By MIKE NORTON Well, you can't say that we haven't had a winter. Every now and then, anyway. One day you get a blizzard and outrageous tear-your-face-off winds. The next day the sun's out, the snow is melting off your roof, and there are robins singing in the trees like spring is just around the corner. (By the way, what do those birds do when the next Arctic blast shoves its way in from Canada? Are there little robin shelters where they can mooch a few worms, or are they just really good at getting through lean times?) Here in the Upper Great Lakes, a lifetimes experience has taught us to be skeptical about spring and its various blandishments; we've been betrayed too many times before. And here we are at the dawn of March, the most treacherous month in the entire calendar. Forget that thing about lambs and lions; March is Lucy from Peanuts, teeing up that football for Charlie Brown, promising that this time she won't yank it away from him at the last minute. Still, the days grow longer, the nights grow shorter, and in spite of all our well-deserved reservations, a spirit of cautious optimism slowly creeps out from its hiding place and begins to assert itself. If you needed any proof, just head over to Shanty Creek Resorts this weekend. You'll see what happens to skiers when March rolls around. This is when people start skiing in halter tops and cutoffs. Ski-jumping over slushy ponds. Racing monster trucks up the hill and racing cardboard pirate ships down. According to Shanty's Lindsey Southwell, it's just the way we Michiganders cope with the change of seasons. "Spring skiing can get a little weird," she says. "We'll be sitting on top of six feet of base, and it's not going to all melt away because we get some warm sunshiny days, so people just relax and decide to have some fun." Shanty Creek has been capitalizing on this what-the-heck attitude for over 40 years; these days the resort's March calendar is stuffed with outlandish events designed to keep people coming back even after the good powder has disappeared. The first, this Wednesday, is something they call "Brad Day" at Schuss Mountain. For reasons that are largely shrouded in mystery, on this one Leap Year day, the resort allows anyone named Brad to ski and rent equipment for free. (And anyone with at least one Brad in their room can stay overnight for $29 per person.) There's a special "Brad section" in Ivan's restaurant, and at the snowsports building they've created a special "Brads only" restroom. Also, anyone buying lift tickets with a Brad receives $10 off a lift ticket purchase, and there are special prizes for the Brad who has traveled the farthest and for the Brad who bringsthe most non-Brads with him Things get even stranger this weekend, when Shanty puts on its celebrated "Slush Cup" - its most popular winter event --where skiers compete to see if they can get up enough speed to make it across a 40-foot pond filled with icy waist-deep water. This bit of insanity draws 50 to 70 contestants and hundreds of spectators, even in so-so years. Contestants are encouraged to don their silliest costumes as they compete for the "last one standing" and best costume awards. Other games and events during Slush Cup weekend include the Fruity Suity, Frozen Fish Toss, Seal Slide, Shovel Races, and Silly Slalom.
- Good form at the Shanty Creek Slush Cup
This craziness gets repeated again March 9-11 when the resort puts on another offbeat promotions called the Cardboard Classic. This downhill race down Schuss Mountain is a free-for-all on homemade sleds; the only rule is that they have to be made entirely out of cardboard, taped or glued. "It's amazing to see what people come up with," says Southwell. ""We've had several pirate ships, and last year a team made an entire beer-pong table out of cardboard and rode down on that." "But wait," as they say in the Ronco infomercials, "There's More!" On the final weeknd of March, skiers give way to truckers in the Schuss Mountain Snow Challenge, a 400-yard uphill race through the snow for off-road trucks and ATVs. Winter-weary four-wheelers have come to regard the Snow Challenge as the start of the spring season. It's a classic side-by-side hill climb race, where anywhere from 80 to 90 vehicles roar their way up the hill for two days. Proceeds from the race are donated to the Disabled American Veterans.
- Competing in the Cardboard Classic