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Sun-loving Houstonians – do you know what winter really means? Are you up for an adventure of deep snow, chilly noses and perhaps a real sleigh ride in a northern winter wonderland? Then Michigan is a can’t-miss destination for your family. Of course, it’s helpful if you are of sturdy stock with an enthusiastic spirit. But the rewards include miles of almost virgin snow, truly affordable prices and a complementary array of fun indoor activities. Traverse City has everything for a family winter vacation. Last winter, I visited this area and found affordable accommodations, progressive and delectable dining and some great resorts topped off with cheery fireplaces and friendly people. Activities Skiing has its obvious enthusiasts. Michigan has more than 40 downhill skiing resorts which offer a great alternative to the more traditional Texas skiing choices of Colorado and New Mexico. The over-45 skiers faithfully gear up and head down the slopes, enjoying the thrill of freedom that comes with zipping down the pristine slopes or the challenge of tackling the area’s 11 cross-country areas. Resorts in the Grand Traverse region are reaching out to the younger generation also – by adding snowboarding, tubing and some snow parks featuring ramps, sliding rails and other features for the more limber and daring. There are two trails just for snowboarders that feature all sorts of terrain. The Boardman Valley Trail, 80 miles long, and the 130-mile long Jordan Valley Trail that features dazzling views and challenging routes. Highly recommended is a guided snowshoe hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Don’t miss the water park at Great Wolf Lodge. You can spend an entire day enjoying the enormous play space with games, slides and a vast stories-high tube system. Family friendly for all ages – it’s a blast. And that’s not all! Check out the outdoor skating rinks, four indoor hockey rinks, and I enjoyed an after-dinner sleigh ride at Shanty Creek Resort. You can even try some snow golf! Suggested Indoor Activities Snow isn’t the only attraction in Traverse City – be sure to enjoy some of the indoor action, too. Traverse City has more than 35 museums and art galleries. The downtown area is charming with loads of cute shops and great restaurants. There are two casinos – Turtle Creek and Leelanau Sands Casino – which offer a fun alternative to the slopes. Spa treatments are a heavenly delight at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. This large, quiet, restful spa is elegant and staffed by total professionals. You can enjoy the works: massage, skin care and treatment, hair care, nail services and more. Prices are so reasonable with 50-minute massages starting at $99! Wineries and Breweries The Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas boast 29 wineries, many on the sites of former cherry orchards. I stopped in to visit several, and three of my favorites were the elegant Chateau Chantal, the modern and clean Two Lads and the fun, laid back L. Mawby. Microbreweries are enjoying huge popularity. We really enjoyed Shorts in Bellaire which specializes in dozens of beers and ales, many with some off-the-wall flavors like chocolate and cherries. Owner Joe Short can give you a ‘growler’ and you won’t soon forget it! Dining Livability.com has rated Traverse City as the No. 1 “Foodie City” in America. Discover why for yourself. For a spectacular dinner and view, don’t miss Aerie at the Grand Traverse Resort. Chef Ted Cizma, “Food & Wine” magazine’s Best New Chef of the Year (2000), will dazzle you. Downtown Traverse City, especially along Front Street, is alive with locally-owned restaurants. Amical, Cook’s House, Poppycocks, Red Ginger and Phil’s on Front have great menus featuring locally grown products. There is a chocolate explosion in downtown Traverse. Take the Chocolate Stroll to Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate, Chocolate Exotica, Kilwins and the Chocolate Den. Be sure to visit Morsels, locally owned by Jeff and Misha Neidorfler. Morsels offers bite-sized treats and coffee in a small, funky corner shop. The Visitors Center can give you a brochure for a self-guided tour they call Tasty Traverse. There are also guided foodie tours available. Accommodations The Grand Traverse Resort sprawls over 900 acres, featuring more than 600 rooms, suites and condos. The hotel is centrally located, and has a shopping mall, indoor tennis court and swimming pool, and a 15,000-square-foot indoor water playground. The staff goes out of their way to be helpful and prices are great. You can make all your activity arrangements at the hotel, too. For those who want to stay where the slopes are right outside, try the Shanty Creek Resort. A recent $10 million renovation shows in every corner. Shanty Creek has two ski mountains, indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and fitness center, four restaurants and four championship golf courses. The resort actually consists of three distinct areas: Summit Village, Schuss Village and Cedar River Village; Summit Village and Schuss Village have ski hills. For the third consecutive year, michigan.org, the state of Michigan’s official travel and tourism website, has earned the title as most popular state tourism website in America. According to Hitwise, an online measurement company, michigan.org received more visits than any other state tourism website in 2009. To plan your own great vacation, visit the top-ranked website. Photos (top to bottom): A sleigh ride in the snow is fun for the whole family. Shops in downtown Traverse City are quaint and warm! Outdoor activities include zippy motorized ski machines and traditional cross country skiing. Wineries are beautiful in winter. Photos courtesy of VisitTraverseCity.com