Boyne USA Resorts History

Address:
1 Boyne Mountain Road
Boyne Falls, Michigan 49713
U.S.A.

Telephone: (231) 549-6060
Toll Free: 800-462-6963
Fax: (231) 549-6896

Website:
Private Company
Incorporated: 1947 as Boyne Ski Lodge, Inc.
Employees: 1,200
Sales: $316 million (2004 est.)
NAIC: 721110 Hotels (Except Casino Hotels) and Motels; 713920 Skiing Facilities; 713910 Golf Courses and Country Clubs; 451110 Sporting Goods Stores

Company Perspectives:

Boyne USA Resorts have become the perfect destination for everyone and everyone's family, friends and business associates. It is with great pride this family owned company continues to serve each guest with the same high standards of hospitality and service set long ago with the first resort. The Kircher family and Boyne USA Resorts are confident the future of resort living is upon us and pledge to be one step ahead by fulfilling the needs and expectations of every visitor, traveler, and investor who share in the Boyne lifestyle.

Key Dates:

1947:
Everett Kircher and partners acquire Boyne Mountain in northwestern Michigan.
1954:
Gatlinburg Sky Lift begins operation in Tennessee.
1964:
Kircher adds Boyne Highlands ski area.
1967:
Robert Trent Jones-designed Heather golf course opens at Boyne Mountain.
1976:
Big Sky Resort in Montana is purchased.
1986:
Brighton Ski Bowl in Utah is acquired.
1992:
Boyne South Resort in Naples, Florida opens.
1994:
Firm signs deal to build golf course, hotel at Bay Harbor resort in Michigan.
1997:
Boyne buys Crystal Mountain ski area in Washington State.
1999:
Inn at Bay Harbor opens; majority stake in Bavarian Village Ski shops is purchased.
2001:
Cypress Mountain ski area near Vancouver, British Columbia is bought.
2002:
Kircher dies at age 85, leaving management of firm to his four children.
2005:
New hotel, spa, and water park opens at Boyne Mountain.

Company History:

Boyne USA Resorts is one of the leading operators of ski and golf resorts in North America. The firm's properties include Big Sky Resort in Montana, Crystal Mountain in Washington State, Brighton Ski Bowl in Utah, Cypress Mountain in British Columbia, and Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands, and the Inn at Bay Harbor in Michigan. Boyne also operates a Michigan-based chain of ski and golf shops, a sightseeing chairlift in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and a golf course in Naples, Florida. The company is owned and run by the family of founder Everett Kircher.

Beginnings

Boyne USA Resorts traces its roots to the year 1947, and a Michigan skiing fan named Everett Kircher. Born in 1916 to German immigrants in St. Louis, Kircher had moved as an infant with his family to Detroit. He received his first set of skis at nine, and later took ski trips to Lake Placid, New York, and Sun Valley, Idaho, where he became an accomplished downhill skier.

After briefly attending the University of Michigan, Kircher began working at his family's Studebaker car dealership in the Detroit suburb of Rochester. Frustrated by the lack of skiing options in Michigan, which then had just one private and one public ski hill, in the mid-1940s he and two partners put up $5,000 each to create a ski area of their own. After looking at ten possible sites, in 1947 they bought 40 acres of land in the northwest corner of Michigan's lower peninsula, on which an 1,150-foot mountain stood. The seller was so incredulous that Kircher wanted to use the undeveloped, remote site for skiing, that he sold it to him for a dollar.

After buying the land Kircher left the auto dealership and moved his young family north. He soon began clearing trees to create two ski trails, which had been laid out by Victor Gottshalk, a German ski instructor he had worked with at Sun Valley. Gottshalk alerted Kircher to the fact that Sun Valley was willing to sell one of its single-chair ski lifts, and he bought it with $2,000 of his own money, his partners having by now gotten cold feet. The lift, which could transport 400 skiers per hour, had originally been built in 1936, and in fact was the very first chairlift ever constructed. It was a sizable improvement over existing devices such as tow ropes and "J-bars," and its status as the first ski lift in the Midwest immediately put Kircher's operation on the map.

