Whether it was uncooperative snow conditions, nobody to carpool with, or a $1000 repair bill on my Jeep, it seemed like every time I tried to go to Mount Bohemia, something got in the way. Mount Bohemia was becoming my Moby Dick — this year alone, I had canceled twice. But everything finally came together last week, so my friend Joe and I hit the road and for a weekend of riding the biggest mountain in the Midwest.
Getting There: Located at the tippity-top of the Keewenaw Peninsula, Mount Bohemia is pretty much the end of the line. Surviving on gas station burritos and Red Bull, we drove 9.5 hours overnight, arriving around 730am. The resort, and the store down the road weren’t open yet, so we opted for a power nap.
First Impressions: My first glimpse of Mount Bohemia was at dawn, barely illuminated with the sun rising behind her in the distance, but having spent the last 10 hours in the dark it was clearly something pretty special. As the sun rose in to full view behind Mount Bohemia, the rays reflected by the freshly fallen snow quickly put an end to our nap.
By this time, the Bear Belly was open, and they put a pot on for us. We had some time to kill before Mount Bohemia opened, so we enjoyed the coffee and chatted with the owner. Once we had our fill of coffee, it was just a matter of securing our lift tickets and getting after it. The first run was a warm-up, if you will, down Copper Plunge which was still blanketed in fresh snow from the previous evening. A few rollers and windlips turned this cruiser in to a great first descent.
Conditions: The sun stayed with us most of Thursday, eventually turning the fresh powder to spring corn and mashed potatoes. Not too shabby for the first day of spring. Friday saw no fresh snow, and that corn had really set up firm overnight, the first few runs were less than enjoyable, but soon the sun greeted us again, and softened up the terrain. Friday was basically a repeat of Thursday but without the fresh snow. A dusting of new snow, maybe 3″ or so, fell overnight in to Saturday, which was just enough to push them over the 300″ mark for the season, and fill in the ruts and freshen up the glades. Saturday was markedly colder (about 10F), but still mostly sunny.
Mount Bohemia’s Terrain Overview
Overall, the terrain variety at Mount Bohemia is unrivaled in the Midwest, and would give most Western and Eastern mountain resorts a good run for their money. Ninety-five trails span around the summit, serviced by only two chairlifts. The terrain overall is remarkably challenging, deserving of the warning sign posted at the base.
The trail network is unique in this regard; all trails lead to the bottom (or the road) and both chairs go to the same summit. Every run is “top to bottom”, and if you make it to the road, don’t worry because a shuttle bus will take you back to the base area.
The terrain is among the more challenging terrain I’ve ridden, anywhere, and can be separated in to two categories:
- Mount Bohemia’s Gladed Sections
- These comprise the majority of the 95 trails. Some of them might only be Blue if not for the trees everywhere, but, trees, so they rate them double. These range from bushwhacking to fairly mellow.
- The Pirates Cove section for instance is fairly steep up top, but a good amount of spacing between the trees. It mellows out considerably towards the bottom. Middle Earth from what I recall was about as mellow as it got — requiring some bootpacking — and the overall spacing of trees in that section was pretty wide open. On the other hand the Extreme Backcountry was more of the bushwhacking variety, tighter, steeper and more difficult to navigate.
- Mount Bohemia’s trails
- I like glades as much or more than the next guy, but sometimes you get tired of traversing the trees hunting for that zone you saw from the lift, only to find out that the landing is flat, or full of trees, or the approach is sketchy, etc. I particularly enjoyed: Ghost, Copper Plunge, Sleeping Bear, Rumbling Bear, Polar Bear, Black Bear and The Beast.
On nearly all of these trails, there is an abundance of natural obstacles and features like hips, downed trees, log jibs, cliff bands, rock drops, gullies, stumps, etc. They are not super narrow as some midwest black diamonds tend to be, and there is enough room for good traverse cuts to scrub speed if needed, but they tend steep (some sections approaching 50 degrees), or at least have some rollicking steep sections interspersed among mellower turns and natural features.
