By Peter Daining
Cross Country Skiing at Pigeon Creek
Back when I commuted between Holland and Grand Haven, I would take a midwinter detour after work to Pigeon Creek to ski a few laps. There’s nothing quite like huffing up a hill and then cruising down the other side as you catch your breath. The 282-acre Pigeon Creek Park offers groomed and ungroomed trails for all abilities. Some of their trails are even lit for night skiing. And with affordable rentals and ski lessons, this is the perfect place to try out a new sport. Along with skiing, this Ottawa County Park also offers sledding and snowshoeing.
Cost: Skiing is free. Ski rental is $8 for adults and $5 for children
More info: miottawa.org
Luge riding at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex
Every West Michigander should try taking a ride down the luge track at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex. I had the chance try it while I was a reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune, and it was a thrill. It’s not every day that you get to reach speeds of 20-plus miles per hour with your head inches from sheer ice. Especially with the Winter Olympics around the corner in February, this would be a great time to try an otherwise out of the spotlight winter sport. The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex also has excellent cross-country skiing, ice-skating, sledding, and snowshoeing.
Cost: $49 to luge
More info: msports.org
Downhill Skiing at Bittersweet or Cannonsburg
While this is not the Alps or the Rockies, West Michigan has two good places to get some turns in on a winter day. Cannonsburg is a quality place to learn to ski or snowboard and helps scratch that ski bum itch while you’re stuck in the flat Midwest. I fondly remember high school ski club trips to Cannonsburg with our jovial conversations broken up only momentarily by breakneck runs down the hills. Bittersweet, which is near Kalamazoo but in Allegan County, actually has better reviews according to onthesnow.com.
Cost: Both resorts have adult lift tickets for $30
Ice skating at Rosa Parks Circle
There’s something magical about ice-skating right in downtown Grand Rapids, surrounded by Christmas decorations and tall buildings. The enchantment only escalates after dark. If you’re interested in pure, open ice, you’re better of checking out Patterson Ice Center, Griff’s Ice House, or another indoor rink. But if you’re just looking to hold hands and breathe in a chilly winter thrill, Rosa Park Circle is the place to go. I have fond memories of skating with friends and family, and I can’t wait until my boys are old enough to experience it as well.
Cost: Adults $3 and children $1
More info: grcity.us
Walking at Lake Michigan beaches
I try to make it to Lake Michigan every winter because it has the ability to surprise you every time. You may see crystal clear ice wrapping around the pier or giant winter waves crashing against it. Or you may find waves frozen mid-crash or a gigantic ice sheet stretching as far as the eye can see. Then again, you may end up with a nice sunny day for a secluded walk along the shore. Visits to the normally crowded Holland and Grand Haven state parks will present a vast, empty landscape where it could be nearly impossible to distinguish where the lake ends and the beach begins. You can’t go wrong with any Lake Michigan beach, but I’m partial to Grand Haven since I once lived a mile from the pier.
Cost: Free, depending on which beach
More info: visitgrandhaven.com
Snowshoeing at Hoffmaster State Park
This is the one thing on this list I haven’t personally tried, but knowing how beautiful the forested dunes at Hoffmaster are every other season, I can only imagine the combination of lake effect snow and exceptional views of Lake Michigan would make this a memorable experience. Hoffmaster offers snowshoe rentals and ranger-led expeditions. You will even be able to explore some parts of the park that are normally off-limits.
Cost: Free, but $5 to rent snowshoes
More info: michigan.gov
Tubing at Cannonsburg
It’s always great to hit up your neighborhood sledding hill whenever the snow allows, but if you’re looking for more speed and adventure, you better head to Cannonsburg. When I was a kid, everybody made an annual trip to Pando, but it’s no longer open. Cannonsburg, however, has grown its own tubing business. With plenty of space, an easy ride up the hill, and soft, comfortable tubes, this is by far the best activity on the list for families or large groups. Kids need to be at least 42 inches or taller to ride.
Cost: Weekdays: 10 and under $13 and 11 and up $15
Weekends/holidays: 10 and under $18 and 11 and up $20
More info: cannonsburg.com/tubing