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By Jack Berry

Everett Kircher would have been right at home with Lewis and Clark, finding their way to the Pacific. Or on a wagon train beating its way through rugged territory and youll-never-make-it conditions. And he would have been right up front, leading the way.

Everett Kircher didnt live in the 18th or 19th centuries, though. He was a 20th century pioneer. He never looked for headlines but he was a headliner. More than anyone, he was responsible for making northern Michigan the skiing and golf capital of the midwest and, like that Frank Sinatra song, he did it his way.

Kircher passed away on January 16 at the age of 85 and he left the biggest family-owned recreation empire in America, stretching from a ski area in Vancouver, British Columbia, to Washington, Montana, Utah, Michigan, Tennessee and Florida.

It all started with Boyne Mountain which Kircher, a Detroit Studebaker dealer, and his two partners, John Norton, a civil engineer, and Jim Christianson, an executive with the Detroit Boy Scouts Council, found in 1947 after looking over 10 sites in the northern Lower Peninsula. Kircher said they started it as a lark, a fun thing where we could have some challenging skiing without going out West or to the East.

He hired Victor Gottshalk, a German ski instructor whod taught Kircher for eight seasons at Sun Valley, Ida., to lay out the runs at Boyne Mountain. Gottshalk told Kircher that Sun Valley was going to sell its single-seat chair lift, the first in the world, and Kircher bought it for $2,000 and they installed it at Boyne Mountain. It catapulted Boyne Mountain into the headlines as the top ski resort in the Midwest, Kircher said in his autobiography. Then, as now, Mother Nature didnt always provide sufficient snow for skiing and Kircher got volunteers--offering them free lift tickets--to shovel snow out of the woods and onto the runs. Kircher, a mechanical genius, and his area manager, Vic Chmielewski, got an air compressor from a gas station Chmielewski owned, got hoses and sprinkler faucets and came up with artificial snow..

No science existed--you made it up as you went along, Kircher said. So he kept tinkering and came up with and patented the Highlands Snow Gun which went into use worldwide. Kircher and the late Chuck Moll, his longtime general manager, were as close as Siamese twins, and they kept expanding and developing. There were the Boyne Learn-to-Ski Weeks and conventions and sales meetings, everything they could think of to fill the rooms and keep staff working during the week. Weekends took care of themselves with thousands of skiers from downstate filling the lifts and covering the runs.

Kircher hired handsome Olympic gold medal winner Stein Eriksen of Norway to head the ski school and when Eriksen left, he hired another gold medalist, Othmar Schneider of Austria, who brought over young Austrian instructors who taught Americans the Austrian style of skiing. As the winters began taking care of themselves, Kircher bought the old Harbor Highlands ski area outside Petoskey and turned it into Boyne Highlands. He saw the need to keep his employees busy in the summer so, as he had done in skiing, he went to the biggest name in golf -- Robert Trent Jones -- to design a championship course. Kircher gave Jones, whod made many headlines himself with his muscling up of Oakland Hills Country Club for the 1951 United States Open won by Ben Hogan, land at the foot of the Boyne Highlands ski hill. Part of it was a large blueberry bog.

Wed never be able to do today what we did then, Kircher said years later. They did some dynamiting, moved some land around in the bog area, and came up with a course that jumped onto Golf Digests Top 100 ranking. It also teed up the northern Michigan golf resort industry and helped Michigan become one of the premier vacation destinations in the country. Not surprisingly, Kircher and Jones, two headstrong men, didnt get along well. Kircher wasnt a golfer at that time but he knew what he wanted and the end product proves he knew what he was doing. The Heather course remains one of Michigans best. And it was Kircher who added the final flourish, a large pond that fronts the 18th green. Jones didnt have that in his design. An 18th hole pond now is a trademark of all the Boyne courses, the Alpine and Monument at Boyne Mountain, and the Heather, Moor, Donald Ross and Arthur Hills courses at Boyne Highlands and the Links at Bay Harbor.

Kircher was an expert skier, an expert fisherman who flew around the world in the company plane chasing fish, a hunter and eventually a golfer. As age and infirmities, heart problems and a stroke, began setting in -- he was like a mechanical man with a pacemaker, dialysis and whatever -- he got the idea of additional tees for seniors, gold tees, not red, for ladies. And when he commissioned Art Hills to do a course at the Highlands, he said he wanted one where women would have a chance to make some birdies, too. And his wife, Lois, a wonderful, charming woman, got one of the first.

Kircher lived in a comfortable home on the Boyne River which he stocked with trout. And while Michigan was headquarters and home, he always wanted a big western ski area and got it in 1976 when he bought Big Sky in Montana. It has become one of the most popular destination resorts in the west.

As his sons, John and Stephen, and daughters, Amy and Kathryn, became more involved in the business, Boyne kept expanding, buying day ski areas outside Salt Lake City and Seattle, another near Vancouver, Boyne South, a golf course in Naples, Fla., and Bay Harbor plus the scenic chairlift in Gatlinburg, Tenn., which Everett and his father installed at the towns urging in 1953. Everett described it as my first jackpot, the mother lode (that) financed much of the development of Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands. It was a cash cow from the beginning and continues to subsidize the Boyne Mountain operation. He was a hard-headed businessman, a nuts and bolts guy, a visionary, a sportsman, a pioneer. Theres been no one like him. Not close.

March/April 2002 Issue Table of Content
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