Northern Michigan’s Sugar Loaf Mountain Back in the News

With Leelanau County officials inspecting boarded up buildings and facilities and the property’s purported owner Enliko Sean Smith in the news again, we thought our readers could use a refresher on the byzantine backstory behind the defunct Sugar Loaf Mountain Resort. This story appeared originally in the December 2010 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.

Sugar Loaf Mountain Resort, a Northern Michigan ski resort, is quiet in the winter. The chairlifts that, from 1964 to March 2000, swept skiers to the top of one of the Midwest’s most renowned ski hills have sat silent for a decade. Now the red chairs, strung on weathered cables, just dangle above weed-clotted slopes. The chairs move only when big blows careen in off Lake Michigan and set them to swinging, or when a trespasser climbs onto an easy-to-reach chair, and the motion ripples down the line.

At the bottom of the hill, the main lodge stands dark and silent, growing more decrepit by the year. Local teens, of course, know the secret ways in. And so do animals. One realtor recalls stopping by the lodge to show a potential buyer the place, and as they pulled up a family of five raccoons crawled out a broken window on the second story and then ambled nonchalantly across the roof, the new residents in charge.

There are, however, two bright spots in this scene. The 72 town homes, which have been kept shipshape by their individual owners, and the golf courses, which are vibrant, but are no longer part of the resort.

The other bright spot? An awe-inspiring setting. To the west and north, the rippling blue deluge of Lake Michigan runs to the world’s edge in a mesmerizing mix of midnight blue and shimmering light. Lending intrigue, not far off shore North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island lie low and dark and mysterious. Along the wandering line of the mainland shore, the great bulb of Pyramid Point rises to the west, and to the north, the blunt-nosed sloping ridge of Whaleback.

Inland, that Leelanau patchwork rolls forth, land staked out in squares and rectangles of browns and greens—orchard, hayfield, vineyard, cornfield, woodlot and farmstead. Standing here on top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, you can’t help but think what many before you have also thought. Oh, the possibilities for this resort. How could it not work? It’s so beautiful. People would come from miles.

Thirty-six years of premiere skiing in a breathtaking setting. Then silence. As the 10th anniversary of the Loaf’s closing nears, and whispers of a pending deal circulate once again. Can Sugar Loaf—at one time the largest employer in Leelanau County—again be what it once was? Let’s start with “once was.”

Article Comments

  • Well done Jeff! There’s a bunch of people talking about the Loaf over at Leelanau.com:
    http://www.leelanau.com/blog/turning-the-page-on-sugar-loaf/

  • Anonymous

    An airline executive once offered this advice on how to become a millionaire. "Take a billion dollars, start an airline and soon you will be a millionaire." So it goes with ski resorts, and with "Hope and Change" in full gear – there aren’t many people with enough money to touch this project. Another former ski resort property in Leelanau County, Timberlee, has struggled to find a business model that works for years. The difference of course is that the chair lifts at Timberlee were sold off presumably to help pay for the property acquisition. Sugarloaf still has chair lifts, but it has been so long since they have been run, they may be 100% inoperable. They surely don’t meet the minimum safety standards anymore. It was the revolving restuarant on the top of the Renaissance Center in Detroit that sat idle for seven years while the facility went through foreclosure and/or bankruptcy. When General Motors bought the building, they found the mechanical equipment to turn the platform no longer functioned and the $3,500,000 to restore it was just too expensive, even for the General. The odds are that it will be a long time before Sugarloaf is restored to its’ once grand presence, it at all. I hope I am wrong.

    Kayakman – Oldsmar, Florida

  • Anonymous

    Hey Jeff.

    Chris Grobbel here. I just was retained by the new owner of Sugarloaf (10/2/13) to work with the Leelanau County BRA to resolve any environmental issues, update local land use permits etc., and get things underway…at long last! Be in touch if you’d like to do a follow-up article. Chris Grobbel cgrobbel@grobbelenvironmental.com. Thanks!

  • Joseph Snyder

    MSU should by it and run it as an extension of their hospitality college. Could most likely get federal and state grants . Students work their one or two semesters and pay tuition instead of getting a salary …. That should reduce costs. Other colleges could send interns as well…maybe include their sports medicine program and their agriculture areas for growing grapes and hops….maybe include their food science and ecologist programs.

    • Mark Hayward

      I managed to be a Ski Bum for three winters out West with out paying any Tuition ..

  • Tim Weiss

    Why not take the money the spent on oak island and spend it on Sugar Loaf!! Where we know the treasure is!

  • Tim Weiss

    This would be fun! at the loaf!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMnaukMOJ34