Depending on who you talk to, Sugar Loaf has been called everything from an economic engine to an eyesore of Leelanau County.

Sugar Loaf StickerThere have been countless articles written on the fate of the defunct resort, its financial woes and prospective new owners – don’t ask the count because I lost track after 3 or 4 potential new owners or deals.  Many rumors have floated around previously regarding what the current resort owner’s plans were.

Back in April of 2006, word got out that the resort was going to open back up and focus on snowboarders, then the rumor carried on into the fall of 2006 that they would be open for ‘some’ skiing that winter.  Unfortunately, this never happened and the resort sat vacant once again for a few more years.

As an individual that grew up skiing in Northern Michigan, including Sugar Loaf, I have been considering a post on the subject for some time now and didn’t feel inclined to write about it until the most recent article was posted by the Traverse City Record Eagle on Saturday.  It appears as if another investor is interested in purchasing the dilapidated resort in the hopes that they can turn it around.  I’m optimistic about the whole concept of Sugar Loaf making a comeback, I just have a hard time understanding how and when.
Sugar Loaf from the parking lot
This past summer, while my wife and I were driving around Northern Michigan, winding our way through Leelanau County’s back roads, we ran across signs for Sugar Loaf and I was explaining to her how I used to ski there from time to time and hadn’t been there since they closed in 2000.  We decided to venture up Sugar Loaf Mountain Road, following it to the top to see if anything or anybody was around.

There was sort of an eerie feeling when you drove up to the main lodge and hotel area.  Aside from the golf course and residents who live on and around the resort’s property, there wasn’t anybody around, in fact it was like someone just locked the doors at the end of the day ten years ago and walked away.
Sugar Loaf's MailboxShovels Ready for action
Mail is still delivered to the mailbox, shovels still remain inside the door, ski patrol’s equipment looks prepped and ready for action.  As we continued to walk around, I was trying to envision what everything was like in the resort’s hayday.
Sugar Loaf Resort Today
Taking a look back, Sugar Loaf opened its doors to the public the day after Christmas in 1964 and had long been declared one of Michigan’s finest ski areas.  Seen as a destination by many, Sugar Loaf boasted 25 ski runs fed by 7 lifts, 26 km of cross country trails and a 144,000 square-foot lodge and hotel.  Don’t forget the 3,500 foot paved airstrip.

So what’s it going to take to open the resort after all these years?  From an operational standpoint, new permits must be obtained for the lifts, including testing and certification that the lifts are deemed safe for operation by the Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.  Anybody who had been to Sugar Loaf ten years ago will tell you that the lifts were in anything but stellar condition.  Snow making  capabilities, though not imperative, would have to be updated. We all know that Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate with us and the use of snowguns help to extend our season.  I am not aware of the condition of the equipment, but any of it that sat out for a longer period of time is probably not in that great of shape.  Improvements to the facilities are also high on the list.  In order to attract outside visitors, updates to the main lodge, rental facility and guest rooms would be needed.
Sugar Loaf's Lift
Judging by the condition of the lifts and lack of maintenance on the buildings, it’s going to take more than money to turn this resort around.  It is going to take someone with the ambition and passion to run a resort of the caliber that Sugar Loaf once was and has the potential to be again.

I’m interested to know what you think.  What is it going to take to turn the resort around?
What needs to be done to make Sugar Loaf another premier destination for skiers and snowboarders in Michigan?

If you have any stories about Sugar Loaf and feel like sharing, leave a comment or send me an email at

UPDATE: Sugar Loaf’s investor, Liko ‘Sean’ Smith comments on my post.