Going Further Afield: Detroit Rock City - Mt. Holly 2
Author thumbnail By Robbie Allen, DCSki Columnist

Driving north from Detroit on I-75 towards Flint, the pancake flat land gives way to a small area of rolling glacial till. Then suddenly the Mt. Holly ski area pops above the trees. It looks like a large rock. In fact some locals refer it is simply as “THE ROCK.” At 1,330 feet in elevation, it is the highest peak in Southeast Michigan. This rock is a tough rough gnarly looking peak. Furthermore, it looks like half the rock is missing. In fact it is.

About 50 years ago the land on which the Mt. Holly ski area is located was arranged for by swapping land with a local mining company and the state-owned Holly Recreational Area. The deal gave the front side of the rock to the state for a ski area in exchange for some nearby land. However the mining company kept the backside of the peak. As a result the backside and the land around it looks like a moonscape. It has been heavily quarried for stone and gravel. Luckily for skiers the miners left the best part.

Mt. Holly opened in 1956 with 5 runs off six rope tows. Over the years with the help of some earth moving improvements the area has grown to 17 slopes off 14 lifts, including a high-speed quad.

Trail map for “The Rock.” Photo provided by Mt. Holly.

For half a mountain Mt. Holly is a handful. It packs a lot of punch into 350 feet of drop and 100 acres of terrain. The hill is steep and short and so are most of the runs. There are three faces (the fourth face missing due to the quarry). Off to one side, the “North Face” trail provides a steep pitch that drops off the top like an elevator. It then swoops around the hill and connects with the “Grants trail,” providing a nice fast swoop back to the lift area.

On the front face, “Canyon” drops straight back down to the lodge/lift area. This slope has two nice pitches; both are quick and steep. Yet there is no run out area here. As a result a lot of speed is carried toward the lifts. A couple of hard turns are needed to be able to bleed off some speed before entering the lift line at a reasonable pace. To add to the fun, this slope is serviced by the high speed quad. Link these two together and you will get a lot of vertical in quick.

Looking down from the peak to the lodge. Photo provided by Mt. Holly.

The third pitch is more interesting. It drops steeply away from the peak and into a hollow off to the side of the lodge. This side is more interesting as there are a bunch of short pitches and hollows here. Far to one side is “Thunderbolt.” This trail is the bracket to the “North Face” trail off the peak. It is a quick drop through a mogul field and a leg burn back to its own chair. When not mogul-ed, “Thunderbolt” is where Mt. Holly’s race leagues compete.

As cold weather is more common than snow, Mt. Holly boasts 100% snow making. They even own several snowmaking patents. The ownership group that runs this area also owns Pine Knob right down the road, Bittersweet in Western Michigan, and Alpine Mountain in Wisconsin. Thus this group has worked with the many steel fabricators and engineers in the area to come up with much of their own snow making and grooming equipment.

A skier gets one run in before the groomers come out. Photo provided by Robbie Allen.

The area received 6-8 inches the day before I arrived. As a result the coverage was excellent. Arriving just before the evening session I had to wait a bit, as the slopes are closed from 5:30-6:00 for grooming. There was a lot of school traffic as the yellow buses were flowing in for the night session. The area has a strong after school ski program.

In speaking to Mark Tibetts, the resort’s General Manager, he said that Detroit is the major market even though Flint is closer. We joked a la “Roger and Me” that the lights in nearby Flint may not have been turned off yet but it is close. However the area is still well supported and promoted in the Flint area.

The Mt. Holly lodge. Photo provided by Robbie Allen.

Mt. Holly has a large three story alpine-themed lodge. They also have a strong non ski business. The lodge is also a bit of a rock club as Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Bob Seagar all played Mt. Holly back in the 70’s! I wonder if they skied?

Overall my impression of Mt. Holly was very positive. The slopes were the most challenging I have found in Southern Michigan. The resort was well laid out and the staff very friendly. Overall, for such a small area, “The Rock” is not only rocks -; it rocks!

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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.

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Reader Comments

Ted Nugent
June 17, 2008
With the DVD release of Semi Tropic, it has renewed the tourist boom to Flint MI! Come see the Lugnuts play base ball in the summer and ski the rock in winter. All the life can be! Come Visit FLINT MICHIGAN! GO TROPICS!
February 2, 2009
Your story about Mt. Holly is pretty nice. However, your comments about it being called "The Rock" by locals is way off. I have lived in the area and ski an average of 30-50 days/year for the last 15 years at Mt. Holly. Noone calls that place "The Rock."

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