Not too long after I worked for the winter up at Sugarloaf, Maine and after I passed my PSIA Certification Exam for ski instruction, I was motoring west through Ohio to a PSIA clinic sponsored by Boyne Mountain, Mi. I was feeling rather smug with my recent accomplishment and time on the big mountain, Sugarloaf, and wondering what I could learn in Michigan? Was there really any decent skiing there? Do they have any vertical or elevation to speak of and why did I agree to come to this event? Chip Kamin, who was an examiner for PSIA Central, and Larry Cohen had asked me to accompany them to this workshop clinic and I agreed because these were the two guys who got me into ski instruction in the first place and I respected them both. So here we were, making our way through Toledo into Michigan which was no where near any reputable skiing in my mind. I was more concerned with visiting the Christmas super store- Bronner’s, in the Bavarian themed town of Frankenmuth, Mi. I figured if I was going to drive all this way to ski on something in Michigan, I would at least salvage the trip with a visit to this famous little town with the famous Christmas store. Boy- was I surprised when I got to Boyne and had the experience of a Central Division workshop clinic.
Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in my mind were famous for Nordic skiing. The Upper Peninsula in Michigan has the famous ski jumps at Iron Mountain and cross country skiing up in those three states is king. But we will get back to that in a minute. Boyne, as it turns out today, is the second largest operator and owner of ski and golf resorts in the country. Among its current properties are Big Sky, Crystal Mt., Sugarloaf and Sunday River. Boyne knows how to operate a ski area and although the vertical at its home base in Michigan is a little smaller than my home area here in Pennsylvania, it is very well run and the snowmaking, grooming and natural snowfall make for some pretty nice conditions. Chip introduced me to Peter Batiste who was a fellow examiner in the Central Division and he did the split of all of the attendees at the clinic. I was fortunate enough to make the first split and ended up in Peter’s group. My smugness started to melt as I watched our course conductor ski. His handling of the clinic and his skiing ability made me real glad that I had decided to attend this event. Like I have said in many of my earlier posts, smaller mountains have produced some pretty impressive skiers. Boyne was no exception and the enthusiasm for skiing at the smaller mountains is infectious. No wonder Glen Plake, the famous extreme skier, spends time in the smaller areas. Not only are they a feeder to the big resorts out west, but they have their own character and enthusiasm even with a limited vertical drop. I learned a lot in that clinic and on our way back, the conversation was lively with Chip and Larry about Peter and the professional quality of the PSIA clinic in the Central Division.
Fast forward to another time and I had the opportunity to once again ski the midwest only this time in the frozen tundra which is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Here is where winter is locked in for many months of the year and if you read my post about the National Blind Skiing Championship, you will get a feel for the challenging weather and conditions that skiers in that region face. https://chroniclesofmccloskey.com/2013/02/17/the-national-blind-skiing-championship/ You really have to love the winter to live there and especially ski there. 40 below zero straight temperatures are not uncommon in these parts and when you are skiing a small area with limited vertical terrain, you wonder sometimes why you do it? But again, the midwestern ethic of fun, excitement, and passion runs deep in this neck of the woods. I was again surprised at the excellent conditions and the professional way in which the area, Blackjack, ran its “mountain.” People are tough up there and in many ways, they reminded me of the tough as nails people from Maine that I had known in my stint at Sugarloaf. If you didn’t have a dipstick in your engine block heating the oil, there was no way you were starting your car in either area of the country. I had 40 below in Maine as well, but the UP is in a class of its own with the winds off of Lake Superior and the copious amounts of snowfall due to lake effect. Blackjack might be a smaller area but they get boatloads of snow.
Bottom line, never judge anything before you have the experience. I had preconceived notions about Alpine skiing in the midwest, but I was pleasantly surprised. What they lack in vertical, they more than make up for in professionally run areas and expertise in their ski instruction. Sadly, Larry and Chip are no longer with us, but the memories of those clinics( I went back several times), are etched in my mind. I have always been grateful to Larry, Bob Irish and Chip Kamin for getting me involved in ski instruction. I miss all of them. Thanks for reading and You Betcha…………ski the midwest.