By MIKE NORTON OK, I'm willing to admit it. Even though we've got all of March (a notoriously treacherous month) ahead of us, and even though the bay could still freeze, I could hear songbirds while I was out skiing yesterday so I think we're in the home stretch now. 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 coming weekend, is the celebrated "Slush Cup" - the resort's most popular winter event --where skiers compete to see you 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, but this spring it's also the weekend for Shanty Creek's annual Mardi Gras celebration, so there'll be lots of other games, parties and music. (And maybe some gumbo to warm those half-frozen pond-skiers.) This strategy of combining a popular ethnic celebration with spring-fever silliness gets repeated again March 11-13, when the resort pairs its March "Irish Weekend" - remember, St. Patrick's Day is March 17 - with another of its offbeat promotions: 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." Traditionally March 19-20 is the last weekend of skiing at Shanty Creek, an benchmark that is always celebrated with a Hawaiian carnival theme. But in the past three years another event has extended the season to the end of the month - in an entirely different way. On March 26-27, 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.
Hitting the Pond at the Shanty Creek Slush Cup
Winter-weary four-wheelers have comer 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. Shanty Creek is a 4,500-acre recreational complex perched above the village of Bellaire, about 30 miles northeast of Traverse City, and is the region's leading full-service winter resort for skiing, tubing and snowboarding. (Ski Magazine rates it the Midwest's number-one destination in value, dining, lodging, weather and après ski activities.) For more information on spring-fever skiing at Shanty Creek, go to their web site at www.shantycreek.com.