There’s Snow Place Like Home: Benjamin Bartz of Snowriver Mountain Resort
For Benjamin Bartz, the U.P. is more than the place where he lives and works – it’s a way of life
As general manager of the Snowriver Mountain Resort in the western reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Benjamin Bartz has turned his life-long love for the great outdoors into a thriving career. While Benjamin joined the staff of Snowriver in 2022, he is no stranger to the U.P. and Gogebic County.
He attended Gogebic Community College, graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in Ski Area Business Management and worked as a mountain operations manager at Giants Ridge in Minnesota before returning to the area where he first learned how to ski.
Winter sports enthusiasts descend upon the Wakefield area to experience the slopes of Jackson Creek Summit and Black River Basin at Snowriver Mountain Resort, which welcomes 200 inches of snowfall annually. Not that Benjamin minds.
As a Wisconsin transplant, the cold never bothered him anyway.
When your interest in outdoor recreation began?
I grew up in Tomahawk, Wisconsin playing hockey on the team my dad coached. One weekend I went with a friend to learn how to ski up in the U.P. Upon returning home I asked my dad if we quit playing hockey, could we ski more. Well, that was the official end of my hockey career and the beginning of my lifelong passion for skiing, winter and the outdoors.
You graduated from the Ski Area Management program at Gogebic Community College. How did you learn about the program and what was that experience like?
The U.P. had the best snow and the best skiing close to home, so it was a natural place to end up. In high school as I began my college search, I knew I wanted to study Ski Area Management. I visited colleges in California and Colorado before deciding that the program at Gogebic Community College would provide the best hands-on learning and help me build the connections I’d need to be successful in this tight-knit industry. That first fall living in the U.P. was an awesome introduction into all the things that make Michigan so great. Waterfalls with hidden swimming holes, warm sand beaches, beautiful fall colors, endless hiking, and opportunities to explore. It didn’t take long to fall in love.
You moved out of state after school to work in the industry but returned to Michigan for your current position at Snowriver. What brought you back to the state?
As part of my studies at Gogebic, I had the opportunity to intern at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado. A ski bum’s dream, I spent a winter grooming the slopes I skied nearly every day and then transitioned into a summer maintenance role for the summer. While the experience was fantastic and the mountains beautiful, I found the crowds and cost of living to be overwhelming. As summer drew to a close, I felt drawn back to the spacious trailheads, $50k houses and plentiful water of home here in the Midwest.
What is unique about the U.P. and Gogebic County that can’t be found elsewhere?
Gogebic County is one of just a few areas in the Midwest to be blessed with lake effect snowfall, over 200” of it on average falls here each winter. That, partnered with the unique, rugged wilderness and the proximity to whitewater rushing down to Lake Superior make it a tough place to beat.
You maintain a blog for Snowriver with regular updates, even during the summer months. What kind of work goes into managing the resort year-round?
One of the most common questions we receive here at the hill is, “What do you do in the summer?” I often reply that summer is when much of the major work takes place at a ski area. There are more animals than people out on the slopes. We stay busy maintaining our lift and snowmaking infrastructure, going through all the equipment, performing tests and renovating our facilities to be ready for the short winter season. It truly takes seven months of work to be ready for the five months we’re open for skiing and riding.
What makes you proud to be a Michigander and Yooper?
I love the undiscovered nature of the U.P. and I’m proud to be fortunate enough to participate in the realization of the full potential of the region as a true destination for recreation.
To you, what is a perfect ski day?
I must say I’m a bit spoiled by my daily access to the slopes and have become a bit of a fair-weather skier, but for me it’s hard to beat a warm spring day under bright blue skies.