate: 4.4/10 

Overpriced and watery. Served way too hot and will burn your tongue


Overall Score: 5.3 

I gave Bittersweet a boost from the average because this is the best skiing the furthest south in Michigan. They do the best they can with what they are given, and considering the circumstances it isn’t all that bad. 


  1. Schuss Mountain


Terrain: 6.1/10 

The terrain at Schuss isn’t anything new. Wide variety of runs, no flat spots that you have to work hard to get across, two terrain parks, and some trees to ski between. 


Snow: 5.7/10

The man-made snow here is more granular than most, and it feels like you’re skiing in corn. Decent natural snowfall makes up for this though, and aside from early and late season conditions, artificial snow is seldom the top layer. 


Infrastructure: 5.0/10

To encourage guests to buy overpriced cafeteria food, Schuss does not allow outside food or drink in the conveniently located main lodge at the base of the hill. This lodge is beautifully furnished with a cozy fire to set the scene. However, skiers who bring their own food must use the picnic lunch area, which is basically a trailer that is falling apart without any heating. There aren’t any high-speed lifts. Lifts are in satisfactory condition. 


Hot Chocolate: 3.9/10

Very watery, has a metallic taste. Terrible 


Average Score: 5.2/10 Adjusted Overall Score: 6.0/10 Schuss gets a boost because the hot chocolate and the infrastructure ratings bring down the average, and unfairly represent how fun it is to ski here. 


  1. Crystal Mountain 


Terrain: 5.7/10

Crystal has a wide variety of terrain. A nice park, some tree skiing, meandering groomers, and even some steeps. On the front of the mountain, there are two steep peaks, which in my opinion offer the best skiing here. Each peak has a chairlift, and are pretty much the two boundaries of the main side of the hill. Between these two peaks lies a valley and my main issue with Crystal’s terrain. A good portion of the traffic from the peaks converges to this spot, which makes it difficult to navigate (but also fun to weave through all of the people). The valley is flat for a while before the bottom of the hill, and skiing down it is so darn slow. These slow and unsuspecting skiers also make perfect targets to the riders knocking excess snow off their skis from the chairs above. It is located right in the middle of the hill so it’s pretty much inevitable that you ski down it multiple times a day. There are other areas on the hill where it is a struggle to generate speed, and oftentimes my arms ache from poling my way on the flat sections. 


Snow: 6.6/10

Nothing bad to say about the snow here, but also nothing special. They fire the snow guns early and often, and usually have a good base by mid-December. There are a lot of south-facing slopes here, so when the sun is out in the spring the snow can melt pretty quickly. 


Infrastructure: 7.3/10 

A high-speed quad right where the main traffic empties out keeps the lines down, and all the other lifts are in great shape. The lodge situation is similar to that of Schuss, except Crystal doesn’t even have a picnic lunch area anymore. They cater more to people who pay to stay overnight. Plenty of ski in ski out condos on the hill that overlook the surrounding area. 


Hot Chocolate: 5.6/10

Could be better. Too sweet. 


Overall Score: 6.3

Crystal is pretty average. A great destination for the drive; however, there are better places further north. 


  1. Boyne Mountain


Terrain: 7.9/10

Boyne Mountain’s front side is steep and ungroomed. Skiing down is not for the faint of heart. Some people despise this, but I love the thrill. Ungroomed snow means bumps will accumulate from the snow piles skiers generate from turning. These bumps add to the difficulty and thrill of skiing a black diamond. The reason Boyne’s terrain isn’t rated over an 8 is because of how wide open it is. Most of the trees on the front side are clear cut without any winding paths through the forest. Opting to leave patches of trees up would have made the runs more interesting. 


Snow: 7.3/10

Snow on the ungroomed moguls can get icy if there has been a bit of a drought. The only disparity between the snow score here and the Highlands is location. Boyne Mountain is further South and generally receives marginally less snow, and is slightly warmer. Other than that, there are no other major issues with the snow.


