Tag Archives: Timber Ridge

Here's What You Need to Know for Suds & Snow on March 8!

Event goers enjoy beers and fun at Suds & Snow 2013

It was a packed party last year when over 800 people took part in the fun!

It’s official that Traverse City has fully embraced the culture and camaraderie of the craft beer scene.  Every season there’s a variety of happenings that showcase the flavorful microbrews that have come to be a main attraction for the area – and winter is no different. When you combine the love of these libations with the stunning natural beauty that envelopes the Traverse City area you get unique events that truly stand apart from the rest.

The 8th Annual Suds & Snow Celebration on March 8th does just that.

What’s better than drinking beer along the trails as you head into the middle of the woods to listen to live music, eat great food and drink more beer around roaring bonfires? Not much.

“The event is a favorite of many of the brewers due its uniqueness, like using the natural elements to build bars. You can’t believe everything is going on out in the middle of the woods” states Kristin Levesque of Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort, the host property for the annual event.

Short's Brewing Company bar at Suds & Snow

Short's Brewing Company built an perfectly frozen bar last year.

Guests will meander through the woods along the circuit of trails that cut through the property until they reach the Trail Station, the center of the celebration in the middle of the woods (approximately one-half mile from the lodge). From there the music plays, the food is served and the beer flows.

This year there are 12 Michigan microbreweries that will be on site: Arcadia Ales, Beggar's Brewery, Bell's, Brewery Terra Firma, Cheboygan Brewing Co., Ferment, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, North Peak Brewing Co., Northern Natural Cider House, Right Brain Brewery, Schmohz Brewery and Short's Brewing Company.

Gearing up during the 2013 Suds & Snow

Guests gear up during the 2013 Suds & Snow. Don't have snowshoes? You can rent them on site!

New for 2014, the day will feature a Fat Tire Bike Race, known as Fat Camp, from 2-4pm where guests can either register to ride or cheer on the riders as they make their way around the property. For those not quite up to the biking challenge, you can take part in the first official Suds & Snow Olympics where teams of 6 will try and conquer traditional games that have some added twists and turns to them.

So what do you need to know if you're planning on being a part of it?

  • Tickets are $20 per person and include a commemorative pint glass (to the first 500 ticket purchases), 2- 8oz. tastings on the trail, trail pass, live music and more! (buy tickets here)
  • Bring your ID and cash for additional beer & food purchases (there are no credit card capabilities in the middle of the woods)
  • Wear something wacky - a hat, shirt, a full on costume - have fun with it!
  • If you don't snowshoe or cross country ski don't worry - you can walk the trails!
  • Take advantage of the FREE shuttles that will run from several hotels & downtown parking lots
  • The fun starts at 1:30pm but for a shorter entrance line head out around 2pm or after
  • Dress warm! (There are bonfires at the Trail Station and a large fireplace in the lodge)
  • Come hungry! Come thirsty! The event benefits TART Trails, Inc. and Child & Family Services of Northwestern Michigan
Guests enjoy the fire at the 2013 Suds & Snow Celebration at Timber Ridge

Feeling a little chilled? The fireplace at the lodge will have a roaring fire all day.



The North American Vasa: Ski As Though Your Life Depended on It!

The starting line at the 2013 North American Vasa.

The starting line at the 2013 North American Vasa.


Most people go cross-country skiing for pleasure or exercise. On the other hand, for Gustav Eriksson Vasa it was literally a matter of life and death.

Gustav I escapes the Danes

Gustav I escapes the Danes

Back in 1518, Gustav’s native Sweden was invaded by Denmark. His father and brother were killed by the invaders, and Danish troops were hunting for him, too. Fortunately, the young nobleman knew how to ski – so he fled over the mountains to nearby Norway, rallied a resistance movement, ejected the Danes and became King Gustav I of Sweden.

Today this feat of winter speed is celebrated by two ski races: Sweden’s Vasaloppet, where 12,000 skiers retrace Gustav’s original 85-kilometer route, and the North American Vasa, which brings nearly 800 skiers each February to the pinewoods here in Traverse City. And although neither event is particularly life-threatening, some competitors ski as if they still thought there were bloodthirsty Scandinavians on their heels.

In fact, the North American Vasa Festival of Races – scheduled this year for Feb. 8-9 -- is now in its 38th year. Saturday’s race, with 6K, 12K, 27K and 50K loops for freestyle skiers, and 12K and 27K for classic styles, is one of 16 U.S. events listed in the prestigious American Ski Marathon Series, where most of the nation's elite and professional ski racers compete. Sunday’s 6K/16K Gran Travers Classic, for traditional old-school Nordic skiers, is part of the Michigan Cup classic race series.

