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Mount Bohemia: Midwest Extreme

Mount Bohemia: Midwest Extreme

Travel Midwest
By Frieda Waara
posted: 12/15/2001

You've outgrown your local mountain, but can'tmake the trip out West. Steer north toward Michigan's Upper Peninsula and prepare for the antithesis of Midwest skiing. Mount Bohemia opened just three years ago, but skiers have long strapped on packs and hiked its rugged slidepaths to play in deep powder. Neither grooming nor snowmaking exist at Mount Bohemia, and for good reason. It just isn't necessary. Thanks to its proximity to Lake Superior, this mountain is a snow magnet. "We're a natural powder place, says owner Lonie Glieberman. "I've seen 22 days in a row with two to three inches of fresh snow every day. And most of Bohemia's 41 runs wind through hardwoods, that are too tight for grooming.

Before you trek up to Bohemia, make sure you know what you're in for: It offers only expert terrain (250 acres of it) save for a single intermediate run, Prospector. It's a bare-bones place; once you're there, there isn't much to do but ski. Bohemia doesn't coddle the timid. It's for hardcore skiers who like 30-degree pitches—which is precisely why the die-hards love it. The daylodge is also minimal and the lodging is limited. Don't even ask about ski schools or beginner terrain.

Getting to the mountain can be equally challenging. From November to April, most of the surrounding roads are snow-covered, and the snowbanks lining the road are often 10 feet high. Once you drive over the Mackinaw Bridge, "north is more than a direction, it's a destination. The moment you cross over the Keweenaw Peninsula—known as Copper Country to the locals—you know you're in for an adventure: Street signs are in Finnish, homes have winter exits upstairs and snowplows are supersized. Around 300 inches of snow fall each year. It takes planning, preparation and a certain mind-set to embrace it.

"No one east of the Mississippi offers as much gladed terrain as we do, shouts Glieberman as he eagerly heads across Powder Keg. He intends to warm up our reflexes before taking us into the real woods, a sinister cluster of seven triple-black-diamond drops.

"Our terrain is advanced, with some extreme backcountry, he explains. Unlike most Midwest resorts, Bohemia isn't exaggerating when it comes to its double-black-diamond ratings

At a time when most areas are desperately seeking skiers, Glieberman could be accused of scaring them away. A sign posted in his parking lot (and a banner flashing on his website) warns "No Beginners Allowed. And that's advice well-heeded.

But for 20-something Chuck Bergeron of Fenton, Mich., that sign was all the incentive he needed to drive farther north than Nub's Nob on the Lower Peninsula. "I saw 'No Beginners,' and I was all over that, Bergeron says. "You've got to watch out for beginners. Sometimes they're scarier than double-black-diamond terrain. Glieberman nods, knowing his niche. He'll also tell you beginners can be costly. "Without beginners, the lifts don't stop as much. And it's expensive to make a hill flat.

Bohemia is a two-lift operation, with seven employees on weekdays and nine on weekends (including Dave the shuttle driver, who appears with unfailing punctuality to ferry skiers out of the backcountry and back to the base). "We've basically had the same staff since we started, says Glieberman, who adds that he has more applicants than there are jobs.

Visiting Bohemia takes more time than it does money. The drives from Minneapolis, Green Bay or Milwaukee are all longer than five hours. Travel time from Detroit is closer to 10. But what you spend on gas, you save in tickets. Daily adult lift passes are $38.

In his mid-30s, Glieberman is one of the youngest ski area owners in the country, and he has big plans. He's already built eight slopeside cabins ($125 per night) and plans to build a lodging hostel that will sleep more than 100 skiers. Until then, rooms are available in nearby Copper Harbor, 10 miles away, for aslittle as $50 per night.

The pack-your-own-lunch "lodge at Bohemiia is a bundle of seven yurts filled with glossy pine picnic tables. If you get low on fuel, you can buy the best item on the menu—Dinty Moore Beef Stew—for $3 and microwave it yourself. The ski patrol, ticket counter, ski shop and rental shop—even the restrooms—are in yurts, which is actually a big improvement. In the beginning, the bathrooms were housed in semi-trailers that could be conveniently hauled off for dumping.

"Bohemia is friendly, clean and comfortable, says Jeff Magowan, who makes the four-hour drive from Escanaba, Mich. "That's all I need. I'm here for the skiing.

Magowan, 45, spends weeks every season touring the world's best extreme skiing terrain, often arriving by helicopter with champions like Doug Coombs, Dean Cummings and Dan Egan. Owner of an insurance company, he appreciates the risk of skiing without boundaries. "It's really fun to ride up the chair, examine the slope and think, 'I can ski anywhere on this mountain,' and then find the most creative route. There's nothing else like this in the Midwest.

At Bohemia, you're more likely to find untracked powder and freshly frosted glades than you are to find a liftline. That alone is worth the gnarly drive.

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