I grew up in Leelanau County. I drive faster than 22 miles per hour on M-22, pronounce Mackinac correctly, and know where the ‘sleeping bear’ of Sleeping Bear Dunes infamy actually lies. So when The Awesome Mitten offered me the opportunity to cover a relaxing weekend stay at one of our local resorts, The Homestead, I hesitated. Was I qualified to put myself in the shoes of a tourist? Then I scoffed at my self-doubt. I love fanny packs (a lot). I eat fudge double-fisted: chocolate in one hand and peanut butter in the other. Each Petoskey stone I find results in a child-like yelp of excitement. I never leave my house without my camera around my neck, and I think socks with sandals are actually kind of stylish. Thus I reached my answer: “Yes, I would love to spend a weekend in the heart of the most beautiful place in America.”
The Homestead, in Leelanau County, isn’t just located near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, recently voted America’s Most Beautiful Place by ABC’s Good Morning America viewers; The Homestead is literally surrounded on all sides by the park. When you hop on the lift that greets you at the lodge, you are not prepared for what you’ll see at the top. As you exit the lift, you find yourself staring out over Lake Michigan from Sleeping Bear Bay. I’ve skied out west in the Rockies, but the views don’t compare. It’s epic. I think more than a few skiers spend as much time staring out over the water and snapping photos as they do actually tearing up the slopes.
And before we go any further, I should confess that I am not a skier. I have tried…a few times. I have frozen my hands off at Sugar Loaf as a child; fallen waiting in line for the lift at Lake Tahoe (knocking a few folks over with me), only to shamefully hide in the lodge the rest of the day; and been taken down the Matterhorn on the sled for injured people, uninjured. But these are battles, I say, and I do not want to lose the war with this sport. Arriving at the Homestead, it wasn’t long before I was buoyed with encouragement. I witnessed teaching going on all over the slopes, lift operators complimenting folks as they arrived down the slope increasingly faster and with less snow on themselves, and parents looking on with excitement as their wee ones made it down the bunny hill without a fall. It seemed that I might have a shot here, or at least that I wouldn’t be laughed at upon my defeat.
Our group set off for the slopes. I passed up a lesson in order to keep an eye on my own fearless munchkin on the hills. But one member of our group, Izzy, who’s 11, decided she needed a snowboarding lesson to get back in the groove for her 2nd season of ‘shredding’. When you’re that young & inexperienced, staring up at the top of the hill can be intimidating, and Izzy got pretty nervous prior to her session. We showed up a few minutes early, and Ella, the instructor, was already there and ready to roll. They headed out to the bunny hill together, and the rest of us headed over to the lift.
The next thing we knew, Izzy was in line for the lift as well. Ella had not only been able, in less than one hour, to teach Izzy the skills she needed to navigate the longer runs but to give her the confidence to do so, something that’s equally important, especially for a nervous 11-year-old girl. Afterwards, Izzy couldn’t stop talking about how much she enjoyed the lesson and how great Ella was (Note: please tip your ski instructor).
The day we spent on the slopes could not have been more perfect weather-wise. The snow was idyllically falling in the morning, and the sun came out in the afternoon. Our group, beginner and experienced, skier and snowboarder, adult and child, all had a blast. And the fact that “I” am included in this “we” is a big endorsement of this resort as a learner-friendly facility. And despite the Homestead not having the amount of terrain of some larger resorts, what they do have is really, really fun to ski. All the ability levels in our group had a great time, and one in particular became a full convert, stating he was getting a season pass from here on out.
The Homestead has plenty to offer in addition to the slopes: a village that will make you feel like you are in a mini-Vail, with bonfires to boot; fine dining at Nonna’s; spa and salon services; a day-care center (a big plus for those of us with kids); ski-in/ski-out lodging; access to walks along Lake Michigan & the Crystal River; staff that seem to be gunning for Mr./Miss Congeniality; and amenities that will make you want to stay cozied up by the fire until the cleaning staff sweeps you out.
Although one could happily stay within the confines of the resort all weekend, it’d be a shame not to explore what’s just beyond The Homestead’s doorstep. Within a ten-minute drive you can find almost all of the locations that make Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore worthy of its title of THE most beautiful place in America (did I mention that already?): breathtaking vistas of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and Lake Michigan from Pyramid Point and Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, bits of history at Port Oneida and Glen Haven, and places for outdoor activity at Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail and Alligator Hill, just to name a few.
And after taking in all there is to see, head down the road a few miles to Glen Arbor, where there are plenty of places to eat and grab a beer, including Boonedocks, Western Avenue Grill, and Art’s Tavern. (We’re especially fond of Art’s. It’s an eclectic mix of backwoods bar and what I would risk calling “gourmet” bar food. Try the Funky Grilled Cheese!).
Whether you can pronounce Mackinac or not, a weekend at The Homestead, surrounded by the natural beauty the area has to offer, will provide you just the relaxation, fresh air, and rejuvenation you need. See you on the slopes!
Kimberly Schwaiger, Contributing Writer
Kim spent her childhood years in Leelanau County, the pinkie of Michigan. After spending close to a decade as the small-town girl living the big-city life in Chicago, she returned to the area and now resides in Traverse City with her daughter. When not crunching numbers at her day job as a CPA, you can find her camera-in-hand, outside, trying to capture the local beauty, rock hunting on the beach, or searching for the best grilled cheese in the area.
Kim is a co-founder and contributor to the blog Northern Swag.