Podcast #57: Boyne Mountain General Manager Ed Grice

How Boyne Mountain 2030 will transform one of Michigan's finest ski areas; with a guest appearance by Director of Marketing Kari Roder

  
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Boyne Mountain may be your typical clear-cut Midwest monster from the front side, but it hides its best stuff well. Photo courtesy of Boyne Mountain.

Who

Ed Grice, General Manager of Boyne Mountain, Michigan and Kari Roder, the ski area’s Director of Marketing

Recorded on

October 12, 2021

Why I interviewed him

Context is everything in skiing. In much of America’s sprawling ski kingdom, Boyne Mountain would hardly register. In Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, it soars. And not just in the physical sense of its vertical drop and 60 trails. Culturally, it stands in for skiing itself, the place that non-skiers think of when they think of skiing. Up North, as everyone in Michigan calls it, is where you go to camp, to boat, to hunt, to canoe, to fish, to snowmobile, to ski. Growing up as a non-skier in a non-skiing family, I didn’t realize until I picked the sport up as a teenager that the state had any other ski areas at all, so ubiquitous were references to “goin’ to ski Boyne.”

Once I did start skiing, I saved Boyne Mountain for last. It didn’t feel approachable in the way that Caberfae, Shanty Creek, and Sugarloaf did. It didn’t feel like a place you started. It felt like a place you arrived. Only when you were ready.

I probably wasn’t ready the first time I skied Boyne, a mashed-potatoes sunny St. Patrick’s Day with rowdy drunken parties bursting from overloaded warming huts. I must have taken 100 runs off the Victor lift that day and fallen as many times, so stupefying were the springtime insta-moguls for a beginner on Elan skinny skis. But I kept coming back. The place doesn’t have the most interesting trail network and it’s typically the most expensive ski area in Michigan, but it has the intangibles of atmosphere and energy, and a commitment to push the season into May whenever the snowpack allows. Some of my most cherished ski memories are May afternoons at an empty Boyne, lapping the Mountain Express and winding down the bumps of Idiot’s Delight. Over and over in the endless 70-degree afternoon. It’s a place that means a lot to me, and it’s been at the top of my list for an interview since I launched The Storm two years ago. It was time to make it happen.

What we talked about

Starting out as a busboy at Boyne Mountain in the 1970s; learning to ski on a steep mountain in ill-fitting gear; working under Boyne Resorts’ legendary founder, Everett Kircher; the long road to general manager and getting fired multiple times along the way; working at family-owned Boyne; the mountain’s relaxed atmosphere; when and why the ski area began developing glades; new areas Boyne Mountain has been glading over the past summer; creating the Disciples Ridge expansion and how that changed Boyne Mountain; the ski area’s amazing collection of historically significant lifts, including the remains of the first chairlift in the world; how banana boats helped inspire the invention of the chairlift; the future of the Hemlock chair; what happened to the original Meadows chair, the world’s first quad, when the ski area replaced it in 2008; the backstory behind installing the Mountain Express, America’s first six-pack chair; the mountain’s legendary snowmaking capabilities; Boyne’s tradition of the long season; the ski area’s competition with Mount Bohemia to see who can stay open the latest; winning the race to open against Mount Holly; the mid-90s debauchery of St. Patrick’s Day on the mountain; Boyne 2030; RFID gates coming this season; the Midwest’s first eight-person chairlift; the fate of the existing Disciples triples; what may replace the Mountain Express, Victor, and Boyneland; where the current Meadows lift may move and what might replace it; the size and scale of the Skybridge and how people will access it; the Ikon Pass; and Boyne’s build-your-own-pass product and night and spring passes.

Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview

Boyne 2030 is going to launch that place into a technological sphere that no other ski area in Michigan can touch (except, perhaps, sister resort Boyne Highlands, whose 2030 plan is on the horizon). Yes, there will be building upgrades, airport enhancements, golf course stuff, a giant pedestrian bridge/tourist attraction. But that’s the garnish on the plate, and we’re here to talk about the meat: RFID, snowmaking, and, crucially, an almost-complete modernization of the lift system. A final-state Boyne Mountain could host at least five modern high-speed Doppelmayr D-Line lifts: two eight-packs, a six-pack, and two quads. That would give the mountain one of the most updated lift fleets not just in the Midwest, but in America. When I skied Boyne Mountain two seasons ago, it still broiled with that old attitude and energy, but the infrastructure was starting to feel antique. Other than the high-speed sixer and the carpet-loaded Meadows lift, the place felt like a Riblet museum, one lift after the next poking up the incline. Not for long. This joint is being retrofitted for rocket fuel. Filler up and get the hell out of the way.

Why you should ski Boyne Mountain

At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. A big ridge, mostly clear-cut, chairlifts stacked south to north along US 131. But it’s quite the mountain. It’s steep, first of all. Only 500 feet, sure – but that doesn’t make the pitch any less intimidating. You can spend hours skiing from one end of the ridge to the other and back. The mountain has thinned glades and added some other little byways to vary the experience. And then, tucked away, tree-lined and meandering, is the Disciples Ridge section, a spiderweb of greens and blues that may be the most extensive and inviting beginner terrain in the state of Michigan. Before the ski area began building this pod in the late ‘90s, Boyne Mountain was a tough sell for families. Now it’s one of the most balanced and inviting ski areas in the region. The grooming is astonishingly good – Boyne may own Big Sky and Brighton, but this is ground zero of the company’s sprawling empire, and it’s the place where they mastered the arts of snowmaking and snow-care that they export to their other resorts.

And you know what? It’s just a damn fun place to spend a day. If you ever find yourself in Michigan in the wintertime, hit this one up. Plus, they have some knockout terrain parks:

Additional reading/videos

  • Lift Blog’s inventory of Boyne Mountain chairlifts

  • Historic Boyne Mountain trailmaps

  • More on Boyne 2030 (personally, I would have put the lift first, but they are very excited about this bridge):

A little more about Boyne Mountain:

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