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Mount Bohemia Rhapsody – Upstarts & Underdogs

"Mount Bohemia proudly proclaims 'No beginners allowed,' does not groom, has little to no ropes or marked hazards. The area is offered up as is, ready for exploration." Dana Westbrock photo.

The alarm chimed at 3:30 a.m., and I opened my eyes in a daze. In the grayness, I rose to sit on the edge of my bed, wobbled to my feet, and stumbled toward the coffeemaker on the kitchen counter. The machine coughed awake and I stretched out my arms, my soul. Bohemia was on my mind and I smiled.

The plan had been hatched in early fall to return to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for another adventure, the best-kept secret in the ski world. The idea was solidified during Mount Bohemia’s preseason pass sale—$100 for a season pass; less than a day ticket for most resorts out west. Last winter, my first back in the Midwest after 6 years in Telluride, I had a spiritual experience in the UP. Our group had been gifted with an 8-inch storm. 

Mount Bohemia's modest 900 vertical foot drop hides much more than its number would suggest. Paddy O'Connell photo.

Combined with leeward winds, the storm created beefy wind lips and soft powder bumps throughout the mountain's engaging terrain. More significantly and surprisingly, it offered something from which skier dreams are made: face shots. However, face shots in the Midwest are unheard of or so I thought. It was pure magic. I was hooked. And as I drove away, down the peninsula, my mind rolled through my exchanges with Bohemia’s curvy body. I proclaimed my love and was henceforth a wild Bohemian. 

That moment had simmered within me for a year. It was now time for another hearty serving. I packed the night before and loaded my car with gear deemed too troublesome for a predawn load up. Coffee in hand and my pack slung up, I kicked through toenail-deep slush in the streets of St. Paul, trudging toward my car with percolating excitement. Mount Bohemia had reported Lake Superior was storming and the UP would receive a deep canvass for the next 5 to 6 days. The Lake Effect was descending on the peninsula and the time was now. The most extraordinary event was upon me, Midwestern Powder Skiing.

Midwest Extreme! Paddy O'Connell photo.

We pulled into the parking lot at the base of the resort after 7 hours in the car. I booted up as quickly as I could. The wolf was hungry and it was time to feast. I skated to the triple chair, one of only two lifts, and loaded up. Woof woof woof. I returned to the last place I had skied the previous year, the triple black Extreme Backcountry. (Yes, triple black…it’s a thing). 

The terrain consists of beautiful glades peppered with frozen waterfalls, boulders and cliffs, stumps, downed trees; all the natural playground features one could hope for. Schmeary turns and boosts to take at speed jolted my thighs awake. Steep shots on the rocky treed face offered technical turns and awakened mindfulness, awareness, acknowledgment of the moment’s beauty.

The triple black diamond demands respect and authority. Dana Westbrock photo.

I was on fire, my heart bellowed, and my frothy passions barked. I let go whoops and hollers that came from the depths of my belly, from where it all starts and ends, from where there is nothing and everything swirling together at once in that electric far beyond, where magic and inspiration live. 

The remainder of the afternoon was spent twisting and carving, washing my tails out, and exploring Bohemia’s bounty of tree skiing. I was in search of fresh snow, in search of my favorite turn, the right-footed banking slarve, in search of the connection with what surrounded me and what lives within me.

“It’s not Colorado, but it’s not really Michigan either.” Dana Westbrock photo.

The weather picked up the next morning. Snow and wind, the recycle was on. Haunted Valley stood out with carvy steeps and pockets of untouched. The Outer Limits awarded the sanctity of wooded aloneness and traverses to rolling secluded hills with bank turns, half pipe creek beds, and covered boulders for floaty boosts with soft landings. The Peninsula was packed for Michigan Tech’s annual alumni fest, the Winter Carnival. But one would never know when stopped in the trees. The only sounds were flakes hitting my jacket, the song of swaying Midwestern growth, and my thoughts.

"There is no questioning; the pursuit is justified and it is the reason behind all things." Dana Westbrock photo. 

