Keweenaw, MI, Feb. 15--Pushing off the top of a mile-long ski run into waist-deep powder, you dive through a 32-degree-pitch rock-shouldered chute and then down into a an extreme back country glade of five-foot diameter virgin pines.
For Midwest skiers, living this ski dream has meant taking a trip to the Rocky Mountains. No more. Beginning next ski season they'll be able to enjoy this experience close to home thanks to the opening of Mt. Bohemia, a brand new ski resort debuting in 2000-2001 in the Keweenaw peninsula of Michigan's upper peninsula.
Locals have skied Mt. Bohemia for decades, using climbing skins to ascend the slope and Tele gear to cut through the powder. The 900-foot vertical mountain, huge by Midwest standards, lies 35 minutes north of Houghton. Blessed with abundant snow thanks the lake effect dumps off Lake Superior, the region's ten year average is 276 inches per winter, on a par with most Western venues. The mountain itself towers over Lac La Belle, an inland lake connected to Superior. Massive virgin pines and oaks cover the slopes, too steep to permit logging.
Initially, Mt. Bohemia will have 12 ski runs, two chair lifts, and a day lodge. Future plans call for two more lifts, condos, log-cabin style residences, and skier amenities. And make no mistake, the area will definitely cater to upper-intermediate and expert skiers and snowboarders; intermediate and beginner terrain is limited.
The marquee attraction for Mt. Bohemia will be its "Extreme Backcountry Glade," the widest glade between the Eastern resorts and the Rockies. Above the glade are a half-dozen distinct rocky chutes with pitches in the mid-30s range. The Extereme Glade itself is a quarter-mile wide and spills to the shores of Lac La Belle, a constant descent with no run-on or run-off.
"This is definitely the wildest mountain in the Midwest," says local skier Dr. Steve Rowe. An emergency room physicial in a nearby town, Rowe has skied the area more than just about anyone else, often leading excursions for interested powder hounds. "The powder is incredible, real face-shot stuff. The vertical pitch is constant from top to bottom; these are true black diamond runs. With the cliff drops and and chutes, it's skiing you can't get anywhere else in the Midwest."
As unique as Mt. Bohemia is for the Midwest, its major challenge will be to attract skiers and boarders. It's location, 8 hours from Minneapolis, 6 hours from Milwaukee, and 10 hours from Detroit, means long drives in winter weather. The developers, Crosswinds Communities of Novi, Michigan, have tried to entice skiers with some very innovative season pass guarantees. Over 1000 locals were allowed to buy season passes for $295 adult/$195 student, and those prices were locked in for life. As long as they hold their pass the yearly rate will never change. In addition, all season pass holders get guaranteed first tracks; the area will open for them at 8 am on Saturdays and Sundays, while the general public will have to wait until 9 am to ski.
For more information about Mt. Bohemia, call 1-888-937-2411.