Mount Bohemia’s Facilities
A series of connected Yurts and an adjacent yurt with public restrooms comprise the whole resort facility at Mount Bohemia. The first yurt has a fitting station for rental gear, it’s also where you sign your death waiver, buy your lift tickets, get your breakfast and buy snacks and cold soft drinks throughout the day. Beyond the first yurt is a common dining yurt with a dozen or so tables. This becomes a social hub in the evening with music or karaoke. To the right of this is the bar, where you can get coffee or adult beverages, order lunch or dinner from the limited menu, and chat with the other guests.
- We didn’t drive to the most remote corner of Michigan to stay at the Ritz, but the accommodations are spartan to say the least. There are a few Yurts, tent-like structures which can sleep 8-10, one of which is set up like a hostel where you can rent beds for $25/night, and maybe 7 duplex cabins.
- We stayed in one of the cabins, or rather, one half of one of the cabins. The lodging consisted of a small table with two chairs, two sets of twin bunk beds reminiscent of summer camp, a sink (running water, yay!) and a bathroom with shower. Linens were provided, but bring your own towels.
A common building adjacent the cabins had some more seating, a few televisions with DVD players, etc., and a coffee maker, but you would need to provide your own coffee and your own coffee cups. May have also been cooking appliances (again, bring your own cookware) but once I discovered the common building didn’t have coffee, it was of no use to me.
The Wi-Fi network was pretty much non-existent, and my Verizon network had no coverage except for sometimes at the summit, so keep that in mind.
- Breakfast was included in our lodging plan, and consisted of pancakes, link sausage, and a beverage each morning. The bummer was that there was no coffee service until the facilities opened, 30 minutes before first chair.
- Lunch menu was limited to a handful of items but the portions were good and prices not unreasonable if you were going a la carte. Joe wolfed down a burger in no time. I had the Chicken Pesto wrap (which was really more of a Balsamic, I’m not complaining because it was still very good, but it wasn’t pesto).Also, at 430 every day, they serve free chips and salsa in the bar.Dinner was a fixed menu which I suspect rotates nightly. We had a small salad and some sort of stir fry or chicken and vegetables over rice. Nothing to write home about, but it was included in our package.
Off-site attractions near Mount Bohemia
There is really not much between Houghton/Hancock and Mount Bohemia other than a few roadside bars catering to snowmobilers. There is Gay, which has the “Gay Bar” that is supposed to be a destination but we didn’t make it.
- The Bear Belly
- The nearest spot off-site is the Bear Belly/Lac La Belle Lodge. It is a gas station, convenience store, liquor store, bar & grill and they also have a handful of cabins available to rent. The bar & grill is a nice, high-ceilinged room overlooking Lac La Belle, the raw timber walls and beams adorned with hunting trophies and other Up-Northia. They were open around 8am and I suspect they closed about whenever. Full bar service, with a compliment of local microbrews to boot. The hamburgers and french fries there were really good, and even after the convenience store closed, the bartender could get you anything (including beer/wine/liquor) to carry-out.
- Copper Harbor/Brickside Brewery
- We spent an evening driving out to Copper Harbor in search of cell service (I hadn’t had any service on Verizon since about 20 miles north of Houghton on Thursday morning). While we didn’t get service, we did stock up on some supplies and hit the Brickside Brewery for some pints. There are other restaurants including the Mariner North, which were highly recommended, but we didn’t visit this time. Brickside offered sampler size glasses for $1 and pints I think for $4, as well as growlers and six-packs to go. We spent a few hours hanging with bearded, camouflaged locals and their dogs, chatting with the proprietor, and sampling some very good beer before heading back to our cabin.
Mount Bohemia Ski Resort Review – Summing it Up
I see there’s another storm in the forecast for this weekend, there’s no way in hell I can get back up there now, but you better believe I am already trying to plan a trip or two for next winter.
While we didn’t get hit with 20″ of snow, I think the conditions we did have were good enough, spanning the full gamut from a midwest pow day to a bit of windswept ice, with a healthy serving of spring corn and slush, to boot.
I’m glad I finally got to experience the midwest’s hidden gem. All the hype, everything you have heard about it is true. The terrain is unrivaled for the region, and should compare favorably to almost any resort in North America. No frills whatsoever, it’s a ski resort for the hard core skier or rider. Make your own fun. Find your own features. Shred trees. Drop cliffs. Wake up and do it all again.
Mount Bohemia is what every ski resort should be, at least as far as I’m concerned. I just wish it were closer.