Podcast #102: Mount Bohemia Owner, Founder, & President Lonie Glieberman
“I really believe that advanced skiers don't want to ski on groomed runs ... They want the best, most interesting terrain.”
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Lonie Glieberman, President of Mount Bohemia, Michigan
October 21, 2022
About Mount Bohemia
Click here for a mountain stats overview
Owned by: Lonie Glieberman
Pass affiliations: None
Reciprocal pass partners (view full list here):
3 days each at Bogus Basin, Mission Ridge, Great Divide, Lee Canyon, Pine Creek, White Pine, Sleeping Giant, Mt. Spokane, Eaglecrest, Eagle Point
2 days each at Porcupine Mountains; Crystal Mountain, Michigan; Giants Ridge; Hurricane Ridge
1 day each at Brundage, Treetops, Whitecap Mountains, Ski Brule, Snowstar
Free midweek skiing March 1-2, 5-9, 12-16, and 24-25 at Caberfae when staying at slopeside MacKenzie Lodge
Located in: Mohawk, Michigan
Closest neighboring ski areas: Mont Ripley (46 minutes), Porcupine Mountains (2 hours), Ski Brule (2 hours, 34 minutes), Snowriver (2 hours, 35 minutes), Keyes Peak (2 hours, 36 minutes), Marquette Mountain (2 hours, 40 minutes), Big Powderhorn (2 hours, 43 minutes), Mt. Zion (2 hours, 45 minutes), Pine Mountain (2 hours, 49 minutes), Whitecap (3 hours, 8 minutes).
Base elevation: 600 feet
Summit elevation: 1,500 feet
Vertical drop: 900 feet
Skiable Acres: 585
Average annual snowfall: 273 inches
Trail count: 147 (24% double-black, 49% black, 20% intermediate, 7% beginner)
Lift count: 2 lifts, 4 buses (1 double, 1 triple - view Lift Blog’s of inventory of Mount Bohemia’s lift fleet)
Bohemia has one of the most confusing trailmaps in America, so here’s an overhead view by Mapsynergy. This displays the main mountain only, and does not include Little Boho, but you can clearly see where Haunted Valley sits in relation to the lifts:
Here’s an older version, from 2014, that does not include Little Boho or the newer Middle Earth section, but has the various zones clearly labelled:
Why I interviewed him
Imagine: America’s wild north. Hours past everything you’ve ever heard of. Then hours past that. A peninsula hanging off a peninsula in the middle of the largest lake on Earth. There, a bump on the topo map. Nine hundred feet straight up. The most vert in the 1,300-mile span between Bristol and Terry Peak. At the base a few buildings, a cluster of yurts, a green triple chair crawling up the incline.
Here, at the end of everything, skiers find almost nothing. As though the voyage to road’s end had cut backward through time. No snowguns. No groomers. No rental shop. No ski school. No Magic Carpet. No beginner runs. No beginners. A lift and a mountain, and nothing more.
Nothing but raw and relentless terrain. All things tucked away at the flash-and-bling modern resort made obvious. Glades everywhere, top to bottom, labyrinthian and endless, hundreds of acres deep. Chutes. Cliffs. Bumps. Terrain technical and twisting. No ease in. No run out. All fall line.
To the masses this is nightmare skiing, the sort of stacked-obstacle elevator shaft observed from the flat shelf of green-circle groomers. To the rest of us – the few of us – smiling wanly from the eighth seat of a gondola car as ya’lling tourists yuck about the black diamonds they just windshield-wipered back to Corpus Christi – arrival at Mount Bohemia is a sort of surrealist dream. It can’t be real. This place. Everything grand about skiing multiplied. Everything extraneous removed. Like waking up and discovering all food except tacos and pizza had gone away. Delicious entrees for life.
And the snow. The freeze-thaws, the rain, the surly guttings of New England winters barely touch Boho. The lake-effect snowtrain – two to eight inches, nearly every day from December to March – erases these wicked spells soon after their rare castings. And the snow piles up: 273 inches on average, and more than 300 inches in three of the past five seasons. In 2022, Boho skied into May for the third time in the past decade.
There is no better ski area. For skiers whose lifequest is to roll as one with the mountain as the mountain was formed. Those weary of cat-tracks and Rangers coats splaying wobbly across the corduroy and bunched human bowling pins and the spectacular price of everything. Boho’s season pass is $109. Ninety-nine dollars if you can do without Saturdays. It’s loaded with reciprocal days at nearly two dozen partners. It’s a spectacular bargain and a spectacular find. At once dramatic and understated, wide-open and closely kept, rowdy and sublime, Mount Bohemia is the ski area that skiers deserve. And it is the ski area that the Midwest – one of the world’s great ski cultures – deserves. There is nothing else like Mount Bohemia in America, and there’s really nothing else like it anywhere.
