Independents Day: Mount Bohemia, Mich.

Not easy to get to, but the "poor man's Japan" of Michigan's Upper Peninsula is well worth the effort for skiers who like deep snow and strong character.

Photo: Keri Bascetta

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The upper peninsula of Michigan is a wonderfully curious place. Yoopers have a thick and distinct dialect—somewhere between Wisconsinite nasal and Canadian long vowel. The U.P. has mastered the pasty, a delicious meat pie originally gaining favor with copper ore miners in the 1800s. It’s a hulking landmass that holds deep forests, hills that are trying to be mountains, and on a small peninsula that sprouts off the main peninsula sits Mount Bohemia, the Midwest’s powder skiing dream world.

Marcus Caston skis at Mt. Bohemia
Marcus Caston slides Boho’s ice waterfallPhoto credit: Keri Bascetta

Mount Bohemia is a shocking place. Cartographers have described it as being a ten-minute drive from the middle of nowhere. It’s a nine-and-a-half hour road trip north of Detroit. Marquette, Michigan, the closest—ahem—major city, has a smidge over 20,000 people. The resort has only two chairlifts. A fleet of buses driven by cigar-chewing locals drives skiers who’ve glided past the lifts back to the base area, which consists of a parking lot and a handful of yurts. Mount Bohemia does not allow beginners. In fact, when purchasing a lift ticket, skiers have to sign a waiver pledging an at-the-very-least strong intermediate ability capable of managing extreme terrain. The resort is only 900 vertical feet high. There’s not a single green square run, no grooming ever, and it even boasts a triple-black-diamond trail. And all of these things make it magical.

The extreme backcountry zone in Mt. Bohemia
the Extreme Backcountry zone features 16 triple-black-diamonds Photo credit: Keri Bascetta

We know what you’re thinking: There can’t be anything that radical west of the Rockies and east of Mad River Glen. But cozy up to a diehard for tales of the 40-foot stake used to measure snow totals and lake effect storms that regularly bury Mount Bohemia. Let a silverback Michigander in a snow-covered Carhartt onesie tell you about the natural halfpipes, the 40-foot frozen waterfall cliff jump, the boulder drops and steeps, and the faceshots. If you love to ski endless feather-light powder on intense terrain, Boho is your spot.

Joey Wallis grew up in Iowa and spent winters hunting powder in Colorado. In 2010, he visited Bohemia for the first time to photograph the Midwest Telemark Fest. “The concept of flying back to the Midwest to experience gnarly powder-filled glades was very bizarre,” said Wallis. “But I kept returning to catch the famous polar powder that’s as good as Utah. I know it gets the Wasatchers foaming but the quality of snow at Bohemia is out of this world.” Wallis and other Bohemia devotees lovingly refer to it as the “poor man’s Japan.”

Mt. Bohemia's double chair
Mardi Gras colors on Boho’s double chair. Photo credit: Keri Bascetta

Maybe you’re still skeptical. Perhaps Bohemia’s $99 ski pass will turn your frown upside down. Yes, that’s the price of a season pass, not a day ticket. No, it’s not a typo. A Bohemia season pass costs less than a salad in Aspen. Hell, you can’t even park in Vail for the day for that price. To ski at Mount Bohemia is to go back in time before unneeded frills took precedent over extreme powder skiing substance. Sure, you’ll eat a pasty at the bar instead of a swanky 4-course meal at a Michelin star restaurant. But when you’ve been choking on powder and skiing deep, secluded turns all day, does all that extra crap even matter? In the delightful words of a Yooper: Naaaaah!

How to Get to Mount Bohemia, Mich.

No one will accuse Mount Bohemia of being easy to get to, but that’s one of its charms. The ski area is located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, near the town of Lac La Belle, just under 40 miles north of Houghton County Memorial Airport and roughly 7 hours from Minneapolis.

Mount Bohemia Skier Stats

  • Skiable Acres: 585
  • Annual Snowfall (inches): 273
  • Summit Elevation (feet): 1,500
  • Vertical Drop (feet): 900

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Originally published in the January 2020 issue of SKI Magazine. For more great writing delivered directly to your inbox, SUBSCRIBE NOW.