Newcomers enticed by special deals to ski, snowboard

Greg Tasker
The Detroit News

It’s an annual rite of Michigan’s ski season: Thousands of newcomers — some a little wobbly, some a little nervous — swarm the slopes each January to learn to ski or snowboard, enticed by a special deal that includes skis, boots and poles as well as the all-important beginner’s lesson.

“This is the right way to learn to ski,” Mickey MacWilliams, executive director of the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association. “It’s far safer than borrowing from a buddy who takes you to the top of the lift and says, ‘Bye.’ It’s a great way to get out and enjoy Michigan’s winter.”

It took a while for the weather to catch up, but several area slopes are hoping that many first-time skiers will now be convinced to sign up for a program that was set up to offer an affordable introduction to the sports of skiing and snowboarding.

Called Discover Michigan Skiing, the program was set up to help ease some of the apprehension of maneuvering through the process of renting skis, boots and the like in an unfamiliar sport and reduce the intimidation of taking a lift up a slope the first times. The program also includes lessons on how to get on and off a lift at the participating resorts.

“It’s pretty seamless and affordable,” says Taylor Ogilvie, general manager of Mount Brighton Ski Area, one of three Metro Detroit skis areas participating in Discover Michigan Skiing this year. “The program makes skiing so approachable for a lot of people. It gets people outside who might have otherwise spent the winter indoors. They learn they can have fun in the snow.”

How affordable? The ski or snowboard package is $35, and includes equipment rental (skis, boots and poles), lift ticket and a beginner lesson. The lessons focus on basic maneuvering, including stopping, turning, and getting up from a fall.

The other participating Metro Detroit ski areas are Pine Knob Ski and Snowboard Resort in Clarkston and Mt. Holly Ski and Snowboard Resort in Holly.

For those who prefer flatter terrain, Discover Michigan Skiing also offers a cross-country deal. The $20 price tag includes skis, boots, and a trail pass. Participating cross-country ski areas include Cross Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon, Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire, Treetops Resort in Gaylord and Boyne Mountain.

In all, some 27 Michigan ski facilities are offering the beginner program, part of a month-long national effort, Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. Its aim is to provide an easy and affordable way for people all across the country to learn to ski or snowboard. Since the campaign’s inception in 2009, more than 600,000 people nationally have taken lessons.

“Michigan has a great program. Standardizing the cost and pricing for a beginner package makes it so much easier for the newcomer to figure things out,” says Mary Jo Tarallo, a spokeswoman for the National Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month.

Michigan’s program predates the national effort and has been around about two decades. The program has changed little since its beginning other than the addition of snowboarding to the mix of winter sports.

State officials estimate 6,000-8,000 new skiers take advantage of the deal each winter.

“It’s a great way to be introduced to the sport without a huge financial commitment,” says Mt. Brighton’s Ogilvie, who notes about 600 first-timers participated each of the last two seasons. “We get a lot of interest and it fills up pretty quickly.”

Mt. Brighton and other ski areas require advance registration for Discover Michigan Skiing to make sure enough instructors and staff are on hand to accommodate students.

Shanty Creek Resorts in northern Michigan’s Bellaire has been a part of the program since its inception and has guided some 3,500 students in beginner lessons.

“Michigan is the perfect state to learn to ski or snowboard in,” says Steve Kershner, director of snow sports and recreation at Shanty Creek Resorts. “No matter where you live, there is a ski area within two hours of your home, our slopes aren’t as intimidating or expensive as the mountains in the West and you’ll find trained, friendly instructors who know how to make it a really fun experience.”

Michigan’s program, he said, has removed of many of the so-called barriers to skiing, including cost and the confusion most newcomers face when confronting the variety of different programs at ski resorts. And partnering with McDonald’s has helped the industry target the market of “never-evers.”

The success of the Michigan program, along with Shanty Creek’s focus on families, prompted the resort to launch a similar program two seasons ago. Called Super Sundays, the program allows participants to ski or snowboard from 1:30-4:30 p.m. most Sundays for $25. That price includes a lift ticket, rentals and instruction.

“Offering the program Sunday afternoons and not breaking the lessons down by age groups (we utilize teaching stations that allow those learning at different levels to stay longer or move on faster to the next skills station) has allowed families to truly learn to together,” Kershner says.

Discover Michigan Skiing

Through Jan. 31

Ski or snowboard packages are $35. They include equipment, ski lift and lesson.

Cross-country package is $20. It includes skis, boots and lesson.

Beginners must fill out a Discover Michigan Skiing Voucher and then call or register online with the ski area they want to visit. Vouchers are available at participating McDonald’s restaurants, retail ski stores and

Participating Metro Detroit ski areas:

Mt. Brighton

4141 Bauer Road

Brighton, MI 48116


Pine Knob

7778 Sashabaw Road

Clarkston, MI 48348

(800) 642-7669

Mt. Holly Ski and Skowboard Resort

13536 S. Dixie Highway

Holly, MI 48442

(248) 634-8269

For a full list of participating ski areas in Michigan, visit