What we talked about
October snow in the UP; how much snow Boho needs to open; “we can get five feet in December in a matter of days”; why the great Sugar Loaf, Michigan ski area failed and why it’s likely never coming back; a journey through the Canadian Football League; what running a football team and running a ski area have in common; “Narrow the focus, strengthen the brand”; wild rumors of a never-developed ski area in the Keweenaw Peninsula overheard on a Colorado chairlift; sleuthing pre-Google; the business case for a ski area with no beginner terrain; “it’s not just the size, it’s the pitch”; bringing Bohemia to improbable life; the most important element to Bohemia as a viable business; how to open a ski area when you’ve never worked at a ski area; community opposition materializes – “I still to this day don’t know why they were mad”; winning the referendum to build the resort; how locals feel about Boho today; industry reaction to a ski area with no grooming, no snowmaking, and no beginner terrain; “you actually have created the stupidest ski resort of all time”; the long history of established companies missing revolutionary products; dead-boring 1990s Michigan skiing; the slow early days with empty lifts spinning all day long; learning from failure to push through to success; the business turning point; Bohemia’s $99 season pass; the kingmaking power of the lost ski media; the state of Boho 22 years in; “nothing is ever as important as adding more and new terrain”; why Bohemia raised the price of its season pass by $10 for 2022-23; breaking down Boho’s pass fees; the two-year and lifetime passes; why the one-day annual season pass sale is now a 10-day annual season pass sale; why the ski area no longer sells season passes outside of its $99 pass sales window; protecting the Saturday experience; could we see a future with no lift tickets?; the potential of a Bohemia single-day lift ticket costing more than a season pass; “reward your season ticket holders”; the mountain’s massive reciprocal ticket network; the Indy Pass and why it wouldn’t work for Bohemia; the return of Fast Pass lanes; “we have to be very careful that Bohemia is a place for all people that are advanced or expert skiers”; why Bohemia’s frontside triple functions as a double; what could replace the triple and when it could happen; considering the carpet-load; what sort of lift we could see in Haunted Valley; whether we could ever see a lift in Outer Limits; a possible second frontside lift; where a lift would go on Little Boho and how it could connect to and from the parking lot; why surface lifts probably wouldn’t work at Bohemia; what sort of lift could replace the double; whether the current lifts could be repurposed elsewhere on the mountain; what Bohemia could look like at full terrain build-out; the potential of Voodoo Mountain and what it would take to see a lift over there; whether Voodoo could become a Bluebird Backcountry-style uphill-only ski area; why it will likely remain a Cat-skiing hill for the foreseeable future; sizing up the terrain between Bohemia and Voodoo; where to find the new glades coming to Bohemia this season; the art of glading; breaking down the triple-black-diamond Extreme Backcountry; why serious injuries have been rare in Bohemia’s rowdiest terrain; the extreme power of the Lake Superior snowbelt; Bohemia’s magical snow patterns; why the Bohemia business model couldn’t work in most places; whether Bohemia could ever install limited snowmaking and why it may never need it; how a mountain in Michigan without snowmaking can consistently push the season into May; “Bohemia is a community first and a ski area second”; why Bohemia is more like a 1960s European ski resort than anything in North America; and Bohemia’s stint running the Porcupine Mountains ski area and why it ultimately pulled out of the arrangement.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview
It may be the most-repeated trope on The Storm Skiing Podcast: “skiing is a capital-intensive business.” It’s true. Scope the battle corps of snow cannons lined hundreds deep along resort greens and blues, the miles of subsurface piping that feed them, the pump houses, the acres-big manmade ponds that anchor the whole system. The frantic rental centers with gear racked high and deep like a snowy Costco. The battalions of Snowcats, each costing more than a house. The snowmobiles. The cavernous day lodges. The shacks and Centers and chalets. And the chairlifts. How much does a chairlift cost? The price seems to increase daily. Operators generally guard these numbers, but Windham told me in March that their new 389-vertical-foot D-line detachable quad will cost $5 million. Again: more than a house. More than a neighborhood. And that’s before you turn the thing on.
But what if you get rid of the, um, capital? What if you build a ski resort like Old Man MacGregor did in 19-aught-7? Find a snowy hill and point to it and say, “there’s my ski area, Sonny, go do yourself some ski’in. Just gimme a nickel and get the hell out of my face so’s I can kill me a chicken for supper.”