A Young skier at the Vasa.

A Young skier at the Vasa.

Even casual weekend skiers can enjoy themselves during the two-day Festival of Races. Over the years, organizers have added a wide range of races and events for skiers of all shapes, ages and skill levels – 1K sprints for preschoolers, 3K freestyle and classic events for older youths, and even a noncompetitive “Human Inspiration” tour for athletes who just want to get out and enjoy the trail on Race Day.

“When we did this tour last year, we had 70-75 people show up,” says Vasa president Pete LaPlaca. “There’s a lot of people out there with new hips and knees and pacemakers who ski every day, and they love to get out on the course.”

Another new wrinkle in the 2014 Vasa is the addition of a new race for cyclists, the 27K King Vasa Fat Bike Race. And since many Fat Bikers are also skiers, there’s a combined “SkiFatalon” for competitors who earn the best combined time skiing and cycling the 27K course.

More Vasa excitement.
More Vasa excitement.

Founded in 1976, the Vasa is held on a beautifully crafted trail that winds through Michigan’s Pere Marquette State Forest, just east of town. Only two races in its 30-year history have been canceled for lack of snow. The 2005 race almost met a similar fate, but was rescued at the last minute when a local campground and ski outfitter, Timber Ridge, offered its higher, snowier location as an alternative headquarters for the Vasa. The move was so popular with skiers that the race has used Timber Ridge as its base of operations ever since.

The Vasa may be our best-known ski event, but it is by no means the only one. The dense forests, towering hills and stunning shoreline views that make this such a favorite summer resort area also lure thousands of visitors here each winter for skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and other cold-weather sports.

Chatting at the White Pine Stampede

Chatting at the White Pine Stampede

On Feb. 1, for instance, yet another Michigan Cup Series race is held a few miles to the north in the village of Mancelona. The White Pine Stampede  began in 1977 and has been held on the first Saturday in February ever since (Except for the “snow-challenged” winter of 2012.)  Unlike the Vasa, where skiers race on looping trails, the Stampede is a point to point race” that starts in Mancelona and finishes 50 kilometers later at Shanty Creek Resorts. (There’s also a shorter 20K route, as well as a noncompetitive10K event for skiers who prefer a more leisurely trip.)

Even During the Dreaded "Polar Vortex" There's Fun to be Had on the Trails

A lone skier amid the swirling dry snow. Could it be The Vortex?

A lone skier amid the swirling dry snow. Could it be The Vortex?


Whatcha gonna do when the polar vortex comes around?

Go skiing, of course. Or snowshoeing, for that matter.

In spite of all the fuss and bother of this much-hyped weather event, in which desperately cold winds from the Arctic have moved out of their accustomed orbit to hover malevolently above us, I haven't really noticed that this winter is much different from other cold winters we have fairly often here in Traverse City. And I can't imagine why I should allow it to bother me or change my behavior.

I mean, what kind of wuss is going to sit under a blanket in the living room and shiver through the weather event of the decade when he could be out among the pines and hemlocks, cutting through the snowy trail and listening to the wild wind clacking the branches overhead? This is Michigan! We’re Michiganians! No polar vortex in its right mind is going to tangle with us!

Winter has its own beauty: white, blue and gold. This is Mission Point.

Winter has its own beauty: white, blue and gold. This is Mission Point.

OK, maybe that’s just me. I have a very low threshold for cabin fever. But seriously, I've never seen a winter storm that can't be laughed away with the help of a good set of long underwear, a Mad Bomber hat, a pair of Sorels and a thrift-store snowmobile suit. All you have to do is keep moving. Which, now that I come to think about it, is actually a pretty good motto for life in general.

My vortex buddy.

My vortex buddy.

Anyway, I was out yesterday having a great time on the trail, and so were those little dive-bomber chickadees who were racing along beside me. Frankly, none of us could figure out what the "polar vortex" fuss was all about. I’d rather ski in cold weather than in that sloppy 35-degree stuff where the snow starts sticking to your runners and you feel like you’re wearing concrete overshoes.

I do have to admit that we're at a huge advantage up here in TC. Thanks to all that relatively warm water around us, our winter temperatures really are a bit higher than those in other northern places -- even places quite a bit farther south. And we have lots of lovely, lovely forests that shelter us from the wind while we're out enjoying ourselves. Even on sub-zero days, an evergreen forest can seem downright cozy when you're dressed properly and moving at a decent clip.