On New Year's Day, 1948, the Boyne Mountain Ski Club opened with two ungroomed slopes, still bumpy from the stumps of trees that had been removed. Lift tickets were priced at $5 per day, and facilities consisted of a small warming lodge and an unpaved parking lot. Although the lift's gearbox froze up on the first day, and Kircher and his small staff had to occasionally shovel snow from the woods onto the ski trails to cover them, his faith in the concept remained strong, and in the off-season he converted the chairlift into a double-seater.

Boyne's first years were not easy ones, but Kircher's tenacity and love for the sport of skiing, as well as the continuing improvements he made to the facility, helped bring in more business each season. To teach the sport to beginners, he hired Stein Eriksen, an Olympic gold medalist from Norway. Eriksen soon recommended Othmar Schneider, a gold medalist from Austria, who would run the Boyne ski school for many years. By the early 1950s Boyne Mountain was selling up to 500 family ski packages per week, and attracting 1,500 skiers on weekends.

Opening of Gatlinburg Sky Lift: 1954

In 1953 Kircher was asked to build a chairlift in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, by the owner of a local hotel, who had read about the installation of the Boyne lift in AAA magazine. The canny Kircher responded that he would build it only if he could own it, and after securing a 99-year lease on the property, he installed a used chairlift he had bought for $3,000 from a ski resort in California.

From the time it began operations in 1954, the Gatlinburg Sky Lift, which overlooked the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, proved a highly profitable enterprise. With the steady revenue it provided, Kircher was able to add features to Boyne Mountain, and later buy a second ski hill, Harbor Highlands, a few miles to the north. It was opened in 1964 under the name Boyne Highlands with the first triple-chair ski lift in the world.

In addition to being a sharp businessman, Kircher had by now shown himself to be a talented engineer and inventor. Over the years he developed a variety of new techniques and equipment for grooming slopes, as well as a patented snow-making machine. The Boyne Snowmaker (also known as the Highlands Snow Gun) used just one-fourth the power of earlier snowmaking equipment, was quieter, and was the first to operate at temperatures just below freezing. Like a number of Kircher's other innovations, it came to be used widely within the industry.

Opening of Heather Golf Course: 1967

Seeking to attract business during the warm summer months, in part so that he could keep his staff employed year-round, Kircher had early on added a golf course called Hemlock at Boyne Mountain, which he had built himself using his father's Ford tractor. He became even more interested in golf after buying Boyne Highlands, and in 1965 hired renowned designer Robert Trent Jones to plan a new course for the bottom of the hill. Dubbed Heather, it opened in 1967 and was soon named to Golf Digest's list of the top 100 courses in the country.

By 1970 Boyne Country U.S.A., as Kircher's operation had become known, was the largest ski area in the upper Midwest. Though the hills were not huge, they offered well-groomed slopes, guaranteed snow via an extensive network of snowmaking machines, and short waits for ski lifts. Boyne now had a total of four ridges within a 27-mile radius that featured 53 different ski slopes, the most recent additions being Thunder Mountain and Walloon Hills. Kircher also had an extensive instructional program, with a staff of nearly four dozen.

Overnight accommodations were available at Boyne Mountain, whose Boyne, Boynehof, and Edelweiss Lodges offered a total of 170 rooms, each with a private bath, while the Boyne Highlands Lodge had space for 250 guests. The four ski areas operated a total of 12 chairlifts, three T-bars, three Pomalifts, and four rope tows. The most expensive lift ticket was $7.50 per day. Adding to his earlier innovations, Kircher had also introduced the world's first quadruple lift in 1969.

The late 1960s saw Boyne's business fall off as Midwesterners began taking advantage of cheaper airfares and travel packages to ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains, and Kircher fought this tide by ramping up his golf offerings (adding the Alpine course to Boyne Mountain in 1970), and by seeking out convention business. In 1972 he opened the Boyne Mountain Civic Center, which featured meeting rooms with a capacity of 850.

Acquisition of Big Sky: 1976

The 1970s also saw Kircher begin looking at adding a ski operation in the West. After passing on chances to buy resorts in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Telluride, Colorado, he settled on Big Sky, Montana, which had been steadily losing money since opening in 1974. In 1976 Kircher acquired the resort for $1 million and the assumption of $7.5 million in debt.

Big Sky at this time featured three lifts, a gondola, and the 200-room Huntley Inn, named after cofounder Chet Huntley, the NBC newscaster. Its two peaks measured 11,166 feet and 8,800 feet, making it Montana's tallest ski area. After the acquisition, Kircher's organization began upgrading, adding accommodations and new runs.

Growth at Boyne's Michigan resorts continued during the 1970s and early 1980s, with additions including a tennis center and a cross-country ski center. New golf courses were also opened in 1974 and 1985. In the late 1970s the money-losing Walloon Hills area was donated to a charitable organization that offered skiing opportunities to handicapped children.

The year 1986 saw Kircher expand his Western holdings with the purchase of a resort in Brighton, Utah. Operated since the late 1930s, the Brighton Ski Bowl boasted a 10,200-foot peak. Boyne soon began adding new lifts and accommodations.

In 1989 Boyne Highlands opened its third golf course, as well as the Heather Highlands Inn Convention Center, which featured 72 suites of rooms. The following year a new country club and golf center were also added. The Donald Ross Memorial course at Boyne Highlands duplicated famous holes at Ross-designed courses around the United States. The year 1990 also saw installation of Michigan's first high-speed detachable chairlift at Boyne Highlands.

Developments of the early 1990s included construction of a new conference center at Big Sky and new lodging at Boyne Highlands and Brighton Bowl, as well as the 1992 acquisition of a golf course in Naples, Florida, that became known as Boyne South Resort. A new golf course and new ski runs and chairlifts were also added to Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, including the first high-speed six-seat chairlift in the United States.

In 1994 the company signed an agreement to build and manage the Bay Harbor Golf Club and the Inn at Bay Harbor, part of a new resort located on five miles of Lake Michigan coastline near Petoskey that had once been the site of a cement plant and limestone quarry. Bay Harbor, which was being developed by CMS Land Company and Victor International, would also feature luxury homes, condominiums, and a yacht harbor.

In 1995 the $3 million Lone Peak Tram was opened at Big Sky Resort, which enabled it to claim the most total vertical feet of skiing in the United States, 4,180. The tram utilized two cylindrical cars, each of which could carry 15 passengers to a height of 11,150 feet, just 16 feet below the tip of the mountain. Expert skiers could descend on the peak's most challenging runs, while others could enjoy the view of Yellowstone National Park and three different states. Also during the year the firm abandoned a five-year effort to secure approval to expand Brighton Ski Bowl, after encountering strong opposition from environmentalists and area residents.

Purchase of Crystal Mountain Resort: 1997

In early 1997 Boyne reached an agreement to acquire Crystal Mountain Resort in Washington State, which had been operating in the red for some time. It was situated near Mount Rainier on 4,300 acres of land leased from the U.S. Forest Service. Founded in 1962, it boasted the state's largest vertical drop (3,100 feet), ten lifts, conference facilities, and other accommodations. The company committed to spending $15 million over ten years to make improvements. At about the same time Boyne acquired a 50 percent stake in the 18-hole Crooked Tree Golf Club in Petoskey, Michigan, near Bay Harbor.

In 1998 the Wall Street Journal named Bay Harbor one of the top five destination resorts in the U.S., and Golf magazine rated Boyne's new Arthur Hills-designed course there eighth on its list of the top 100 public courses in the country. Boyne USA Resorts, as the firm was now known, continued to be headed by 82-year old-founder Everett Kircher, though many of the day-to-day operations were now managed by his four children. Stephen, a talented golfer who had helped design the course at Bay Harbor, ran the firm's Michigan and Montana operations, while John was in charge of its Western holdings, Amy handled the golf and real estate operations of Boyne South, and Kathryn was in charge of Boyne Design Group, which designed interiors for the company's resorts.