Infrastructure: 9.3/10

Easily the nicest lifts and lodges out of any resort in Michigan. Home to America’s first six-person high-speed chair, along with 10 other lifts all in great shape. Boyne Mountain is its own village with condos, restaurants, shops, and activities. 


Hot Chocolate: 8.7/10

The only hot chocolate on this list so far that I actually thought was good. Excellent consistency with a smooth rich flavor. Impressive. 


Overall Score: 7.9/10 

Infrastructure and hot chocolate have less of an impact on the overall skiing experience than the snow and terrain do, which puts Boyne at a 7.9. It is worth noting that Boyne is the best place for spring skiing. When the sun is high in the sky, the wide-open main slope warms up and softens to make an excellent surface to ski on. 


  1. The Highlands at Harbor Springs


Terrain: 8.4/10

As good as it gets in lower Michigan. Longer runs than both its neighbor (Nub’s Nob) and affiliate (Boyne Mountain). It also has the highest vertical drop in the Lower Peninsula at 552 feet. Little-known bike trails in the woods have ramps and other wooden features and are a blast to ride, if you can find them. 


Snow: 7.6/10

Considering the Northern location, the snow around Christmas time was a little bit of a disappointment. The Highlands had significantly less snow than Nub’s Nob, which is concerning. Highlands has fewer snow guns than Nub’s, which was evident in the bare spots that showed throughout the hill. Once the natural snow falls, the disparity between the two is less noticeable, with the conditions being slightly superior at Nub’s. Once enough snow falls to cover the entire hill, the quality of grooming is definitely there. 


Infrastructure: 8.5/10

Similar to Boyne Mountain, just a little more low-key. 


Hot Chocolate: 6.3/10

Tasted good, but wasn’t served hot enough. 


Overall Score: 8.1 

Some debate between Nub’s Nob and The Highlands for the top spot, but I believe Nub’s narrowly edges out the latter. Either way you can’t go wrong with a ski vacation to Harbor Springs, as this town boasts the two best ski areas South of the Mackinac. 


  1. Nub’s Nob

Terrain: 8.1/10

Lots of groomers and winding trails through the woods. An area to hike up and ski down in the backcountry gives a taste of what it’s like to ski out west. Their terrain park has lacked a bit this year, as it hasn’t been updated since the beginning of the season, but it is still fun to ride. A steep front side rounds out the terrain at Nub’s Nob to score in the 8s. 


Snow: 8.6/10

Nub’s Nob backs up their claim of Midwest’s best snow. They approach snowmaking as a science and grooming it as an art. They even close the hill between 4:30 and 6:00 to bring the groomers out and make some fresh corduroy. Over Christmas, I skied here and then went across the street to Highlands the next day and the Nub’s Nob difference was obvious. Highlands had sticks and dirt poking out, while at Nub’s you wouldn’t even notice that the area lacked natural snow. They go to extreme lengths to make sure the surface beneath your skis is of the highest quality. The efforts pay off late in the season, as there is frequently still snow on the hill come May. 


Infrastructure: 6.5/10

What is also great about Nub’s is their lack of places to stay at the resort. There is a private drive with seasonal condominiums, but it isn’t available for the general public to pay to stay there for a weekend. Nub’s Nob is primarily a day-use area, which keeps it from getting busy even on weekends. Most resorts have all sorts of technology implemented into every aspect of their business, but Nub’s remains old school. The only way to purchase a lift ticket is to walk up to the counter the old-fashioned way, and there is no faulty electronic scanner to get onto the chair. The lifts are in great condition, although none of them are high speed. Some people might not like Nub’s approach when it comes to technology, hence the rating, but it really is refreshing to avoid the headaches of technical difficulties. 


Hot Chocolate: 7.3/10

If someone else pays for your hot chocolate, this rating would be much higher. Too pricey for the small cup.


Overall Score: 8.3/10 

My personal favorite place to ski in the Lower Peninsula. Never fails to impress.