Traverse City Record-Eagle


January 13, 2012

TC celebrates Hickory Hills' 60th

TRAVERSE CITY — Growing up, Larry Bensley hopped in the car and took the short trip from his family's Seventh Street house to Hickory Hills Ski Area.

"Ten minutes and you're there. Fifteen minutes we had our skis on, and 16 minutes we were coming down the hill," he said.

His father, Loren, was among Traverse City leaders who helped open the city-owned ski hill in January 1952. This year, the city celebrates Hickory Hills' 60th anniversary with a museum exhibit, history book and other events.

Hickory's past provided local skiers such as Bensley with "some of my most memorable moments" -- competing on racing teams and skiing under bright lights during long, dark winter nights. Hickory's future could usher in changes, brought on by present-day budget concerns.

Hickory's past

Old black-and-white photographs depict Hickory's early skiers in lumberjack plaids and Alpine sweaters, gripping ski poles and -- very often -- grinning widely.

The ski area was named for the hard, durable wood used to make the sport's old equipment.

"(In the) early days it was the hickory skis and bamboo poles," said Bensley, who now lives in Omena.

He learned to ski at the old Sugar Loaf in Leelanau County, but his father had an idea to develop a ski hill closer to home, similar to a Steamboat Springs, Colo. hill he had read about.

"He thought, as he looked out to the west of Traverse City at all the hills ... 'We can do that, too,'" Bensley said of his father's vision.

The community started with a small ski hill at another site, but skiing proved so popular the operation soon moved to its present location -- Hickory Hills. Bensley was a teenager when Hickory opened and he recalled how hardware stores began to stock skis to meet the new demand.

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