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Guide to Experiencing the "Big Four" Ski Resorts near Detroit

Brighton. Alpine. Holly. Pine Knob. You know them, you've skied them, and generations have loved them. But what makes each resort stand out from the pack? Are there any special features, offerings, or other traits that could influence buying one lift ticket over another? We dive into these questions and more in our official Guide to the "Big Four" Ski Resorts near Detroit.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's officially time to sharpen your skis, wax your boards, and buy that over-priced jacket you've had your eyes on. The snow makers are blowing, which means winter has finally arrived in Detroit.


As excited as that makes us, let's hit the pause button real quick and look outside the window. I'm not sure where you're reading this from, but we at Expedition Detroit HQ do not see any of that sweet, fluffy powder that we're oh so impatiently waiting for. Lack of pow equals delayed backcountry skiing and snowshoeing adventures, but simultaneously highlight an under-appreciated element of our region:


We have four premiere ski resorts within an hour's drive of our near-sea-level city. Four destinations that get busy cranking out snow in November while we're still waiting on Jack Frost to show face. Our "Big Four" resorts - Alpine Valley, Mt. Brighton, Mt. Holly, and Pine Knob - have formed the bedrock of Detroit's wintry outdoor economy for generations, providing slope access to generations that would otherwise need to travel hundreds of miles for the same experiences.


This article provides much-overdue recognition and information regarding each of the Big Four. Beyond providing stats and recommendations, we also want to highlight what makes each of these resorts stand out in their own right.


Spoiler alert: you're going to want to ski all four by the time that you finish this article.

ALPINE VALLEY SKI RESORT | White Lake, Michigan

Hours: Weekdays: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Weekend: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Saturday) or 9 p.m. (Sunday)

Elevation: 1,210 feet

Vertical Rise: 300 feet

Total Runs: 17

Pass Affiliation: Regional Season Pass

All-Day Lift Ticket Price: $65


Expedition Detroit Award: Best for the Weekend Warrior


Imagine this: you start your day with a leisurely paddle down the Huron River, launching from Milford Central Park for an out-and-back to Proud Lake State Recreation Area. After a quick refueling stop in Downtown Milford, you bust out the fat tire bike for a ride through either the Milford Mountain Biking Trail or Highland State Recreation Area's A-B-C-D Loops. Still not enough adrenaline for a Saturday? Well, thank God you packed your skis - Alpine Valley Ski Resort is less than 5 miles away from the Highland MTB trailhead.


Beyond having the most affordable lift ticket prices in the Detroit region, Alpine Valley provides the most equal distribution of beginner, intermediate, and expert slopes among the Big Four. The expert-rated slopes feature the resort's terrain park runs, which Alpine Valley has improved significantly in recent years. The resort also boasts the Hornet's Nest Lounge, an ideal après-ski destination for enjoying favorite cocktails, dancing, entertainment, and a panoramic view of Alpine Valley's ski slopes.


Regional Season Pass: Alpine Valley, Mt. Holly, and Pine Knob are all members of what we're dubbing the "Regional Season Pass." The Pass costs $800, so the somewhat steep price tag really only makes sense if you plan to hit these resorts consistently throughout the season. Other resorts included in the Pass that are outside of the Detroit region are Bittersweet (Ostego, MI), Alpine Valley Resort (Elkhorn, WI), and Searchmont (Sioux Ste. Marie, ON).

MOUNT BRIGHTON | Brighton, Michigan

Hours: Weekdays: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Weekend: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Saturday) or 8 p.m. (Sunday)

Elevation: 1,330 feet

Vertical Rise: 230 feet

Total Runs: 25

Pass Affiliation: Epic

All-Day Lift Ticket Prices: $64 (M - F), $84 (Sa - Su)


Expedition Detroit Award: Best for the Jet-Setting Explorer


Although Mt. Brighton has been around since 1960, Vail Resorts' acquisition of the mountain in 2015 breathed new life into the Detroit region's largest man-made ski resort. Vail's acquisition included a $10 million investment into improvements like new chairlifts, enhanced beginner terrain, new base area facilities and children’s ski and ride school center, innovative terrain parks, and a state-of-the-art snowmaking system. Seven years later, the net results of those improvements includes transforming Mt. Brighton into an "out west enclave" in the Detroit region, including the modern amenities that top-tier skiers and snowboarders should expect from an industry-defining powerhouse like Vail.