What's more, our forests are blessed with miles and miles of trails -- many of them groomed. In fact, if you're a newcomer to winter sports, one of the best opportunities to acquaint yourself with them is coming up this Saturday at Timber Ridge Resort, where the folks from TART Trails are holding the Fifth Annual Winter Trails Day together with the Vasa Ski Club and Einstein Cycles. There'll be  free trail access, introductory ski lessons, fat bike demos, guided snowshoe hikes and equipment rentals for those who don't have their own stuff.

There'll be cross-country skis, snowshoes and fat bikes to try out on the trails. Members of the Vasa Ski Club will provide free introductory ski lessons, and volunteers will lead snowshoe hikes.
There is a small catch: participants must register in advance at traversetrails.org. Cross-country skis, snowshoes and fatbikes will be available on a first-come-first-served basis starting at 10.30 am, and a driver’s license is required to check out equipment.

You know you want to try it!

You know you want to try it!

Introductory ski lessons will be lead by Vasa Ski Club members starting at 11am and 12.30pm. - Snowshoe hikes will be held at 11am, 12pm and 1pm. - Fatbikes from Einstein Cycles will be available for short demo rides on Timber Ridge’s fatbike trail. - Complimentary cookies and cocoa will be served in the lodge so you can refuel and warm-up by the fire after your time on the trails! Timber Ridge will also have chili available for purchase.

Chili. Yes. It is the anti-vortex.


Merry Christmas -- and Happy Snowshoeing!

My daughter Liz (and some bearded guy) snowshoeing  near Sabin Pond on the Boardman River.

My daughter Liz (and some bearded guy) snowshoeing near Sabin Pond on the Boardman River.


If you like snow  (and I do!) this is turning into a great winter. There’ve been lots of lovely lake-effect flurries, with big fat flakes tumbling out of a sunny blue sky, and the weather’s been cold and dry enough to keep it all from turning into heavy wet glop.

I was thinking all these things over the weekend while shoveling the driveway out for the third time -- and I have a very long driveway. But it’s been such great fun to wriggle into the snowsuit, put some Christmas music on the iPod and spend a couple of hours piling snow up on either side. Maybe I’ll be tired of it by March, but if you’ve got to have winter you might as well have snow to play in!

Living Nativity

Living Nativity

Speaking of Christmas, one of the most touching displays of reverence for this beautiful holiday can be spotted tonight on the south side of Grandview Parkway, when Bayview Wesleyan Church presents its 40th annual Live Nativity display. Each year costumed volunteers silently reenact the birth of Christ at night on the lawn in front of the church, surrounded by live sheep, goats and other farm animals. My kids always loved it -- especially the animals! (Tonight’s display will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.)

The kids are grown now, of course. While my son Jacob and I were shoveling the driveway, his girlfriend was trying out snowshoes for the first time. She’s from Dallas, so the sheer amount of snow we’re getting was a novelty for her -- there was much laughing and shrieking going on as she learned how to navigate without doing a faceplant into a snowbank.

Actually, it doesn’t take a lot of skill or training to use snowshoes. They’re easy to slip on and off, and they’re less likely to suddenly slide out from under you than skis. That’s why I seem to find myself doing more snowshoeing than cross-country skiing these days. Apparently, I’m not the only one; snowshoeing has become America’s top snowsport choice. Last winter over 5 million Americans strapped on a pair of snowshoes and went for a winter hike, and the sport has grown by around 17 percent each year over the past decade.

Traverse City is full of great places for snowshoeing, and one of the best is just south of town on the Muncie Lakes Pathway.  This scenic DNR trail system along the Boardman River, with its rolling forested terrain and small lakes, is a microcosm of the area’s natural beauty and its special winter delights.

On the Muncie Lakes Pathway.

On the Muncie Lakes Pathway.

The nice thing about the pathway is that it provides a variety of loops and distances so you can easily customize a snowshoe excursion to meet your own endurance and ability levels.  Distances range from an easy two-mile hike to treks of up to 8 or 9 miles, and it’s always possible to take off cross-country and boldly go wherever you like.  A couple of nice side trips along the pathway include snowshoeing along the frozen Muncie Lakes and out across the ice to visit the small islands that dot the lakes, and accessing overlooks of the Boardman River and valley from high bluffs.

