The ski resort of Boyne Mountain stands outside the tiny village of Boyne Falls, Mich., 250 miles northwest of Detroit. The name is a crazy courtesy, for until 13 years ago it was a knobby hill in a gently sloping countryside, pleasant but no more so than the neighboring hills. From parking lot to hill bottom (or as one competitor puts it, "from the top of the flagpole to the bottom of the well") the drop in terrain measures just 485 feet, which makes Boyne a mountain in the spirit of the sideshow that once boasted of having the shortest giant in the world.
It was acquired in 1948 by Everett Kircher, a Detroit automobile dealer who wanted to go into the resort business and believed that a man can call his own property anything he likes. He called his molehill a mountain, and he has made a fortune out of it.
For Boyne Mountain is as prosperous as an Alp. It is valued at $3 million. In the time it takes to put out a resort folder this quiet Michigan hill became a small rock-candy mountain, with plenty of gingerbread in its angular Swiss architecture and with comforts that nature never knew. At night the ski slopes are bathed in electric light aided, some nights, by the moon. When natural snow is lacking Kircher can provide the artificial variety. Indeed, the whole place is a remarkable snow job. Nobody works—or at least nobody seems to work; everybody plays. As in Camelot, the 240 employees go about their tasks almost furtively so as not to intrude the sordid into the idyllic.
An intense, bouncy little man of 43, who walks with a swagger, Kircher likes making money and is amused by the ingredients of his success. "People come here because it's pretty," Kircher says. "Look. The sunshine on the snow is beautiful. Everything smells like it was freshly baked. We can't let them know there is a cotton pickin' hint of work involved in anything. Last night $3,000 worth of pipes froze up because some idiot was afraid to call me on the telephone. But this morning I'm around slapping people on the back and telling them it's nice to see them again. That's the challenge in this business: to do things on the sly. People don't like to hear your troubles. As far as they're concerned, I'm just a jerk who skis around all day and sits in the saloon at night having fun. I've got the role down to a science."
Besides the main lodge, the resort has a brand-new lodge (Edelweiss), a chalet, assorted bars, a dining room and cafeteria, an ice rink, a heated pool, and sideline attractions like a country store—all within walking distance even on a sub-zero day. "This is a ski resort," Kircher said, "not a ski area. We want people to feel the togetherness. We don't want them to have to look elsewhere for anything." That logic extends even to the dining room, where hostesses are trained to seat strangers together—preferably male and female—to give nature a nudge.
Kircher and his general manager, droll, nonskiing, 43-year-old Chuck Moll have made a study of the life expectancy of the average skier, with a clear eye toward stretching it from just that side of the cradle to just this side of the grave. They figure that, male or female, a skier lasts three years, then marries and forgets it. "Our job," says Kircher in missionary tones, "is to get them back into the fold. They drift away from skiing until the children are 5 or 6. Then Pop starts to move up in the firm and figures he needs a little exercise. Mom is sick of housework and bridge clubs. They look around, but they don't want to wait for things. We've got the beds, the lifts—all the conveniences. We offer them a tight package and they snap it up."
Two years ago economically depressed Michigan led the recession in idle workers, and general tourist trade was off 16%. But at Boyne Mountain it was up 16%. Last year it went up another 10%. In the past two seasons Kircher has shoveled nearly half a million a year into expansion, and long-range plans for the next three years call for another quarter million a year. "I don't know if we'll ever take any profit out of the place," he says, like a martyr.
As the profit is reinvested, luxury abounds. Last season other resort operators scoffed as Kircher replaced the tow-rope on his beginners' run with a double chair lift. "The toughest thing in skiing is learning to ride those damned ropes," he said, "I think the beginners should have the chairs and the more experienced skiers the ropes." In all, Boyne's 16 runs are served by five double chair lifts, assorted T and J bars and ropes. The chairs bring profits coming and going. As president of Kircher Motors Inc., Kircher heads the firm that leases the chair lifts to the Boyne Mountain Corp., over which he also presides. Thus the right hand lends to the left and the left puts it back in the right's pocket. This causes occasional differences of opinion between Kircher and the department of Internal Revenue.
"What we have left after taxes we invest," he says. "The government doesn't chisel at our profits. It hits them with a meat cleaver." Kircher abhors the $3 million price tag on the premises, though he put it there himself. A few years ago he estimated the resort's assets at that figure for a rural sportswriter, and within hours the village of Boyne Falls had doubled his SI million tax assessment. Still the money rolls in. For the past two years the lodge, runs and other facilities have grossed more than $750,000 annually, and by 1964 Kircher expects the take to top $1,500,000.
He explains it this way: "We've been successful because we've outhorsepowered everybody else. Not many big ski operations are built on ski revenue alone. You've got to invest big, be fathered by outside capital. We're big because we think big. We've become the place to ski in the Midwest area."