A Modern, New Look

The U.P.’s Snowriver Mountain Resort introduces a high-speed ski lift as part of its $10-million transformation
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Snowriver Mountain Resort
Snowriver’s updated main lodge overlooks the Wakefield-area terrain.
Photos courtesy of Midwest Family Ski Resorts

As he watched a helicopter take flight not long after dawn broke on a picturesque morning last July, the reality of what was happening overcame Snowriver Mountain Resort General Manager Ben Bartz.

After months of excavation and foundation-laying, a UH-60 Black Hawk was buzzing overhead, beginning the process of transporting and setting into place eight towers, eight cross arms, and 16 sheave trains for the Wakefield resort’s dynamic new Doppelmayr detachable, high-speed, six-person chairlift, the first of its kind in the Upper Peninsula. It’s only the third six-person lift and the seventh high-speed lift in the state.

The lift, scheduled to be ready for the 2023-24 season, replaces three lifts with a combined age of 172 years at Jackson Creek Summit (formerly Indianhead), the larger of Snowriver’s two ski/snowboard areas. The other, Black River Basin, was once known as Blackjack and is a 10-minute shuttle ride away. Both were renamed for rivers that flow through the property. 

Skiers
Skiers now enjoy new glades, improved trail networks, and expanded terrain park offerings complemented by more snowmaking capacities.
Photos courtesy of Midwest Family Ski Resorts

The lift, The Voyageur Express, is what snowsports enthusiasts will likely notice most during their visit this winter. It’s just one facet of a roughly $10-million overhaul the resort has been undergoing since Midwest Family Ski Resorts owner Charles Skinner Jr. completed his purchase of the property in August of 2022.

At that point, the name changed from Big Snow Resort to Snowriver. Indianhead and Blackjack had operated independently before joining together and becoming Big Snow in 2008.

The flurry of activity since last ski season ended included carving out new glades, expanding terrain park offerings, adding more snowmaking capacities, and improving trail networks on both hills. Indoors, a slew of upgrades have transformed Snowriver’s lodging experience, and several of its dining establishments have undergone significant renovations.

Inviting Upgrades

“Our hope is that people who are coming back to Snowriver will hardly recognize the place and feel like they’re getting a modern, mountain-resort type of experience with everything feeling updated and fresh,” Bartz says.

Various upgrades have transformed Snowriver’s lodging experiences.
Photo courtesy of Kyle Brasch/Snowriver Mountain Resort

“Our extreme makeover ski resort edition has been exciting to watch. Some guests staying here during the summer were blown away by the transformation. People looking around from the top of either hill mostly see wild, naturally forested land and very little development between Snowriver and Lake Superior.”

The Voyageur Express features 53 chairs (which could be upgraded to 60 in the future) with an uphill carrying capacity of 2,800 riders (can be upgraded to 3,200) per hour. The ride time to the top of Jackson Creek is a mere three and a half minutes — a major improvement from the nearly nine minutes of previous lift rides.

Overall, the two ski areas, annually blanketed by more than 200 inches of snow, offer 51 trails, 11 lifts, 19 glade areas, three terrain parks, and six mogul runs on more than 400 skiable acres. All but 20 percent of the runs are classified as intermediate, advanced, or expert.

Jackson Creek boasts one of the biggest vertical drops in Michigan at 638 feet, and its Voyagers Highway is a memorable run featuring nearly 20 acres of slope. There’s also a beginner’s area right outside the Summit Chalet at Jackson Creek.

skilift
One of 11 lifts at the resort’s two ski areas, which also feature 51 trails and 400 skiable acres.
Photos courtesy of Midwest Family Ski Resorts

A steep, new glade area called Catamaran Cliffs was carved out during the off-season on wooded cliffs to the right of Jackson Creek’s east T-bar run, and it’s Snowriver’s largest at 3.5 acres. In all, Black River Basin features 490 feet of vertical, a terrain park, and five glades. Jackson Creek and Black River are also connected via two snowshoe trails. 

Snowriver’s lodging options are plentiful, and include home and cabin rentals. The Lodge at Jackson Creek underwent the most extensive overhaul this year, with new flooring, paint, furniture, and fixtures throughout all 20 rooms. The lobby, pool, and spa and sauna areas also were renovated. New flooring was installed at the Black River Basin Chalet, and the Gabbro Suites rooms received a refresh.

“Our lodging ranges from cozy to accommodating groups as large as 15,” Bartz says. “People can ski in and out of our slope-side lodging. Guests are going to be amazed by all we’ve done with the Jackson Creek lodge. The blue, pink, yellow, and green bathrooms are gone. The faded, duct-taped, green carpet is finally out of the Black River Basin Chalet.”

Dining possibilities range from grab-and-go to relaxing, sit-down experiences complete with live music. Jackson Creek’s offerings include Jack’s Bar & Grille, the Sugar Maple Cafe, Creekside Bar, Legacy Restaurant, and Dudley’s Bar. Gabbro Grille is at Black River Basin.

New carpeting has been installed at Gabbro Grille, and the stage was relocated to better accommodate music lovers and enable management to book bigger acts. Legacy received new dividing walls, paint, carpeting, lighting, and a modern, matte-black drop ceiling.

The 28-year-old Bartz, a Tomahawk, Wis., native, was named Snowriver GM less than two weeks after Skinner acquired the property. Midwest Family Ski Resorts also operates Granite Peak in Wausau, Wis., and Lusten Mountain Ski Area in Lusten, Minn.

Bartz skied at both Snowriver and Granite Peak growing up, and attended Gogebic Community College in Ironwood as well as Northern Michigan University. He graduated with a ski area business management degree in 2017, and then spent five years in management at Giants Ridge Ski Resort in Biwabik, Minn.

In just his first three months at Snowriver, Bartz oversaw the renovation of Sugar Maple Chalet, Gabbro Suites, and the opening of the resort’s retail offerings, rental area, and ticket locations. New snowmaking equipment was installed.

Future plans include a lift connecting the two ski areas, additional lodging, and all the necessary snowmaking equipment to consistently offer winter sports action from mid-November through mid-April. 


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Snowriver Mountain Resort
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