At the Pelizzari Natural Area

At the Pelizzari Natural Area

Some of my other favorite trail systems include the trail system at Mission Point at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, the Pelizzari Natural Area off Center Road, the Lost Lake Pathway near Interlochen, the 3,500-acre Sand Lakes Quiet Area near Williamsburg and the Vasa Pathway, one of the finest cross-country ski trails in the Midwest. Inside the city, the 300-acre Grand Traverse Commons features great skiing and snowshoeing in parklike grounds among century-old, European-style buildings and stands of old-growth pines.

Young snowshoer at Sleeping Bear.

Young snowshoer at Sleeping Bear.

But seriously, some of the best snowshoeing in the area is at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which has eight marked trails, some leading up to panoramic overlooks high above the Lake Michigan. I just found out about one that I haven’t tried yet, and as soon as I’ve had a chance to check it out I’ll give you a report.

If you’ve never tried snowshoeing before, the National Lakeshore offers a great way to experience it as a first-timer. Starting this weekend, park rangers will be holding regular guided .  snowshoe hikes every Saturday at 1 p.m. through the end of February.  Just meet up at the park Visitor Center in Empire, where you’ll get a crash course in snowshoeing before heading out to the trail -- and if you don’t have snowshoes, they’ll loan you a pair at no charge.  You’ll have to purchase a park entrance pass if you don’t already have one, and you should make reservations since the hikes are limited to 30 participants.  Call 231-326-5134, ext. 328 for details and to make reservations.

There are a lot of places in the area where you can rent snowshoes for a small fee, by the way. Brick Wheels, the Don Orr Ski n’ Beach Haus, GT Cycle and Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort are several outlets that have snowshoe rentals available.

In Traverse City, Fat Bikes Make Cycling a Four-Season Sport

Fat Biking on the Vasa Trail

Fat Biking on the Vasa Trail


This is the way winter is supposed to look. Snowy!

I’m looking out my window today at a wide expense of white that leads out past the marina breakwall to the slate-blue water of Grand Traverse Bay. Behind me, leaning against the office wall, is my bicycle -- which I wasn’t smart enough to ride back home while the weather was still dry.

If I had a Fat Bike, now….

I’m seeing Fat Bikes everywhere these days, zipping along on the street and through the woods at all time of the year – but especially in winter. These specially-adapted mountain bikes, with large tires capable of cycling on snow and sand -- have become a normal part of the local winter landscape. In this bicycle-obsessed town, where our winters are long and our bike trails are even longer, they’re turning cycling into a four-season sport.

fat tire biking on VASA - CopyNamed for their oversized tires, which come in widths of 3.7 or 4.5 inches, Fat Bikes were developed in Alaska only a few years ago and  have spread rapidly to the rest of the nation. Industry analysts expect Fat Bike ownership to double in the next year from 10,000 to 20,000. Warm-weather cyclists find them useful for riding on sandy beaches and desert trails, but their clearest advantage is on snow.

It makes sense that the interest has been particularly intense in this neck of the woods. Traverse City is a favorite year-round destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts of all kinds. Given the opportunity to add cycling to their repertoire of winter sports, they’ve wasted no time embracing the Fat Bike phenomenon. Check out this video to see what the fun's all about:

“Fat Biking is the answer for a lot of people that don't currently have a winter sport or are looking to try a new one,” says Jason Lowetz, co-owner of Einstein Cycles, one of the area’s biggest Fat Bike dealers. “There's no learning curve.  You just get a bike and ride and have fun.”

Fat Bikers tend to be a sociable group, too. Lowetz’s shop sponsors weekly group rides for Fat Bikers that draw anywhere from 20 to 30 people, and there’s a popular winter ride/potluck event called Friday Night Lights where cyclists ride together in the dark forest south of town and get together afterward for food.

Fat Bikers have already made some major ripples in Traverse City’s cycle racing community. In 2013 they created the Northern Michigan Fat Bike Series – four winter races held in different parts of the region – and since 2013 Fat Bikes have been included in Traverse City’s prestigious Iceman Cometh Challenge (the largest point-to-point race in the US).

In 2014 the venerable North American Vasa Festival of Races, usually reserved for cross-country skiers, hosted a Fat Bike race, the King Vasa, on the popular Vasa Pathway in the Pere Marquette State Forest. It was so successful that the 2015 race  (Feb. 14)  will feature two King Vasa events, a 12K race and a 35K race. Fat Tire Biking

Relations between skiers and Fat Bikers are not without occasional conflicts (in warm slushy conditions the cycles can damage groomed trails) but in Traverse City the two groups are trying to find ways to coexist peacefully. A big step forward has already been taken, with creation of a new dedicated 15K multi-use trail near Supply Road in the Vasa system.

