Mt. Mancelona – Mancelona

In 1958, Sports Illustrated reported a 1200′ t-bar with a 300′ rise, and 5 ropes. New for 1958 were 3 rope tows, the lodge with locker room and bar, a new trail, lights for Friday night skiing and hi-fi skiing music.

In a Consumers Power brochure from about 1959 listing top ski areas in the northern lower peninsula, they state that Mt. Mancelona was located 1.5 miles north of Mancelona on US 131. It has 10 runs plus x-c trails, a t-bar and 2 tows, with instruction, rentals and snacks available in the club house.

In 1961, Sports Illustrated reported Mancelona had added a  1200′ Poma double chairlift with a 275′ rise and 2 new slopes with a 275′ drop, one 1200′ and one 1700′.

The Cass City Chronicle, on Dec. 10, 1970, printed the AAA Michigan 1971 Guide to Winter Sports Fun. It listed Mt. Mancelona as having 10 runs and 2 trails from 300′ to 3000′, an Austrian T-bar, Poma lift, 5 tows. They also had a tournament hill (racing?) and a dishpan hill. I had to look this last one up as I had never heard of “dishpanning.”

Dishpanning originated in the area of Newago. It seems the Indians who lived there when the fur traders were traversing the state trading European goods for furs had received dishpans (large, flat ones) from the traders. Not knowing what to do with them, the women wore them as ornaments, but soon tired of carrying the heavy things around their necks. The dishpans were put away. That winter, the Braves and Squaws were having fun sliding down the snow on local dunes or hills using boards. (I do not know it this activity pre-dated European influence or if Native Americans developed skiing independently.)  One of the Squaws went home and came back with her dishpan and used it to slide down the hill, far outdistancing the Braves with their boards. Soon everyone was sliding down the hill on their dishpans. I have located several versions of this story (1, 2, 3), but all seem to agree upon the source of the dishpans and the location of the first event. None are specific about the year.

Some of the dishpan accounts credit the name of Newago to the dishpanning activity. One even states that the Squaw who originated it shouted NEW-WAY-GO as she slid down the hill. This sounds pretty far-retched. Other sources say Newago was named for Ojibwe Chief Naw-wa-goo, a signatory of the Treaty of Saginaw, or for a Native American word meaning “much water.”

Newago is about 125 mi. south of Mancelona. How did Mt. Mancelona come to have a dishpanning hill? If you know, or even if you remember dishpanning or skiing at Mt. Mancelona, please post your information or send it to us via the directions on the About MILSAP page.

Apparently Mt. Mancelona closed around 1985. Here is a link to a video of riding the partially restored T-bar at Mt. Mancelona.

We want to thank Karl Mertz for sending us this link to a documentary about the current status of Mt. Mancelona produced at Central Michigan University and published on Teton Gravity Research. Click here to view the 17-min video which includes scenes of skiing and snowboarding, the refurbishing of the aged T-bar and the old lodge which has been converted into a residence.

28 Responses to Mt. Mancelona – Mancelona

  1. farlane says:

    Hey there – we have a link to you from our feature today on Mt. Mancelona.

    Great site! Michigan has so many lost ski areas.

  2. Mike says:

    That was no “Poaching” video….. I’m the rider. I was the guy in the “Wolf” hat in the “Man and his Mountain” documentary.

    There are no actual plans, yet… of opening the hills to the public…..

    …..but there sure are alot of ideas!!!

    Stay tuned, folks….. the slopes may come back to life, in the not-so-distant future.

      • Mikey says:

        What exactly is “Poaching”, anyway? I was assuming it was akin to “trespassing”.
        …..Was I poaching and not knowing it?

      • MILSAP says:

        Generally, in snowsports, ‘poaching’ refers to skiing or riding without permission. This can be riding at areas which do not allow snowboards (very few remaining), skiing or riding without a ticket, skiing or riding on closed slopes or out-of-bounds, or skiing or riding on private property without permission. For most of these, one could be charged with trespassing. If you had permission, you were not poaching.

    • Anton Mal says:

      What is the vertical of this hill? Did it ever have snowmaking? Getting the T bar running is cool, loved the videos and story.

      • Mikey says:

        I believe it’s 800ft vertical. The lift line is 1200 feet long. (That’s how much wire I had to lay to get safety stops switches at the top). There was never any artificial snowmaking, but there WERE lights for night skiing on one slope. (Maybe two).

  3. geoff smith says:

    In February 1962 my Dad, O.L.”Doc” Smith took the family to Mt. Mancelona where he was an examiner for a ski patrol qualification. There I met A.J. Moeke, a well known “Region III” racer who invited me to “run some slalom” on the challenging race hill. After, A.J. encouraged me to enter USSA Region III competition which would require the family committing to travel weekends “up north” from our SE Michigan home. My father relented and the next season my brother Snuffy and I joined USSA. Without going to Mt. Mancelona that weekend and meeting AJ I doubt that we would have ever joined USSA racing….and I never would have made the USSA Jr. Olympic team or lettered in alpine skiing at the University of Colorado.

  4. gordon says:

    i truly loved skiing at mt. manceloa. our cousins had a cabin on torch lake and i would go there and ski with my dad, sister and cousins back in the mid to late 60’s.

    i can still hear the snow crunching under the tires as we drove from the cabin to the hill.
    ice laden trees and frosty clear mornings.

    my mum would pack lunch and we would have hot chocolate out of thermos’s from the trunk of the car. a silver blue 64 buick lesabre. those days were great.
    thank you for prompting my memory.


  5. Jack Hursh says:

    I happened to Google “Mt. Mancelona Ski” and discovered discussions on the history of Mt. Mancelona. My grandparents, Harold and Pauline Axtmann, developed, owned, and operated Mt. Mancelona. They operated Mt. Mancelona from the mid 1950s through the 1970s. When I was a young boy, we would spend weekends skiing at Mt. Mancelona and staying with grandma and grandpa in the living quarters on the second level of the lodge which is now the private residence. As clear as if it was yesterday, I remember zooming down the hill and yelling “hello grandpa” as he helped me mount the T-bar for another tow to the top of the hill.

    Jack Hursh
Reno, NV

  6. I just found the MILSAP online yesterday, and watched the video “A Man & His Mountain” today on Vimeo. I’m SO glad to finally see and hear the truth about Mt. Mancelona! I have lived in West Michigan for 38 years, and have always wondered about Mt Mancelona on travels North to ski at the Boynes, Nub’s, Schuss. It still is such a beautiful area. Sorry that I never got the chance to ski it. We always loved Sugar Loaf, too, and miss it. So happy to know that the MI Lost Ski Area Project is documenting this poignant history. Thanks so much! (I do have some old photos of Sugar Loaf and “old” Caberfae to share, and my son-in-law’s family operate Pando now, and I’m sure I can acquire some historical photos of Pando.)

  7. Anne B says:

    My family, along with some other friends from Midland, skied there all the time in the late 60s/early 70s Lot of fun memories of the treacherous T-Bar (for young kids…). I remember getting dragged up those last 30 feet haning on for dear life. Fun times. Our friends parked their camping trailers in the lower parking lot for the winter.

  8. Brad says:

    The recent owner of Mt. Mancelona was Joe Omness, who was featured in “A Man and His Mountain.” Unfortunately Joe passed away suddenly in March of 2012. I have not heard about the status of the property, though I might guess that it was passed on to his daughters. The lodge is still an amazing place and it was always a treat to get invited to a party at Joe’s. He was a good ‘un and is missed.

  9. Mikey says:

    Here is a link to the new documentary on Mt. Mancelona, aptly titltd… “Return To Mount Mancelona”.


    • Anton Mal says:

      Really enjoyed this. Never got to ski there, must of been a special experience!

