Midwest skiing is never going offer the vertical you’ll find out West, but the heartland knows how to make the most of what it’s got. Just as scarcity can drive innovation in the general business world, Midwest ski resorts have been surprising leaders in the ski industry. For example, ski history’s first triple, quad and six-pack chairlifts were installed at Boyne Mountain or Boyne Highlands in Michigan. The state has also generated numerous advances in snowmaking.
The 2011-12 ski season does not promise any revolutionary advances, but several Midwest ski areas do have exciting improvements in store. For instance, Michigan’s Crystal Mountain in Michigan has installed a new quad chairlift to replace the Loki Double Chair and Loki Triple Chair running between the Loki and Thor runs.
Alpine Valley Resort in southern Wisconsin will add yet another high-speed quad chairlift. For a ski area with a vertical of just 388 feet, the three high-speed lifts translate into very short rides up the hill. Alpine Valley’s upgrade was also a bonus for Michigan’s Bittersweet Ski Area. Owned by the same company, Bittersweet picked up a hand-me-down lift from Alpine Valley to use as a beginner chair.
For the trip down the slopes, several ski areas such as Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands and Nub’s Nob in Michigan have upgraded their rental equipment to include skis with a bit of early-rise rocker. Much like shaped skis years ago, the rocker trend must now be officially entrenched when even rental gear includes the technology.
Just across the Wisconsin border near Chicago, Wilmot Mountain has added a 16-lane tubing facility with a Magic Carpet for the ride back up the hill. Coffee Hill Ski Area and Spirit Mountain in Minnesota are also jumping on the tubing bandwagon.
As far as lodging, disaster literally sparked changes at Big Powderhorn Mountain Resort. The Michigan ski area lost its main lodge to a massive fire in January, but a new $3-million, 20,000 square-foot structure is scheduled to be ready by December.
Boyne Mountain’s iconic Clock Tower Lodge has undergone major renovations. The second phase of the $500,000 modernization project will extend to the adjoining Boynehof hotel in the spring of next year.
Skiers in the Midwest know their hills aren’t mountains, but there is a certain charm in the passion that can still be found on just a few hundred feet of vertical.