Snow conditions improved as the day and storm progressed. Everything softened and filled. The Bohemian forest became heavy with snow and beneath a bowing limb laid a large deposit of awaiting white. I pounced toward my prey sideways with passionate intent, turning my skis in toward the center, feathering its innards into the air with a brilliant explosion, feeling the cold smoke boil up my body. It streamed past my heart and into my face, running toward the heavens. That is the moment–the be-all, end-all for all skiers. For it is in that moment that all answers are found and our purpose is clear.

Bohemia sells adventure, wilderness, and escape through passion and authenticity. Dana Westbrock photo.

There is no questioning; the pursuit is justified and it is the reason behind all things. It is not a careless action or thoughtless reaction. The powder turn is a genuflection, a symbol of reverence. For me this moment is without exception, the most rewarding and sacred experience I know. It is the venerate symbol of my passion. How has this temple been erected in the Midwest? Powder skiing and face shots should not exist here. But they do and they are in bounty in Bohemia.

There is no questioning; the pursuit is justified and it is the reason behind all things. It is not a careless action or thoughtless reaction. The powder turn is a genuflection, a symbol of reverence. For me this moment is without exception, the most rewarding and sacred experience I know. 

As unconventional and avant-garde as Mount Bohemia is there is something distinctly Midwestern about it. I spoke with Lonie Glieberman following the liturgy in the woods. The ever-smiling, affable owner remarked, “It’s not Colorado but it’s not really Michigan either.” Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? No, but it is an escape from reality. Mount Bohemia is remarkably unique.

Check out more issues of Upstarts & Underdogs here.

There is plenty of contempt prior to investigation of Mount Bohemia’s goods. Typically, outsiders stick their noses into the air and degrade the Heartland as uncultured and unrefined. They scoff at all things Midwest. This is very true for skiing here, even though the core of the country has produced Olympic and X-Games Medalists and some of the most dedicated and celebrated snow sports enthusiasts and adventurers.

Keeweenaw County, Michigan's snow stake. Those are big numbers... Paddy O'Connell photo.

This is the Midwest. This is where shoulders are broad, hands are thick and worn from work, and always extended to greet. This is where hard work and values live. This is where people are accountable, and a person’s word has weight. This is where a smile echoes for days and laughter plays as life’s soundtrack. This is where love and passion burn, where the soil smells rich and the rolling hills and forests invite imagination. This is where a sense of home thrives and realness lives, where all four seasons are intense and extreme and return endlessly with brilliance.

This is the home of some of the best powder skiing I have had the benefit of enjoying. It is not the steepest terrain I have ever been in, nor the deepest snow, but Bohemia is distinctly its own and refreshingly uncommon. It is magically unique. Bohemia sells adventure, wilderness, and escape through passion and authenticity. This is how skiing was in the beginning, before the condos and build outs, before Gucci on Main Street, and celebrity ski bunnies. And Glieberman wants to keep it that way. “We want to grow deeper into the niche rather than widen the brand audience," he says. "We don’t want to dilute the brand. We want to expand the experience.”

"Mount Bohemia is the holy page and the song of praise can be heard in her rolling craggy contours." Dana Westbrock photo.

Mount Bohemia proudly proclaims NO BEGINNERS ALLOWED, does not groom, has little to no ropes or marked hazards. The area is offered up as is, ready for exploration. If you end up on the road below the lifts, buses run all-day pick-ups. It’s home grown and memorable. “You’re definitely gonna talk about it.” The concept is to build upon what has been created, more yurts, more glading, more terrain, possibly even Cat skiing. No frills, no BS, just unassuming and bare bones adventure skiing in the Midwest.

The storm raged through the night, and I awoke to a rich fresh blanket on my last day up North. I swung my skis back and forth as I ascended on the lift, partly for warmth but mostly for excitement. I explored in marvel this wild snowy palace in Michigan, and I found all of my senses in the frosty turns. I rejoiced in the white explosion, not a slave to it but rather its devoted worshiper. I discovered the psalm of myself in the Upper Peninsula and let go my own guttural hymnal. Mount Bohemia is the holy page, and the song of praise can be heard in her rolling craggy contours. The notes are in every snowflake and the symphony accumulates in plenty. Listen. Listen to her anthem. 

From The Column: Upstarts and Underdogs

Awesome story, Paddy! MIDWEST FO LYFE!

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