Extreme Skiing at the U.P.'s Mt. Bohemia

Glieberman tells me not to be afraid of the mountain and opens a trail map—a maze of 71 runs—and points to the Bear Den, an area on the east side. Amid the web of black, I spot blue, an intermediate run called Brown Bear (one of the mountain’s three intermediate runs), and breathe a sigh of relief. Peter says I’m an advanced skier. I’ve never believed him.

We say good-bye to Glieberman, and my husband, son and I board the lift to face off against this pile of volcanic uplift, ancient trees, cliffs, frozen waterfalls, gargantuan boulders and craggy edges—all of which appear sweet as a vanilla ice cream cone from above. Below us, a few skiers and boarders cut long, leisurely s-turns, absorbed in a snow slider’s state of grace. The atmosphere is pleasantly absent of the hubbub of beginner skiers. We slide off the lift to a view of four lakes—Superior, Lac LaBelle, Deer and Gratiot—take in the blues, breathe the fresh air and head through boot-top powder to the Bear Den. But we don’t stay there long. The conditions are fabulous, so Peter leads us through the labyrinth of glades and runs of Bohemia’s niches—areas named Haunted Valley, Bohemia Mining Co. and Bohemia Bluffs. He does it all on his telemark skis, descending like Zeus from Mt. Olympus. Our son, already a solid skier, watches in awe and improves just skiing in Peter’s shadow. I follow them and find a confidence I’ve never had. The glades are thinned nicely, close enough to know you are in a forest but not too tight. The conditions call for agility, but the snow is light and easy to turn in. In the Haunted Valley I catch a branch across my face and go down, but I’m up in seconds. No blood.

Lift lines are scant. There is an abundance of quiet. Kimberly flits by occasionally, but there’s no sign of her husband. We presume he is in the Extreme Backcountry, the mountain’s suicide (and most popular) terrain that includes the 40-foot drop from a cliff on the Horseshoe Chute. Bohemia legend has it that an April 2007 storm dumped so much fresh pow on the Extreme Back Country that skiers were, happily, buried to their necks. We have skied black diamonds and double black diamonds all day, but Peter has steered us away from this badass side of the mountain.

At lunch we take our microwaved Ramen noodles and Dinty Moore beef stew out to picnic tables and relax in an unusually warm January sun. Several knots of skiers are also lounging outside the yurt, but it feels more like a wilderness outing than a day at a ski resort. We get to dreaming of future trips to Mt. Bohemia. Filling a yurt with our family and friends. Taking several days to bask in this backwoods heaven.

Peter, like all hardcore skiers and boarders, carefully plans the day so that he is as far away as possible from base when the lifts close—the better to milk every last skiable moment. At Bohemia, that farthest point is the Extreme Back Country, where a bus transports skiers back to the main lift. He’s pored over the trail map all day and finally shows me that we can avoid the inner Extreme Back Country horrors—Horseshoe, Apex Chute and Slide Path—by staying on Wacky Jackrabbit and Sleepy Hollow to the east. The runs are designated triple black diamond, but he assures me that they are just steep, not cliffs. He says our son and I can do it. Filled with a new lust to vanquish, I follow my men.

The Extreme Back Country begins in a nicely pitched glade, marked by thick old hardwoods. I’m turning okay, despite the fact that my legs are starting to feel like Play-Doh. Then the friendly angle morphs to an evil near 90 degrees. I try to traverse, and my legs won’t cooperate. I side-slide to a stop to try to figure a way out that does not involve bodily injury. Suddenly (is she an angel?) a fresh-faced ski patroller appears at my side. “Just go down on your butt,” she says, with an encouraging smile.

I know from experience, and Peter has cautioned me about the dangers of the butt escape. Flying over icy moguls on slick ski pants equals kamikaze physics. “Always, always traverse your way out of a bad situation,” he has drilled into me. But this is powder, and I’m pretty sure if I squiggle very, very slowly I can take enough off the top pitch to be able to ski down the rest. Besides, the ski patroller told me to.

And so, down I go, inch by inch, with slow but steady success, leaving a worm trail through the trees behind me. I am getting up, Sponge Bob Square Pants slightly askew, when I catch sight of Peter through the trees—he’s close enough that I can make out the Steamboat-look crossing his face. It’s been decades, but yes, there it is, the fight-igniter expression that makes me feel like a loser and him look like an irritated 25-year-old again. Then I turn my head up and see what else he’s spied: Kimberly, cresting the edge of the cliff, nimble and svelte as a she-wolf.

The moment could be nasty. Bad punctuation on an amazing day. But I’m too proud of myself for handling most of a triple D on my feet to be daunted, so I shoot my husband a saucy smile and remind myself to tell him later: Dude, if this mountain made you 25 again, it did me, too.

Elizabeth Edwards is managing editor of Traverse.

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