Getting a teenager excited about a family vacation is no easy feat. But I figured out the key on this summer’s trip to northern Michigan: Let the 16-year-old shoot us at the end of the trip.

We didn’t let him use real bullets, but the paintballs he shot at us were painful enough, thank you very much. In fact, I found the whole experience to be more painful and less colorful than I had expected.


I figured we would come out of the paintball course covered in bright splotches of color. But the paintballs are small (about the size of a small marble) and they don’t really splat. The only bright splotches we had were the red welts and purple bruises on our skin.

Paintball at Crystal Mountain

The paintball course we visited is a new feature of one of our favorite Michigan resorts, Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville. We were disappointed to find that the course was a squared off section at the base of the mountain outfitted with bales of hay and other things to hide behind rather than a course laid out among the trees that line the ski runs.

It was a hot day and we had donned heavy clothes in a feeble (and futile) attempt to dull the paintball pain. In addition, safety rules at the course require players to wear  black plastic face-covering shields. It added up to leave us unbearably warm as the sun beat down on the course. A shady course among the trees would have been much more comfortable. It’s something they’re considering for for the summer of 2010, if paintball proves popular enough among Crystal Mountain visitors, a spokesman says.

PaintballsmallPaintball is played in teams with one team shooting at the other across the course. A referee oversees the action and sounds an alarm to begin the game and again to end it once all of the players on one team are “dead” (shot and safely crouched behind a home base barrier), players are out of ammunition or for any other reason the referee comes up with. Pausing the violence gives everyone a chance to reload, strategize and gloat over their sniper shots and crafty hiding places.

Is Paintball Empowering?

I never got into the spirit of the thing, unlike the rest of my family. My husband and son spent the entire two hours pretending they were GI Joes, running, jumping, hiding and rolling around like Tim Allen attempting to dodge the aliens in the funny movie, “GalaxyQuest.” I had to bite my tongue not to say to hubby, “Does it help when you roll around?” in the same snarky tone Sigourney Weaver uses when she delivers that line to Allen.

But it was my 14-year-old daughter, Tess, who truly surprised me. She was nervous about the idea of paintball and wore layers of heavy clothes, figuring she would be her brother’s favorite target. After just a couple rounds of battle, though, she had acquired the glazed look and crazed eyes of a killer. “I really like this,” she confided in a breathless whisper as she put on her face shield and headed back into battle. “They’re afraid of me. Really afraid. I feel so powerful.”

I fear my next vacation might have a painful ending as well.