‘It’s All Downhill’: Beaumier opens Ski exhibit
By CHRISTIE MASTRIC
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — The Upper Peninsula doesn’t have the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, but it does have enough terrain to have built a history of skiing throughout the years.
A new exhibition titled “It’s All Downhill: Alpine Skiing in the U.P.” is open at the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center at Northern Michigan University. The exhibit, full of vintage photos and skiing paraphernalia, focuses on the region’s skiing roots introduced by Scandinavians and the alpine ski hills that have operated across the U.P. for the past 80 years.
Dan Truckey, Beaumier director and curator, said there always has been a lot of attention paid to the history of ski jumping in the U.P. because it has a “legendary” history.
“Not enough has been talked about alpine skiing, and looking specifically at downhill skiing versus cross country or ski jumping,” Truckey said.
Truckey knows a lot about the sport, having skied at about every resort in the U.P. at some point.
An idea began to germinate.
“This is a long history,” Truckey said. “There’s some great connections to other parts of history of the U.P., and we just thought it was something that hadn’t been done.”
There was a story to be told.
“We focused on every one of the resorts that’s still around in the U.P., including the small-town hills,” Truckey said. “We also did a section on the ones that are gone.”
Sixteen ski hills still operate across the U.P., such as the major ski resorts Indianhead and Big Powderhorn in Gogebic County, developed in the 1950s and ’60s. Nineteen ski hills, though, are gone.
The exhibit provides a lot of information on the masterminds behind some of the hills, including former Canadian Football League owner Lonie Gleiberman, who in 1999 explored the idea of an ungroomed, gladed hill on Mount Bohemia in the northern Keweenaw Peninsula.
According to the exhibit, Gleiberman believed there was an audience for expert skiers who didn’t have to travel east or west for challenging terrain.
Opening in 2000, the Mount Bohemia Ski Resort has attracted attention from major ski publications and skiers from around the world. The ski lodge consists of connected yurts, with additional yurts and cabins serving as the main accommodations.
In an exhibit panel, Gleiberman was quoted as saying, “People don’t want the same old experiences. And I think that’s why people like it here. It’s different. It’s authentic.”
Mount Bohemia also is a challenge for experienced skiers.
What Mount Bohemia did, Truckey noted, was open a whole new market for skiing in the area.
“It’s limited to only expert skiers,” Truckey said. “If you’re a beginner or even an intermediate, you’re going to have a real hard time — and that was the idea.”
He called this rustic ski resort a “phenomenon.”
“It’s run completely different than a lot of the hills,” he said. “There’s no snow-making. There’s no grooming. It’s all natural snow, and it’s kind of shown the way that there is potential for this type of skiing in the Midwest.”
The big local resort, Marquette Mountain Resort, is featured in the exhibit, as well as a map showing the locations of the 16 operating ski hills, including the Hiawatha Slopes, also known as the Chatham Ski Hill, and Ski Brule in Iron River.
The Indianhead and Blackjack resorts, Truckey said, are now part of the Snowriver Mountain Resort in Wakefield, with mountain names changed to Jackson Creek Summit and Black River Basin, respectively.
The new owners, he said, wanted to get away from using Native American words and imagery.
There also are sections on U.S. Olympic alpine and state champion skiers who grew up and trained on the U.P.’s ski hills, such as former U.S. Ski Team member Terry Ahola.
In addition, the exhibit features artifacts and memorabilia from ski resorts and NMU’s alpine program; vintage film footage of Cliffs Ridge, which is now Marquette Mountain; historical photographs; and interactive video skiing games.
Those artifacts include Pine Mountain skis patented in 1939 and on loan from the Pine Mountain Sport Shop in Iron Mountain, as well as an antique snow-making machine.
“It was a lot of time and travel and energy to put it together, and then do the research and writing, and then the installation took a week,” Truckey said. “It was a long installation. It was pretty tight.
“But we pulled it off, and I think it looks really good.”
“It’s All Downhill” is on display through April 1. Admission is free. The center’s regular hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.