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Going Further Afield: Two Dueling Michigan Areas 4
Author thumbnail By Robbie Allen, DCSki Columnist

Do you remember the days of the Liberty/Whitetail rivalry -; back when they were two different companies competing for the DC area ski dollar? Well that rivalry is gone but it is good to see the same type of rival exists elsewhere in the country.

What do you do when you have lots of snow but not much in the way of hills? Make do with what you can find! Lake Michigan is a snow making machine. Lake effect snows are generated almost daily during the winter months. Unfortunately most of this snow falls on the flat lands of Northern Indiana and Western Michigan. Luckily just north of Kalamazoo Michigan there is a valley that is framed by a small ridge that runs 40 miles north to Grand Rapid, Michigan. This ridge is home to a couple of competing ski areas only 13 miles apart: Timber Ridge (think - Ski Liberty) and Bitter Sweet (think - Whitetail).

Timber Ridge near Kalamazoo is the smaller of the two resorts. The slopes cling to one side of the ridge facing a wide flat valley. Farmland surrounds the slopes. The lodge area is small and 1970’s styled. The rental shop, ticket booth and main lodge are all 3 separate buildings. Given the amount of wooden walkways combined with chain link fences gives the base area a kind of working farm feel. But it works in an odd way.

Hemlock looming above the base area. Photo provided by Timber Ridge.

The slopes leap up behind the lodge area. The drop is only 250 feet thus the slopes are single pitched for the most part. There are some longer greens that snake off the back side and around to the main area. But the real runs are the short drops back to the base area. There is one steep slope “Hemlock” that looms (all of 250 feet of “looming”) above the base area. The slope is for real and drops off in almost cliff-like fashion. The night I skied here the conditions were excellent and this run provided most of the fun. All the slopes drop to a wide long flat run out area. Thus it is possible to curve back and forth across this area getting a longer run and changing lift lines with ease.

These slopes are served by what has to be the fastest pair of double chairlifts I have found. These two chairlifts race up the hill like dueling roller coasters -; easy to do when the hill is only 5 lift towers tall. The quick ride up makes the trip down only slightly shorter than the ride up. The flatter area off to one side is served by a venerable old triple. The night I visited the flatter area had a few hits added to make it interesting.

Looking down on the dueling doubles. Photo provided by Timber Ridge.

Lifts aside, the area also served by no less than 6 rope tows. So how do you make a 15 minute run on a 250-foot hill? You go around and around on the rope tow! The “walnut” trail has been transformed into a terrain park. The park had some hits and a resident group of snowboarders sitting in the middle of the slope. As a terrain park it was really under played on the edges. Most boarders and free skiers just concentrated on the hits and features. Thus the snow hidden on the edge of the run was the best I found on the hill that night. So by constantly skiing down the edges of the trail and riding up the tow I was able to string together 10 plus runs in a row. By the end my legs were burning as much as on Snowshoe’s Cupp Run! I developed a new respect for rope tows.

The Timber Ridge trail map. Photo provided by Timber Ridge.

As shown in the photo the area gets lots of snow. I was dodging snowmobiles on the drive in. In this area winter sports are a big deal. Michigan has over 25 ski areas, but most are smaller affairs. It is the little areas like Timber Ridge that keep downhill skiing and snowboarding in the winter sports mix.

This snow doesn’t stop here. Right up the road is Bittersweet ski resort. Home to the only high-speed quad south of Boyne, Michigan in this state. Bittersweet is the Whitetail to Timber Ridge’s Ski Liberty. Like Liberty and Whitetail back in the day, they compete with each other head to head for much of the same market. You will find a billboard for Bittersweet on the interstate exit to Timber Ridge and vice versa.

Bittersweet coaxes another 150 feet of drop out of the same ridge just 13 miles up the road from Timber Ridge. The resort covers 100 skiable acres. The centerpiece for the resort is clearly the high-speed quad. The trail map is built round this center piece. It should be noted this is a six lift tower high speed quad. So even though you go fast up the hill, the ride is not very long.

Trail map provided by Bittersweet.

Bitter cold had made the snow tight on my visit. And after my adventures on the Timber Ridge’s rope tow, my quads were shot. I took it easy. The trails seem a bit less challenging than down the road. Even though Bittersweet has an additional 150 feet of drop to its down-the-road rival, it skis flatter. Crowds were light but it was a cold night.

January 7, 2008 webcam shot from Bittersweet, when the temperature rose to 56 degrees. It was 20 degrees the night Robbie skied.

The Whitetail vs. Liberty analogy is apt. Bittersweet, like Whitetail, is about cruisers, while Timber Ridge, like Liberty, is about short, challenging pitches. Bittersweet is a bit slicker like Whitetail. Timber Ridge is a bit more home spun like the Liberty of old. Both different, both good in their own ways. In this flat part of the country it is nice to have options especially options that are just 14 miles apart!

About Robbie Allen

Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.

Author thumbnail

Reader Comments

January 31, 2008
Thanks Rob for the combined report,especially on TimberRidge.Providentially I have 2 free midweek lift tickets on my dresser for the 2 areas and was planning a 1 day combo venture to both soon.(Warren Miller movie freebies)
I had skied BSweet in the mid 90's twice(first time they closed the night skiing because of frigid 25 below temps,received a free return tick)and while not overly enthused planned on returning daytime midweek to the now 8 year old High Speed Quad and combine it with TimberRidge for a day trip within a hour and half from the house.
While wondering if it worthwhile as compared to a similar length trip to Caberfae or Crystal,free sounded good and it is time to recheck Bitt and check out Timber,now that you have "endorsed" it.
Thanks Rob for the report(check my Pando comments)
Did you get to Swiss Valley near the Mi./Ind border?Check with JimK on how to contact me for further Mi.ski area open/lost info.
Robbie A
February 4, 2008
ciscokid, yes I got down to swiss valley. I am working on an report on that place as well. Lots of fun little places in your state!
February 13, 2008
Thanks for the tip on Hemlock at TR Rob,it made my day after an hour and half with my nephew at BS which as I remembered is quite lame.At least Hemlock at TR kept my attention for a couple hrs,and enjoyed the Heron Poma 71 double and way retro lodge/bar and brown,white,and blue color combo buildings.BTW the rope tows gripped well compared to Pando and actually Hemlock made my 21 yr old nephew "worry".Good time and thanks for your report again.TR gets my vote over BS,high speed Poma or not,I'm old school,thanks again,Ciscokid
March 18, 2012
The article states "Bittersweet ski resort. Home to the only high-speed quad south of Boyne, Michigan in this state." There is also a high speed quad at Mt. Holly, which is just north of the Detroit area (and far south of Boyne). Perhaps a better wording would have been "Bittersweet ski resort, home to the only high speed quad south of Boyne Michigan that isn't so badly mismanaged that there is little advantage to the skiers or the project's investors."

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