Two weeks after most resorts in Colorado, Utah, and California closed for the 2017/18 winter season, two Midwest mountains were still spinning their ski lifts. Michigan resorts Mount Bohemia and Boyne Mountain were the lucky recipients of late-season snowfalls that turned spring slush into stellar mid-winter conditions, giving both mountains the opportunity to push back their closing dates. Until when? That was yet to be determined.
Not bound by land leases that determine the closing dates for many other resorts across the country, and bolstered by the extra April snowfall, Mount Bohemia and Boyne Mountain decided to enter into a little friendly competition to see who would be able to keep the lifts turning and skiers on the slopes the longest.
Loni Glieberman, President of Mount Bohemia Ski Resort, was inspired by Colorado resorts to initiate the challenge. “Arapahoe Basin and Loveland always seem to be in competition to see which resort can open earliest in the season. I thought, we should do that here in the Midwest, but on the back end of the season. Just to add some fun, some excitement, and do something nice for charity,” Glieberman said.
“Boyne got more snow in April than in January this year, and conditions were just fantastic,” said Erin Ernst, Director of Communications at Boyne Mountain. Wanting to take advantage of the April snow, Boyne Mountain accepted the challenge, which stipulated two ground rules. One: The ski areas must operate at least one day per week for a minimum of five hours per day. Two: The loser of the challenge would donate $1,000 to the charity of the winner’s choice. So how did the resorts stack up going into the challenge?
Boyne Mountain had received approximately 140 inches of snow over the course of the season (a fairly average annual total for them), not including the artificial snow they were able to make throughout the winter. “We were lucky to have some great snowmaking days this season and were able to keep refreshing our base on the mountain even later in the season,” Ernst said. Boyne makes snow with its proprietary Boyne Low-E fan guns, which can be operated even in marginal temperatures. Plus, early-April temperatures stayed cool enough to preserve snow, which groomers started moving onto the mountain’s core runs. So for Boyne Mountain, things were looking promising.
Mount Bohemia, too, thought they stood a good chance of making it into May. This remote resort is known by powder hounds far and wide for its steeps, backcountry terrain—and for getting more snow than other resorts in the area.
“Being on the Upper Peninsula, we’re lucky to get lake-effect snow from all directions, so we get hammered by winter storms. Other resorts in this area only get this lake-effect from two directions,” Glieberman explained.
This season, Bohemia experienced a slightly above-average snow year, with 275 inches going into the start of April. Then an early April storm brought an additional 22 inches. “After that storm, we thought for sure we’d be skiing into May,” Glieberman said.
But then then the weather shifted and tides turned. Temperatures on both peninsulas soared into the 80-degree range, and snow conditions changed dramatically. Mount Bohemia faced a major disadvantage: the mountain doesn’t make snow or groom, and so are unable to move snow to where it’s needed. “We’ve got all-natural snow, and natural snow just melts differently than man-made snow,” Glieberman said.
Though Bohemia was open and running on April 28 and April 29, management wasn’t sure conditions would hold another week and notified the public that it would make a decision about operating on the following weekend by Wednesday, May 2. Sure enough, after days of more typical seasonal temperatures, Mount Bohemia had to concede. Boyne Mountain, despite high temperatures and a few rain storms, was open and spinning lifts on the first weekend of May.
“We congratulate Boyne Mountain on winning the challenge,” Glieberman said. “We’re still proud that we skied until April 28 here at Bohemia, and look forward to going up against Boyne again next year.”
As the winner of the Midwest Spring Challenge, Boyne earns bragging rights and a $1,000 donation to its charity of choice, the Boyne City Food Pantry.
“Spring is such a great time of year to ski. You get to shed layers, enjoy plenty of sunshine, and work on a goggle tan,” Ernst said. “People look forward to skiing this time of year, so we try to stay open as late as we can. The opportunity to ski in May doesn’t come around often, so it’s something to aim for. Plus, there’s the bragging rights. Skiers like to ski until the last possible day and set a personal record, then brag about it.”