Expansion continued in the fall of 1999 when Boyne USA Resorts bought 51 percent of Bavarian Ski Village and Golf Shops, a 50-year-old, Michigan-based chain of eight shops located in the Detroit suburbs, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Grand Rapids. They were subsequently remodeled and rechristened Boyne Country Sports, with the Bavarian Village name used for ski departments within the shops. The stores soon boosted their clothing offerings and began to sell lift tickets and travel packages to Boyne properties.

In December 1999 the 130-room Inn at Bay Harbor officially opened, winning favorable reviews for its plush appointments. The month also saw Boyne founder Everett Kircher named to Ski magazine's list of "The 100 Most Influential Skiers of All Time."

In March 2000 a new ten-story, $45 million hotel, the Summit, opened at Big Sky, part of the company's ongoing efforts to bring the resort into the black. It had lost money for all 19 years of Boyne's ownership, due to a myriad of problems including its out-of-the way location and inherited sewage, power, and construction issues. Early the next year Boyne also announced plans for a new $400 million, ten-year expansion, which would add chairlifts, more than 100 shops and restaurants, a spa, and more conference facilities. A new Holiday Inn Express hotel opened at the resort during the year as well.

Acquisition of Cypress Mountain: 2001

In February 2001 the Boyne USA empire expanded yet again with the purchase of Cypress Mountain near Vancouver, British Columbia. It offered both cross-country and downhill skiing, with night skiing on some runs and limited amenities including a cafeteria. The one-time public recreation area had been run by a private company since 1984.

In August 2001 the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft environmental-impact statement which approved most of Boyne's plans for a $100 million expansion to Washington's Crystal Mountain, which included a tram to the peak, more runs and lifts, a new retreat center on a ridge, and other additions. Later in the year, construction was halted on the recently begun Boyne Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa as lenders pulled back lines of credit due to the tightening economy and the post-September 11 travel industry slowdown. On January 16, 2002, Boyne USA Resorts founder Everett Kircher died at the age of 85.

In 2003 it was announced that portions of the 2010 Winter Olympics would be held at Cypress Mountain near Vancouver, which was slated to receive numerous improvements by that time. In the fall the Inn at Bay Harbor became affiliated with the exclusive Renaissance Hotels & Resorts chain, and construction resumed at the Boyne Mountain Resort and Spa.

In early 2004 Boyne USA filed a lawsuit against Moonlight Basin ski area, which was building a resort on the other side of Montana's Lone Peak from Big Sky. The suit charged Moonlight Basin with using an avalanche control device to fire explosives toward Big Sky, as well as other forms of trespassing.

In 2005 the $70 million Boyne Mountain Resort and Spa was opened to the public, along with a new indoor water park, which was touted as the largest in Michigan. The additions were part of a $250 million, multiyear program to evolve Boyne Mountain into a four-season family destination. Other attractions were also in the works, including a live music series.

Nearly 60 years after Everett Kircher paid $1 for an undeveloped mountain on a dirt road in northern Michigan, Boyne USA Resorts had grown into one of the largest ski and golf resort operators in the United States. The firm was in the midst of its most ambitious renovation efforts to date, which would add hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new infrastructure and accommodations to its properties.

Principal Operating Units: Boyne Mountain; Boyne Highlands; The Inn at Bay Harbor; Bay Harbor Golf Club; Gatlinburg Sky Lift; Big Sky Resort; Crystal Mountain; Brighton Resort; Boyne South Resort; Cypress Mountain (Canada); Boyne Country Sports.