One Fat Bike-friendly spot on the Vasa Pathway is the Timber Ridge RV Resort, which offers bike rentals and special Fat Bike passes for its own lighted trail system. And Shanty Creek Resorts near Bellaire has just created its own 5K multi-use trail, too. But winter cyclists can be found on many other trails in the Traverse City area – from the steep but well-packed hills of the Grand Traverse Commons to the 15-mile Leelanau Trail between Traverse City and the nearby village of Suttons Bay.

The bikes don’t come cheap – a steel or aluminum-frame model will run $1,600 to $3,300 and a titanium/carbon model ranges $3,300 to $5,500 – but they’re easy to rent in the Traverse City Area. Einstein Cycles offers Fat Bikes for $25 for two hours, $45 for four hours or $60 for six hours, Brick Wheels rents them out for $35 per half-day or $60 a day, Suttons Bay Bikes offers rentals for $50 per day, and Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak in Empire rents them at just $10 for two hours or $40 per day.

“Anyone who can ride a bike can ride a Fat Bike,” says Lowetz. “We're still out riding every chance we get and it's never a 'weather pending' type of ride.  We ride in all types of weather and have an absolute blast doing it.”

I'm Just a Walker in a Runner's Town

The Bayshore Marathon


First, a word of confession. I’m a walker, not a runner.

I could dress this all up with some talk about why mine is a less obsessive-compulsive approach to fitness, one that allows me to slow down and enjoy the world around me, but the truth is that running just doesn’t fit my personality. On the road of life, I’ve always been in the slow lane.

On the other hand, you can’t live in Traverse City without knowing lots of runners because this is a runner’s town. Folks have been out running the city streets and pathways as soon as the ice began to clear away last month, and now that spring is edging reluctantly closer they’re beginning to emerge in earnest.  There’s even a brand-new festival starting up this month to promote a new wrinkle in the local runners’ universe.

It’s the Traverse City Trail Running Festival, and it’ll be held April 12-13 through the woods of the Pere Marquette State Forest, starting and ending at Timber Ridge Resort (better known for hosting the annual North American Vasa ski race in February.) The festival will begin with a 10K relay race on Friday, and continue the next day with a series of 11K, 25K and 50K races.

“The Pere Marquette Forest is such a beautiful area, and we’re certain that runners will love the scenery,” said Eric Houghton of Endurance Evolution, the promotional company that’s organizing the event. True enough – I love walking, skiing and snowshoeing through that area, which will include a fair-sized chunk of the Vasa trail and goes through a picture-perfect landscape of Up North pines, firs and hardwoods – but it won’t make a runner out of me. I would inevitably trip over a tree root, or my own shoelaces.

But the announcement did start me thinking about all the racing events that are held in or around the Traverse City area these days. Without even trying, I could think of dozens – from little 5Ks all the way up to major marathons. On May 25, for instance there’s the Bayshore Marathon, a little race that’s grown so famous – and so popular – that it turns away hundreds of runners every year for fear of ruining the charm and character that have made it such a popular event for the past 28 years.

Hosted for 31 years by the Traverse City Track Club, the Bayshore promotes itself as “a marathon for runners, put on by runners” and is certified as a Boston Marathon qualifier. This year the Bayshore will allow 11,400 runners in its three races: the main marathon, the half marathon, and the Bayshore 10K run.

Why such big interest in a small-town race? Mainly, it’s the setting. As its name implies, the Bayshore’s route follows the shoreline of East Grand Traverse Bay up the Old Mission Peninsula, an area that features some of the most breathtaking views available on any marathon course. On one side there’s the famous bay with its Caribbean array of jade green, cobalt blue and turquoise water. On the other side, elegant residential areas gradually fade into a landscape of vineyards and orchards where, since the race takes place in May, participants are often treated to the sight of thousands of blossoming cherry trees.

But many runners are just as charmed by the small-town cheerfulness of race spectators, who make up for their lack of numbers by their friendliness and creativity (how many marathons feature ice cream at their refreshment stops?) and by Traverse City plentiful tourist amenities. That may explain why races also play a prominent role in the area’s many festivals.

