The Ward Hill Ski Area


sign

Back when I was a kid in the 1950’s, the Ward Hills Ski Area was operating each winter with ski lifts and hills galore. Later, Camp Martin Johnson purchased the area to enhance its winter programs. Now its largely overgrown.

I always liked coming down that road as it curve around the ski area. It was a wide curve and each way I glanced out the car window to take in the magnificent site. Does anyone know when Camp Martin Johnson purchased it?

What kind of winter programs, outside of skiing, took place there when the camp owned it? Did they utilize it during other times of the year? I would think, that to purchase this area, and then later lose the camp, there must have been some operating money in the budget to save the camp itself.

Maybe former campers can fill in the blanks? Another good question might be to ask, just who was Ward Hills?

19 thoughts on “The Ward Hill Ski Area

  1. The property has not changed much in the years since closing. The Ski Lodge is now a cottage named “The Lodge” with a big sign out by the road. In the winter when all the foliage is down you can still clearly see the outlines of where the ski slopes went. The owners of the lodge even left a small hut on a “Bunny Hill” that was a warming shack for the rope tow operator. There are also some poles with old wheels used for the rope tows visible at various locations. I had a similar set up at a place I lived in Van Buren Maine in the early 70’s. Those old rope tows with the car wheel set ups were really scary and I remember hearing stories about people getting scarves wrapped on the rope and then going through the one safety catch that typically did not employ fail safe wiring and then getting dragged through the wheel and rope on its way back down the hill heck first. Fortunately the rope tow and ski lift technology has improved a bit since those times.

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  2. I skiied there a couple of times and can’t remember when it closed, but one of the owners now is an X-nephew…if there is such a thing. I’m so happy at the way they have kept the place up and how they use it and improve it often.
    As a kid, I never knew how the tow ropes were operated, but when I found out, I was sure surprised and am thankful no one got hurt. The one at the tippy top of the “mountain” was still operable a few years ago.! I actually think the tow ropes there are what finally got me water skiing. I was the last kid on the lake to learn, I’m sure.

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  3. Dave, the closest downhill ski area to Ward Hills is Caberfae Ski Area. They have a nice set up there with a hotel and outdoor pool. It is right smack dab in the middle of the Manistee National Forest. People come from all over the midwest to ski there. It is about 30 miles NE from Ward Hills or about halfway between Manistee and Cadillac off M-55.

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  4. Ward Hills Ski area closed in the early 80’s when the Chicago YMCA disposed of the Camp Martin Johnson property. The ski area was managed by George Parmentier who now lives in Custer Michigan. George was the property manager for the camp and he and his wife Edith and their family lived in the managers home on the camp property. The ski area was purchased along with the camp property by a group headed by the “Motor City Mad Man” Ted Nugent. It has changed hands several times since then.

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  5. It’s too bad that it’s not still open for skiing! I learned how to ski there, started when I was 8 yrs old and have many fond memories of the place. Yes, the tow ropes were hard on the arms (and the gloves!) but there were some great slopes for intermediate skiiers-#4, #5 and Devil’s Elbow. Maybe I just remember them as big hills because I was so small?!? Still, I miss the place and wish they’d re-open it for skiing.

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  6. My uncle Howard Reese owned the ski area in the 50’s I was born in 1950 and I learned to ski there when I was 5. I don’t know when Uncle Howard bought it. My father, Robert Conant was on the Ski Patrol when Uncle Howard owned it. My uncle and my Aunt Thelma lived down the road a bit as did my cousin Dave and his Wife Shirley. I think they are somewhere in Michigan still. My dad went to work for Camp Martin Johnson when I was in 5th grade. We left Custer and moved into a provided home at the camp. bought it shortly after that.The Hyde Park YMCA

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  7. Our school used to go here every winter for a week. Our school called it “Winter Walden”. We would have classes in the mornings, skiing in the afternoons and outings such as roller skating in the evenings. Classes focused on some non-traditional classes such as exploring nature which was quite the change for us Chicago kids. It was great fun!

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  8. Dave – My cousin, her husband, and two other couples purchased Ward Hills in the mid 90’s. Today they are the sole owners, and the “Lodge” as we refer to it has undergone major renovations and become a year round haven for our family and friends to come and enjoy all the area has to offer. Many of the engine houses and operator sheds still stand on the property. The slopes have become overgrown, although in 2009 we did a major clearing project on the main bowl – as far as I know I’m the only person in almost 30 years to actually ski at Ward Hills! The old dump that existed west of the Lodge was removed, but not before we were able to pull many artifacts of the ski area day from it. The old pond where water was pulled for snow making was recently expanded for summer use, and we have plans to attempt to refurbish and update the rope tow on the bunny hill where our kids enjoy sledding in the winter. If you have any pics of Ward Hills in its prime, please let me know. We’d really like to find a copy of a map showing the names and locations of the runs.

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  9. Patrick brings up some good ideas. If anyone has pictues of the Ward Hill Ski Area please forward them to me at davidnorris1313@juno.com and I will post them on a separate page called Ward Hills. Patrick, if you could forward me any pictures of the current locaton please do so and I will add them to that special page.

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  10. I wish I had some pix but I don’t. I remember that many of the hills were referred to by numbers…#3, 4, 5, 6, but here was also “devil’s elbow” and “bunny”. I don’t know if those were official” names or not and I never knew what happened to #2 as I don’t remember there being a hill with that number associated with it. I remember devils elbow as running on the other side (east?) of the rope tows of 3 and 4 ( the bowl). Number 3 was the smaller hill at the base of the bowl, with #5 being on the west side of devils elbow and 6 being the steepest part further west of #5 with it’s own tow ( that was bloody hard to get up without the rope riding in ones armpit because it was so steep). There was a ski patrol named Roxy (who I believe has posted here) and she may remember the names of the hills better. I haven’t skiied there since the mid to late ’60’s and I was 8 when I was first there, skiied ther until I was in high school but that was way too long ago to be 100% certain of all the names of the hills. Sure have fond memories of the place tho- it was where I learned to ski. Driving up to Caberfae (from GR) each winter to ski now, I often wax sentimental and wish Ward Hills was still an option! I’d come back there in a heartbeat!

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  11. We recently went hicking there on July 3, 2011 and found the concrete footings for the top of the chair lift at the highest point of the mountain. It took about 25 minutes to hike up there but was certainly worth the walk. If you find the Cappers Corners sign at the base of the hill and head into the woods, you will be on the path that will lead you up to the 1,050 summit. We actually have a picture of the concrete pad and tower base taken at th e top of the hill. Very nice “park like” setting at the summit with benches to enjoy the fantastic view. There is also a rope swing tied to an old tree that has been used for many years which is easily depicted by the old rope that is broken off but is imbedded in the tree. Awesome! What a swing…..Try it! Will post pics later.

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  12. Doug, you were at Big M. Big M has the concrete foundations from the chair lifts and the rope swings.

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  13. I attended CMJ from the time I was around 10 years old until I became a CIT and finally a counselor. I also attended Harvard St. George school on Ellis Ave. in Chicago. In the winter, the entire school would leave for a week to Ward Hills. They called it the Winter Walden, classes in the morning and skiing in the afternoon. I remember taking a tobagan (sp) down one of the big hills with fellow student Lewis Sengstacke. Into the woods we went, needless to say, he broke an arm and I was in big trouble.

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