Principal Competitors: Vail Resorts Inc.; Intrawest Corp.; American Skiing Co.; Booth Creek Ski Holdings, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Alva, Marilyn, "Skiing Mogul Everett Kircher," Investor's Business Daily, September 17, 2003.
  • Anderson, Scott, "Boyne Founder Isn't Packing Up His Skis Anytime Soon," Grand Rapids Press, August 30, 1998, p. F5.
  • "Boyne USA Founder Helped Shape Ski, Golf Industries; Everett Kircher Dies at Age 85," Grand Rapids Press, January 18, 2002, p. B1.
  • Bradley, Carol, "Huntley's Dream Is 25 Years Old--Would He Recognize It?," Associated Press Newswires, December 25, 1999.
  • DuFresne, Jim, "Boyne-Bavarian Village Merger May Greatly Impact Industry," Grand Rapids Press, October 23, 1999, p. D3.
  • ------, "Boyne New Runs Draw Intermediates, Families," Grand Rapids Press, March 8, 1997, p. D4.
  • ------, "First-Ever Chairlift Still in Use at Boyne," Grand Rapids Press, January 15, 2000, p. D3.
  • ------, "Kircher: Skiing Remains King at Boyne USA," Grand Rapids Press, January 15, 2000, p. D3.
  • ------, "Kircher's Vision Shaped State Ski, Resort Industry," Grand Rapids Press, January 15, 2000, p. D1.
  • French, Brett, "Big Sky Expands with New Resort," Billings Gazette, April 30, 2004, p. B1.
  • Grass, Ray, "Ski Resort of the Week: Brighton," Deseret Morning News, March 3, 2005, p. C2.
  • Hill, Kelly, "Boyne Transforms into Four-Season Resort Destination," Grand Rapids Press, April 10, 2005, p. 8.
  • Holt, John, "Good Times Are Dawning at Big Sky," Denver Post, December 9, 1990, p. 1T.
  • Kamb, Louis, "Ski Area Expansion Closer for Crystal Mountain," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 23, 2004, p. A1.
  • Kircher, Everett, Stephen Kanisse, and Robert Vincent, Everett Kircher, Michigan's Resort Pioneer, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.: Vincent and Associates, 1998.
  • "Michigan-Based Boyne USA Sues Moonlight Basin Ski Area in Montana," Associated Press Newswires, February 19, 2004.
  • Mottram, Bob, "New Owner, and New Features, Highlight Season for Crystal Mountain Ski Area," Associated Press Newswires, December 12, 1997.
  • Phipps, John E., "New Jewel Sparkles on Little Traverse Bay," Grand Rapids Press, June 27, 1999, p. M1.
  • Roelofs, Ted, "Sloping Upward; After 2 Years, Work Resumes on Boyne's $70 Million Lodge," Grand Rapids Press, December 28, 2003, p. A1.
  • Saxon, Wolfgang, "Everett Kircher, Ski Resort Owner, Dies at 85," New York Times, January 24, 2002, p. 7.
  • "Shareholders Vote to Sell Home-Owned Ski Area," Associated Press Newswires, March 28, 1997.
  • Strauss, Michael, "Boyne Falls Not the Alps But Is Enticing to Skiers," New York Times, Dec. 14, 1972.
  • ------, "Skiing Is on the Upswing in the Upper Midwest," New York Times, January 18, 1970.
  • Sylvain, Rick, "Isolation at Big Sky Resorts Blessing--And Curse," Salt Lake Tribune, February 6, 1994, p. H2.
  • Thompson, Chris, "International Instruction: Ski School at Boyne Highlands Sports Austrian Flavor," Grand Rapids Press, January 5, 1991, p. D1.
  • White, Dana, "Next Stop, Lone Peak; Will a Much-Anticipated Tram Give Big Sky, Montana, Big-Time Visibility?," Skiing, February 1, 1996, p. 26.
  • Woolf, Jim, "Brighton Ski Resort Abandons Expansion," Salt Lake Tribune, June 19, 1995, p. D1.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 71. St. James Press, 2005.