In fact, the National Cherry Festival’s July 6 “Festival of Races” was the area’s first official footrace; it began in 1973 and is now in its 40th year). But there are also races at almost every other local festival, from Kalkaska’s National Trout Festival (April 27) to the Empire Asparagus Festival (May 18) and Bellaire’s Rubber Ducky Festival (Aug. 17). Even the local wine industry has gotten into the act: each fall the winemakers of the Leelanau Peninsula hold a seven-mile fall run through their vineyards called the Harvest Stompede (Sept. 7-8), which also includes tours and tastings at their wineries.

At the Harvest Stompede

For some competitors, even a marathon isn’t enough of a challenge. Triathlons are becoming an increasingly popular option in the Traverse City, and there are now at least four different versions of this grueling running/swimming/cyling event going on in the area this summer.

The first is on Saturday, June 8, when the fourth annual M-22 Challenge takes place. Founded by kiteboarding entrepreneurs Matt and Keegan Myers, the 22-mile triathlon combines a starting run (including a climb up the Sleeping Bear Dunes!) followed by a 17-mile bicycle race around Big and Little Glen Lakes and a paddling race (kayaks, surf skis of stand-up paddleboards) across Little Glen Lake.

Then, on July 7, the twelfth annual Inter-Rockin’ 3 is held in nearby Interlochen, featuring three different options -- 1.5k swim, a 40k bicycle race and a 10k run; a 500m swim, 20k cycling race and 5k run; or a 5k run, 20k cycle race and 5k run – as well as a pair of “aquabike” events that ferature just the swimming/biking parts. On Aug. 18, there’s the Traverse City Triathlon, held at Bowers Harbor on the Old Mission Peninsula. Finally, on Sept. 1, the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa sponsors the annual BAREFOOT Triathlon.

Getting into the Bay at the Barefoot Triathlon

Running doesn’t shut down with the end of summer, either. On Sept 28, there’s a Run Vasa! event, a late-season run (5K, 10K and 25K) at through the Vasa Head Trail.  On Oct. 13, there’s the Lighthouse Half Marathon – a very scenic three-mile run around the Mission Point Lighthouse on Old Mission, and just before Halloween there’s the Zombie Run, which attracts lots of runners (my daughter included) who like to dress up as rotting corpses when they run.

Hmmm. I know I've missed a bunch. Too many races....

The Zombie Run

The Zombie Run

My Two Favorite Winter Sports -- Snowshoeing and Beer Drinking -- in One Event!

Timber Ridge Ladies Showing ShoesEnjoying good times during Suds & Snow

Every winter, we Traverse City beer aficionados face the same problem.

Thanks to our large German, Bohemian and Polish population, we've always had a healthy appreciation for the brewer’s art. In recent years almost a dozen microbreweries and brewpubs have sprouted up around the region, and as soon as the snow begins to fall, those talented brewmasters begin devising spicy wheat beers, fragrant ales, creamy porters and rich dark stouts for the discerning palates of their fans.

Each deserves our respectful attention – but how in the world does one consume so much seasonal cheer without acquiring a waistline of Dickensian proportions?

Fortunately, seven years ago Kristin Levesque and her pals up at Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort came up with a simple answer to this perennial problem: snowshoeing. After all, nothing burns off excess carbohydrates faster than schlepping through a wintry pine forest on a pair of snowshoes.

And Timber Ridge is the perfect place for a workout. An all-season recreation center in the forested hills above Grand Traverse Bay, it has an extensive on-site trail system with access to the famed North American Vasa Trail, and it does a brisk winter business with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.  And it also devised the perfect wedding of winter brew-tasting and exercise.

Called “Suds & Snow,” it’s a day-long celebration of specialty brewing, outdoor fun, food and music that allows microbrew aficionados, snowshoe hikers and other fun-loving types to mingle in midwinter – with all the proceeds donated to charity. Over the last six years, Levesque says the event has raised more than $30,000 to help local nonprofit organizations.

This year’s Suds & Snow will be held Saturday, with creations from six quality Michigan breweries: Bell's, Greenbush, Saugatuck, Schmohz and our own Right Brain and Shorts. Guests can enjoy an afternoon on the trails in snowshoes (and as you probably know, no experience or particular skill is required to have a good time in snowshoes) followed by a visit to the beer and food tasting trail station. Participating restaurants include Schelde's, TraVino and Red Mesa Grill; they'll be offering small plates at the stations.

Some years as many as 800 people have turned out for Suds & Snow, and with the snow and weather conditions we've been having, I'm going to guess they'll have a great turnout this year, too -- so you should register early to get the commemorative pint glass for this year's event (they only made 500). Tickets are $20 in advance, or $30 at the gate. Five dollars from every ticket will be donated to Child & Family Services of Northwestern Michigan.