While the quality of Mt. Brighton's well-manicured runs and cutting-edge facilities provide the most imminent attraction for riders, the value emanating from the resort's Epic Pass inclusion is undeniably powerful. Especially if you were to purchase the discounted Epic Local Pass, you could ride not only Mt. Brighton to your heart's content, but take a few trips to world-class resorts out west, back east, or around the world with the same pass. As much as we sing the praises of Detroit's outdoor recreation opportunities, we're certainly not immune to the allure of big mountain skiing. Mt. Brighton and its Epic Pass affiliation make such adventures more economic, efficient, and practical for us all.

MT. HOLLY | Holly, Michigan

Hours: Weekdays: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Weekend: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Saturday) or 9 p.m. (Sunday)

Elevation: 1,115 feet

Vertical Rise: 350 feet

Total Runs: 19

Pass Affiliation: Regional Season Pass

All-Day Lift Ticket Prices: $67 (M - Th), $80 (F - Su)


Expedition Detroit Award: Best for the Downhill Bomber


Mt. Holly may not be the largest, highest, or most glamorous of the Big Four, but it packs a big punch right where it matters the most: more vertical feet of downhill than any of the other resorts. Located just on the northwestern edge of the Detroit region, Mt. Holly benefits from the dramatic, rolling hills that define Southeast Michigan's premiere terrain for outdoor recreation. As such, Mt. Holly's deep descents provide the resort with proportionately more advanced terrain than any of the other Big Four.


Similar to Alpine Valley, Mt. Holly also provides the wintry cherry on top for an area already absurdly blessed with outdoor opportunities. The resort is conveniently located in between the western and eastern branches of Holly State Recreation Area, with the park's premiere mountain biking trail maintained by the Clinton River Area Mountain Bike Association located within eyesight of the resort's summit. The eastern branch of Holly State Recreation Area also entails opportunities for hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.


Legs feeling a little wobbly after capitalizing on the additional vert? Fortunately for all of us, Mt. Holly also features a spacious Bavarian-style lodge with two cafeterias, a fireplace room, and a lounge with additional fireplaces. Hard to imagine a better setting to loosen up the boots, order a stein, and kick back after an exhilarating day on the mountain.

PINE KNOB SKI RESORT | Clarkston, Michigan

Hours: Weekdays: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Monday - Wednesday) and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Thursday - Friday); Weekend: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Saturday) or 9 p.m. (Sunday)

Elevation: 1,201 feet

Vertical Rise: 300 feet

Total Runs: 17

Pass Affiliation: Regional Season Pass

All-Day Lift Ticket Prices: $67 (M - Th), $80 (F - Su)


Expedition Detroit Award: Best for the Terrain Park Junkie


Before I converted to a Detroit region local back in 2007, my family made annual pilgrimages to Southeast Michigan during the winter holidays. One of those trips included a ski day at some local resort I had never heard of: Pine Knob. Aside from the vague, childlike memories of the slopes, I remember my surprise at how quickly we got to and from the resort from our lodging in Bloomfield Hills. All of my other ski trips required either hours in the car towards the Appalachians or a flight to the Rockies - this resort felt practically in our backyard.


My childhood experience was far from unique. Located just 30 minutes from the City of Detroit, Pine Knob provides the most accessible ski and snowboard destination for the vast majority of our region's resident recreationists. Aside from accessibility, Pine Knob stands out as Southeast Michigan's preeminent destination for terrain park opportunities. Over the last few years, the resort's #TheKnobProject initiative has facilitated massive investments in new jumps, a progression park, a 1000 ft. high-speed tow tope, a "jib bus," and a new "monster jump." If you're a terrain park junkie, this is definitely the hill for you.


While Pine Knob features ample beginner runs, brand new skiers and snowboarders may want to consider visiting one of the other Big Four resorts for their first gander with mountain sports due to Pine Knob's extensive terrain parks and intermediate/advanced-rated slopes. This caveat is only intended for truly "green" riders - both literally and figuratively. New skiers and snowboarders will still have a great time at Pine Knob, but comparatively less than their more advanced contemporaries shredding the terrain parks.

 

Ski season has undeniably arrived in Detroit, but we must note that the Big Four just opened over the past few weeks (Mt. Brighton had their opening kick-off just last weekend), so the slope conditions are less than ideal to say the least. Roughly 50% of each resort's runs are open, but the "skiability" of each mountain's terrain will improve steadily as precipitation and snow-making efforts progress. In other words, primetime is coming, so we encourage you to start making your lift ticket purchases now if you haven't already.


We're closing out this article with a quick, shameless plug for our #EmbraceTheDark series. Each of these resorts offer exceptional night skiing and riding opportunities, so we invite you to join us in occasionally switching up our chilly night hikes or bikes for some hot laps at your resort of choice. Fortunately, no additional night gear is required for skiing or snowboarding under the lights - just bring the right lift ticket and a spirit of adventure.


We'll see you at the top of the hill.

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