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Ski Midwest: Crystal Mountain Essentials

Vitals Vertical drop: 375 feet; Skiable terrain: 65 acres, 35 km of cross-country trails; Number of downhill trails: 34; Number of lifts: 6 (one high-speed quad) and 2 surface tows; Annual snowfall: 140 inches; Snowphone: (800) 968-7754.

Getting There Crystal Mountain is 234 miles from Detroit and 280 miles from Chicago. From Detroit, take I-75 north to U.S. 10 to U.S. 27. North of Clare take the Cadillac exit back to U.S. 10 to M-115 west (Cadillac exit). Then take M-115 north to Crystal Mountain. From Chicago, take I-94 east to either I-196 north (which merges into U.S. 131 in Grand Rapids) or U.S. 131 north. Exit at M-115 south of Cadillac and go north to Crystal.

Amenities Indoor swimming pool, ice skating rink, fitness room, spa, sleigh rides.

Lift Tckets Weekends: Adult, $40; Teen (13-18), $32; Junior (7-12), $25; Midweek: Adult, $30; Teen, $25; Junior, $20; Holiday (Dec. 24-Jan. 2): Adult, $43; Teen, $35; Junior, $28; Kids 6 and under ski for free at all times.

Kidcare Childcare is available for all ages, from infants to 12 years old. Check out Pooh's Corner, a special building built to scale for small children. Piglet's Program for infants to age 3 is $26 for a half-day and $42 for a full day, including lunch. The Mountain Midgets skiing program for 3- and 4-year-olds is $32 for a half-day and $50 for a full day.

Lessons Private and group lessons for alpine, cross-country and telemark skiing as well as snowboarding and racing are offered. New this winter, Crystal has joined the Mountains of Distinction group made up of 11 Eastern resorts, and now offers the "Guaranteed Easy Turns" program, a full-day learn-to-ski experience that takes beginners starting at age 13. The cost is $40 for a 2-hour lesson, which includes rental equipment and lift access. Crystal Kids for 5- to 12-year-olds offers full-day instruction with lunch for $35 and $22 for a half-day ($45 and $32 respectively, includes rental equipment).

Diversions You can't travel up the highway without classic Michigan rock 'n' roll. "Sonics Rendezvous" is a just-released live performance of members of the seminal heavy metal bands MC5, SRC and Up. Recorded in 1979 and lost until last year, it's available only on the Web at www.sonicsrendezvous.com.

Highway Lunch Stops On U.S. 131 at exit 101 north of Grand Rapids, stop at Rosie's Diner, a Fifties-style dining car that appeared in the Bounty paper towel TV ads. Enjoy massive meals for less than $10. On U.S. 10, try Damon's Ribs or the Italian Oven at the Eastman Road exit in Midland.

Early/Late Deal Opening day through Dec. 16 and March 19 to close are the 45th Anniversary Days where for $45 per adult ($4.50 per child), you can get a package deal that includes lodging and a lift ticket.

Best Deal The Weekender Package at the Hamlet is the best deal, running $248 per person per weekend, which includes lodging, unlimited skiing and two "Good Time Tickets" for $10 toward NASTAR, kids programs and more.

Information Crystal Mountain Resort, 12500 Crystal Mountain Drive, Thompsonville, MI 49683; (800) 968-7686; Website: www.crystalmtn.com. For the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce, call (800) 882-5801.

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