Both locations will have live music from local bands. This year, it'll be Jason and Nick, as well as Levi Britton, & Chris Sterr, with special guest Jonny Tornga. And here's something new: Disc Golf out on the trail. They're putting up golf baskets along the route to add a little extra entertainment to the trek through the woods.

Don't own snowshoes? Don't worry, there'll be rentals available -- and a hard-packed trail just for hikers. And if you're really not there for the exercise (slackers!) the sampling will also be going on indoors at the resort's rustic lodge building. Also, a free shuttle to downtown and the hotel district is being provided by Celtic Transportation, just to make sure everybody stays safe.

Visit www.TimberRidgeResort.net or call (231) 947-2770 for more information.

Snowshoes and Chili: a Two-Pronged Strategy for Winter Fun!

Saturday sightseeing at the Mission Point Lighthouse on Old Mission Peninsula.

Saturday sightseeing at the Mission Point Lighthouse on Old Mission Peninsula.


Everybody loves the first Christmas-card-pretty snowfall of winter. Maybe even the entire first month of winter. But after a few weeks, opinions begin to diverge sharply among those of us who live in the northern regions.

Some of us just love winter. In spite of the snow shoveling, the driving hazards, the wet feet, we love the skiing and the snowshoeing, the crackling fires and the snuggling and the almost total absence of mosquitoes. (And some of us pretend to like it because, well, we’re Midwesterners; when things can’t be changed, we’re expected to suck it up.) I put myself in both of these categories, depending on whether it’s January or April – April winters are something even a Midwesterner is allowed to complain about.

But there are other folks, even here in northern Michigan, who can’t really work up a lot of enthusiasm for the season. For them, there are basically two ways to deal with winter. Some, for the sake of their physical and mental health, will act as though they enjoy skiing through a frozen forest even when they’d much rather be sipping mojitos in Key West. Others take the “cozy strategy;” they stay inside and enjoy the warmer aspects of the season – the fireplace, hot cocoa, down comforters and Downton Abbey – while watching the snow fall outside the picture window.

This weekend, it looks as though there’ll be plenty of opportunities to employ both of these winter survival strategies in Traverse City – or, best of all, to combine them into a two-part plan that allows you to get some exercise, enjoy the outdoors and still have time for good eats, fellowship and fun. And it’s a particularly good weekend for those of you who’ve never been winter-sports fans before. Here’s why:

snowshoeing Timber Ridge 5

Saturday is the Fourth Annual Winter Trails Day up at Timber Ridge Resort – a wonderful, non-intimidating way to try cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The wonderful folks from TART Trails, Brick Wheels and the VASA Ski Club have teamed up with Timber Ridge to provide free trail use, introductory ski lessons, guided snowshoe hikes and free use of rental equipment (first come, first-served – so if you have equipment of your own already you should probably bring it.) The fun lasts from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

(Here’s the indoor part: there’ll be lots of tasty treats available in the lodge at Timber Ridge.)

Another great free event is available at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore which holds free ranger-led snowshoe hikes throughout the park every Saturday afternoon. You can enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in the country – “a winter wonderland of forests, fields, beaches and historic sites.” And if you don’t have your own snowshoes, the park will lend you a pair at no charge.  The groups usually meet up at the park visitor center in Empire at 1 p.m. and you can expect to be out on the trail until 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa has transformed its golf clubhouse into a Winter Activities Center that’s open to guests and the public every weekend. You can enjoy ice-skating, explore groomed trails on cross-country skis or trek through fresh powder on snowshoes. Bring your own gear, or find Winter Snow Sports Rentals at the Clubhouse or Adventure North in the Resort’s Gallery of Shops.

Once you’re ready to come in from the cold, you can warm up in the Winter Activities Center. Here families can purchase s’mores supplies for the bonfire, enjoy hot chocolate and adult beverages, play board games or savor favorite comfort foods off The Grille’s winter-themed menu.

Looking for birds at the Grass River Natural Area

Looking for birds at the Grass River Natural Area

If you’re on the east end of town, though, you might consider heading over to the Grass River Nature Area near Bellaire to take one of their winter bird classes. Grass River is a magnet for winter birds, with its rich mix of forest, creeks, wetlands and uplands, and if you’ve ever wondered what all those different winter birds are, this is a great opportunity to learn. They recommend advance registration, so give them a call at 231-533-8314.

