Standing at the bottom of Hemlock, Boyne Mountain's legendary slope that set the standard for Heartland steep, as the lifts opened Jan. 10, it wasn't hard to imagine Everett Kircher, Boyne's founder who died in 2002, being there in spirit. It was that same day in 1948 that Boyne Mountain first opened and the first chairlift ride was taken. Kircher didn't realize at that time his venture would evolve into what is today the largest family-owned ski and golf corporation in the country.

He was just looking for a place close to home where he could ski with friends on a regular basis without having to go West or East. Today the privately held company has holdings in Michigan, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Utah, Washington, Tennessee, and Vancouver.

It was a grand celebration complete with numerous parties, dinners, and a torchlight parade and fireworks display on Saturday night. Many old friends and employees, including the legendary Warren Miller and the dean of Michigan snowsports writers Jack Barry, were in attendance for the weekend festivities.

Kircher was a great innovator and established a number of firsts in the ski industry that all started in Michigan at the Mountain and Highlands. It was kind of like the Microsoft of the snow sports industry. They would introduce it here first and everyone else would follow suit. The first triple, quad, and six-seat chairlifts in the world were here. Boyne still holds patents on snowguns - among the best in the world - that were specifically designed to take advantage of our moist lake effect snow.

This season saw the implementation of the Midwest's first conveyor-loaded lift at the mountain. It's a seamless transition from snow to chair, and it allows the fixed grip quad chairlift to run at maximum speed insuring a shorter ride up the hill; not quite a high-speed lift but close. It's perfect for our Heartland ski hills, and continues Boyne's string of "firsts."

I felt privileged to be included in all the festivities and dinners with the honored luminaries that attended. It's not often that you get to have lunch with Warren Miller or share a cocktail moment with Jack Barry. I could almost feel Everett Kircher's spirit on the ski hill and on the lifts. He would have been proud.

Boyne is in fine hands today with Kircher's sons, Steve and John, and daughters, Kathryn and Amy, overseeing the family business.