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Extreme Ski. . . Michigan!

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Mike Murphy has just skied off a cliff. It is tall and sheer, an abrupt breach in a ski slope that, though sporting, seems otherwise legitimate and sane. He didn’t hesitate. It was: Point the skis and jump, legs tucked up, gloves pushed forward in fists, a bird if but for a moment flying in the gray Michigan sky.

Now it’s my turn. I’m standing in Murphy’s tracks, looking out, mist rising from the forest below. I’m leaning on my ski poles, the plastic handles against my chest, peering over the edge. It’s 20 feet to the snow. Twenty feet of freefall to a crater where Murphy touched down, exploded in a ball of white, then skied away like a thief. A voice yells up: “You gonna huck it?”

Mike Murphy airborne at Mount Bohemia; Photo by T.C. Worley

It’s the third run of the day at Mount Bohemia, a tiny ski area on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. The theme of the resort, which opened as a rustic ski hill in 2000 with two used chairlifts and no chalet, is adventure. Black diamonds dot the trail map. Tree runs and steep chutes flank the hill. Cliffs are common. A sign at the entrance to the resort reads “Warning: NO BEGINNERS ALLOWED.”

Indeed, Mount Bohemia is an anomaly in the Midwest, where short runs, manmade snow and icy slopes are the norm. There’s no bunny hill at Bohemia. And the area eschews grooming machines, keeping its slopes in their natural snowy state.

Signage at Bohemia: ‘No Beginners Allowed!’

Bohemia is a ski area with no snow-making equipment. All the white stuff on the ground comes from the sky, sometimes 300 inches in a season, the most seen at any Midwestern resort. Two intermediate trails wind from the top of the mountain. Otherwise, all runs are black diamond or even more difficult.

My run at the moment — the triple-black-diamond-rated “Slide Path” — cuts a white swath through a prow of rock on Bohemia’s front face. Murphy, a skier from Appleton, Wis., who I’d met on a chairlift ride, is somewhere below and out of sight.

“All clear?” I yell, tapping a pole on the cliff’s edge to check snow depth on the rock. The sky is low, snow swirling in wind. Lake Superior brews fog from its icy plane to the east. “Go!” comes the shout up the cliff, a faint affirmation through wind and snow.

Bohemia has no grooming machines and no snowmaking; Photo by T.C. Worley

I’d left my home in Minneapolis at 3a.m., driving for seven hours north and east with T.C. Worley, a friend and photographer. Sunrise was on an empty road somewhere in northern Wisconsin. Then it was 150 miles through Michigan’s U.P., the land tapering to a point as the Keweenaw Peninsula approached the center of Lake Superior.

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