And as long as you’re in Bellaire, you really should head up the hill to Shanty Creek Resorts, already well-known among ski and snowboard aficionados – and being a ski resort, their various lodges are skilled in providing midwinter coziness. Perhaps not quite so well-known is the fact that Shanty has a wonderful snow-tubing hill, as well as facilities for cross-country skiing and even snowmobile rentals.

Warming up at Traverse City's Downtown Chili Cookoff

Warming up at Traverse City's Downtown Chili Cookoff

Finally, the indoor winter event to end all indoor winter events is the 18th Annual Downtown Chili Cook-Off held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Park Place Dome. Area restaurants will be cooking up their special recipes as they compete in eight different categories - 1 and 3-alarm, white, vegetarian, no bean, seafood and ethnic as well as the coveted "people's choice award.

Every year, more than 1,000 people come to sample the many chilies and vote for their favorites. All proceeds from the Cook-Off go to support downtown community activities like Friday Night Live, the Halloween walk and the Christmas tree-lighting. Besides, who doesn’t like chili?


Funny How the Night Moves, With Autumn Closing In....

Saying goodbye to Summer at Old Mission Point
Saying goodbye to Summer at Old Mission Point


TRAVERSE CITY - Suddenly, all the radio stations seem to be playing nostalgia songs.

I heard Bob Seger's "Night Moves" yesterday as Liz and I were driving home from the Traverse City Shorts Festival, and it made the two of us wonder why September seems to be such a nostalgic month. Maybe it's the final goodbye to summer, the reminder that we all grown up sooner or later and have to leave things behind. Maybe it's the shorter days and the knowledge that a more austere landscape awaits us.

Who knows? Darn good song, though.

Still, there's no getting around it Tree by tree and leaf by leaf, the annual display of autumn color is making its way across northern Michigan. I'd been worried that the summer had been too hot and dry for good color, but I shouldn't have bothered. It always works out.

On the hillsides overlooking Grand Traverse Bay, we could already see a sudden burst of orange or scarlet among the green stands of oak, maple and pine. Here and there, the mounds of sumac are touched with deep smoldering crimson, while the orchards and vineyards of the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas are filled with brightly colored apples and thick clusters of dark purple grapes. In a matter of weeks, the entire region will be aflame with sheets of red, orange and gold.

Since fall colors can "peak" fairly quickly, we at the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau will be providing you with up-to-date information about autumn colors. You can check in on this blog for regular updates, or go to the Traverse City CVB's Fall Foliage Web Page to receive updated reports on the progress of the annual fall color display - including areas where the best colors can be found.

Of course, fall doesn't mean the fun comes to an abrupt halt here in The Teece. Au contraire!  I was just noticing that this is the week when the Traverse City History Center puts on its 15th Annual Heritage Days celebration (speaking of nostalgia). It's being held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday down at Hannah Park, along the south bank of the Boardman River.

Learning to Cut Wood the Old-Fashioned way at Hannah Park
Learning to Cut Wood the Old-Fashioned way at Hannah Park

There'll be historical re-enactors demonstrating life in pioneer times, plus quilters, weavers & wood turners in the Heritage Center, a pre-war vintage car show on Sixth Street covering the period from 1900 to 1942, historical walking tours, a frontier barbecue, carriage rides, a display of early 20th century "talking machines", free viewing of the film "Fruit of Dreams" in the Museum Theatre, and the world premier of "Re-inventing The Wheel" by Rich Brauer & Brauer Productions, Inc.

Lots of schoolkids will be coming to Heritage Days on field trips, but everybody is welcome. (And let's face it, most of us could use a few reminders that we weren't the first people to live here - or even visit here!) All Proceed will benefit the Grand Traverse Heritage Center, located at 322 Sixth Street in Traverse City.

On Friday and Saturday, another event that's dear to my heart will be taking place up at the Timber Ridge Resort on Hammond Road - its their annual Leaves & Libations Fall Brew Fest - a way to enjoy local fall colors up in the high country while tasting some of our best local microbrews from places like Bellaire's Short's Brewing Company and Traverse City's Right Brain Brewery.  A mix of local wines will also be available.

The entry fee includes live music by My Trivia Live and a pulled pork plate.  Beer will be available for purchase. It'll be held rain or shine - they're setting up in a tent and indoors), so bring your beer-drinkin' shoes! You can click the link above or call them at (231) 947-2770.

Do not fear the autumn. She's a sweet friend. She just never hangs around very long.