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.”

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