OK, so Boho stood up a pair of modern (used) chairlifts instead of MacGregor’s ropetow slung through a Model-T engine, but its essential concept echoes that brash and freewheeling bygone America: A lift and a mountain. Go skiing.
This isn’t supposed to be good enough. You need Magic Carpets and vast lineups of matching-jacket ski instructors and “impeccably groomed” trails. A place where Grandpa Earl and Earl Jr. and Earl Jr. Jr. can bond over the amazing logistical hassles of family skiing and enjoy $150 cups of chili together in the baselodge.
But over the past two decades, the minimalist ski area has emerged as one of skiing’s best ideas. It can’t work everywhere, of course, and it can’t work for everyone. This is a complement to, and not a replacement for, the full-service ski resort. If you’ve never skied and you show up at Bohemia to go skiing, you’re either going to end up disappointed or hospitalized, and perhaps both. This is a ski area for skiers, for the ones who spend all day at Boyne peaking off the groomers into the trees, looking for lines.
There is a market for this. Look west, to Silverton, Colorado, where an antique Yan double – Mammoth’s old Chair 15 – rises 1,900 vertical feet and drops skiers onto a 26,000-acre mecca of endless untracked pow. Or Bluebird Backcountry, also in Colorado, which has no chairlifts but marked runs rising off a minimalist base area, a launch point for Uphill Bro’s bearded adventures. Neither pull the sorts of Holy Calamity mobs that increasingly define I-70 skiing, but both appear to be sustainable niche businesses.
Of the three, Bohemia appeals the most to the traditional resort skier. Silverton is big and exposed and scary, a beacon-and-shovel-required-at-all-times kind of place. Bluebird is a zone in which to revel and to ponder, as much a shuffling hike as it is a day on skis. Boho skis a lot like the vast off-piste zones of Alta and Snowbird, with their infinite choose-your-own-adventure lines, entire acres-wide faces and twisting forests all ungroomed. Both offer a resort experience: high-speed lifts, (a few) groomed boulevards, snowguns blasting near the base. But that’s not the point of Little Cottonwood Canyon. I skied Chip’s Run once. It sucks. I can’t imagine the person who shows up at Snowbird and laps this packed boulevard of milquetoast skiing. This is where you go for raw, unhinged skiing on bountiful and ever-refilling natural snow. For decades this was Utah-special, or Western-special, the sort of experience that was impossible to find in the Midwest. Then came Bohemia, with a different story to tell, a version of the Out West wild-nasty in the least likely place imaginable.
What I got wrong
In discussing a possible skin/ski between Mount Bohemia and Voodoo Mountain – where Boho runs a small Cat-skiing operation – I compared the four-mile trek between them to the oft-skied route between Bolton Valley and Stowe, which sit five miles apart in the Vermont wilderness. The drive, I noted, was “about an hour.” In optimal conditions, it’s actually right around 40 minutes. With wintertime traffic and weather, it can be double that or longer.
I also accidentally said that the new name for the ski area formerly known as Big Snow, Michigan was “Snowbasin.” Which was kinda dumb of me. But then like 30 seconds later I said the actual name, “Snowriver,” so you’re just gonna have to let that one go.
Why you should ski Mount Bohemia
Midwest skiing in the ‘90s was defined largely by what it wasn’t. And what it wasn’t was interesting in any way. I use this word a lot: “interesting” terrain. What I mean by that is anything other than wide-open groomed runs. And in mid-90s Michigan, that’s all there was. Bumps were rare. Glades, nonexistent. Powder unceremoniously chewed up in the groom. The nascent terrain parks were branded as “snowboard parks,” no skiers allowed. A few ski areas actively ignored skiers poaching these early ramps and halfpipes – Nub’s Nob was especially generous. But many more chased us away, leaving us to hunt the trail’s edge in search of the tiniest knolls and drop-offs to carry us airborne.
It didn’t have to be this way. As often as I could, I would wake up at 4 and drive north across the border into Ontario. There lay Searchmont, a natural terrain park, a whole side of the mountain ungroomed and wild, dips and drops and mandatory 10-foot airs midtrial. Why had no one in Michigan hacked off even a portion of their Groomeramas for this sort of freeride skiing?
In those years I visited friends at Michigan Tech, forty-five minutes south of where Bohemia now stands, each January. Snow always hip-high along the sidewalks, more falling every day. One afternoon we drove north out of Houghton, along US 41, into the hills rising along the Keweenaw Peninsula. Somewhere in the wilderness, we stopped. Climbed. Unimaginable quantities of snow devouring us like quicksand at every step. In descent, leaping off cliffs and rocks, sliding down small, steep chutes.
We did not bring skis that day. But the terrain, I thought, would have been wildly appropriate for a certain sort of unhinged ski experience. Like a super-Searchmont. Wilder and bigger and rowdier. We could call it “The Realm of Stu’s Extreme Ski Resort,” I joked with my friend on the long drive home.
But I didn’t think anyone would actually do it. The ski areas of Michigan seemed impossibly devoted to the lifeless version of skiing that catered to the intermediate masses. When Boho opened in 2000, I couldn’t believe it was real. I still barely do. Live through a generation or two, and you begin to appreciate impermanence, and how names carry through time but what they mean evolves. The Michigan ski areas that once offered one and only one specific type of skiing have, as I noted in my podcast conversation with Nub’s Nob General Manager Ben Doornbos a couple weeks ago, gotten much more adept at creating what I call a balanced mountain. Boyne, The Highlands, Caberfae – all deliver a far more satisfying product than they did 25 years ago.
Boho drove at least some of this change. Suddenly, an expert skier had real options in the Midwest. Not that they new it at first – Glieberman recalls the dead, dark days of the ski area’s first few seasons. But that’s over. Bohemia is, on certain days, maxed out, in desperate need of more lifts and a touch fewer skiers – the famous $99 pass will increase to $109 this season for anyone who wants to ski Saturdays. The place works, as a concept, as a culture, as a magnet for expert skiers.
Most ski areas, if you look closely enough, exist to serve some nearby population center. There are only a few that are good enough that they thrive in spite of their location, that skiers will drive past a dozen other ski areas to hit. Telluride. Taos. Jay Peak. Sugarloaf. Add Bohemia to this category. And add it to your list. No matter where you ski, this one is worth the pilgrimage.
Glieberman references the book 22 Immutable Laws of Branding - specifically its calls to “narrow your focus, strengthen your brand.” Here’s the Amazon listing.
We don’t get into this extensively, but Lonie mentions Mount Bohemia TV. This is an amazing series of shorts exploring Boho life and culture. Here’s a sampling, but you can watch them all here.
A Vermonter visits Boho
A Ski magazine visit to Porcupine Mountains – a state-owned ski area – when Glieberman ran it in the mid-2000s.
A Powder Q&A with Glieberman.
Midwestern powder skiing is alive and real. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the home of the greatest grassroots ski resort in North America, Mount Bohemia. Storms swell over Lake Superior and slam their leeward winds on to the UP all winter long. Endless exploration is waiting up north through the treed ruggedness of Haunted Valley and the triple black Extreme Backcountry. The resort prides itself on being almost 100 percent unmarked and nearly devoid of ropes. The terrain is fun and adventurous and the bounty of snow is remarkable. Keweenaw County uses a 30-foot snow stake to measure season totals, and is currently measuring just under 25 feet. While my friends out West have been mountain biking and crack climbing, I have been slashing creek beds and frozen waterfalls, chomping on frosty Midwestern face shots. Yes, they exist here and in abundance in Michigan. The folklore is factual—all true skiers need to ski Mount Bohemia.
Boho was, amazingly, once part of the Freedom Pass reciprocal lift-ticket coalition, which grants season pass holders three days each at partner resorts. These days, Boho manages its own corps of reciprocals. This is an incredible list for a $99 ($133 with fees) season pass:
Perhaps the most compelling piece of the Bohemia story is that the ski area is nowhere near built out. The mountain adds new terrain pretty much every year - Glieberman details the locations of three new glade runs in the podcast. But four miles due north through the wilderness - or 16 miles and 30 minutes by car - sits Voodoo Mountain, a three-mile-wide snowtrap that currently hosts Boho’s catskiing operation. They even have a trailmap:
Those cut runs occupy just 125 acres, but Voodoo encompasses 1,800 acres across four peaks on a 700-foot vertical drop. Glieberman tells me on the podcast that a 1970s concept scoped out a sprawling resort with 22 chairlifts (if anyone is in possession of this concept map, please email me a copy). The terrain, Glieberman says, is not as rowdy or as singular as Boho’s, but Voodoo averages more annual snowfall - 300-plus inches - and its terrain faces north, meaning it holds snow deep into spring. Here’s another map, currently posted at the resort, showing conceptual future build-outs at Voodoo:
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