      • Mikey says:

        I moved to Mancelona in 1984, when Mt. Mancelona closed to the public. I never got to see the place in it’s full glory. But I had the time of my life resurrecting the T-Bar and getting to use it with Joe’s Daughters and my friends/children/friends-of-children.

        There’s still plenty of glory left in the old place.

  10. B Coulter says:

    I grew up skiing at Mt. Mancelona in the late 60’s from age 5-10 with the PaMaWoCo ski club (four families from Midland that would spend every weekend skiing at Mancelona). After lunch, our parents would take their wine skins to the back area of the hill and imbibe while turning us kids loose to fend for ourselves on the T-Bar and Poma Lift. The wooden T bars would break on a regular basis sending you sliding backward into the person riding the lift behind you – especially on the steep pitch before reaching the top. At the time, Challenge was the steepest hill I could ever imagine skiing.

  11. Bob Sisco says:

    Mt Mancelona in its glory


  12. Bob Sisco says:

    Pic from’08/’09


  13. Fred Wark says:

    apparently there is a new owner, as of late 2017, who is working on reopening the hill in fall of 2018. Look for Mt Mancelona on facebook

    • Mikey says:

      WHOA!!!!!….. Slow down big fella….. that is a bit ambitious. The new owner knows that this is a huge undertaking. Don’t expect the slopes to open sooner than two or three years. (But we ARE enjoying it as a PRIVATE ski resort, in the meantime). We will keep you informed.

      • Sam Seven says:

        I got to ski in April after a big dumping, the lodge was really cool and the even got the t-bar running. They have big plans to turn it into a Boyne sized just not as big.

  14. Anton Mal says:

    I don’t believe the hill ever had a chairlift as noted above. Two Poma lifts, not a double chair.
    The last stretch up the hill on that T-Bar is practically straight up! I think the mid station was cut in too deep, needs a little fill.
    A nice variety of runs, but the slopes are mostly filled with broomstick sized saplings! A lot of work to be done and the owner seeks volunteers and donors. He doesn’t seem flush with the millions it would take to make this place a competitive commercial venture, but instead, the vision seems to make the place a community resource with a variety of activities, camp, and concert and festival venue.

  15. Fred Wark says:

    we were in Mancelona area today.(Sunday Feb 17). At 10:30 a.m. we found the “resort” There were no signs at the gate indicating if it was open or any operating hours, or any other info. We wanted to check it out and do some skiing. We parked near the lodge. I knocked on the door, heard kids and dogs in the house. After 2 or 3 minutes I decided that nobody seemed to want to welcome us to the hill, and give us any information. I got back into the truck. As we were turning around in the parking area, someone let the dog out of the house, yet nobody seemed to be trying to attract our attention. Are they actually trying to get people to come and ski the hill? Lots of posts on their facebook page seems to make it look like it they are trying to get business, But I saw no signs of that today. The place looks interesting but not very hospitable.

    • Mikey says:

      Sam is typically rather hospitable, but he may not have heard you knock? We are not “Open” for business….. but we will allow you to hike the hill if you like. (We can’t allow you to use the T-Bar without having it meet State safety requirements….. the lift has not been “State Inspected” in decades). Try again, the next time you get to town.

  16. Fred steven Wark says:

    Thanks Mikey Actually Sam did reply to me. He said something about they were in the basement(?), but didn’t hear us until we were on the way out the drive. Looking at all their posts on facebook and their website, there is nothing to indicate that you should contact them first. Is Mt Mancelona currently operating as some sort of private club or something similar? It is not very clear what the status is. I am hearing that it is legitimate and I am hearing that it is some sort of scam operation, but I get the impression that he is trying to raise money to be able to open it to the public at some time in the future, but I haven’t figured out how it is supposed too be working. I guess I will have to call and talk to him myself. Thanks (and sorry)

  17. Pingback: What's Next for Mount Mancelona?

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