Caberfae Peaks: 75 Years of Michigan Ski History

Caberfae Peaks stands alone as the first destination ski resort in Michigan history and one of the first in the country. Celebrating 75 years in 2012, the resort near Cadillac, Michigan has been a touchstone for thousands of Midwest skiers spanning generations.

The resort’s name has Scottish roots. Caberfae, the Scottish name for Stag’s Head, was granted to Colin Fitzgerald, founder of the MacKenzie family in the year 1255 by King Alexander III of Scotland, whose life Fitzgerald saved from a hunted stag deer. The name of Caberfae was applied to the land around the present ski area by Kenneth MacKenzie of Chicago in 1919. Because of his ancestral background and the large number of deer herds in the area, he called it Caberfae.

The area originally encompassed 28 square miles and was intended as a cattle ranch. The ranch ended as a failure after 7 years and the land, in part, was purchased by the United States Government for National Forest purposes. A fire tower was erected near the top of the highest peak.

During the 1930’s, some residents of Indiana, Grand Rapids and Cadillac were participating in winter sports, and were interested in starting a local ski area. The United States Forest Service co-operated, and a winter ski area was created, with a Civilian Conservation Corps building and a single ski run, known as “Number One” being built. The first ski lift, a rope tow, was powered by a Ford Model A car engine. This engine was later replaced by a Packard Motor Car engine.

The first official opening of Caberfae was held in January of 1937. In 1939, operation and control of the area was turned over to a newly created group, the Caberfae Winter sports Club, Inc., which was formed by the Caberfae Ski Club and the Cadillac Chamber of Commerce. The new group was issued a non-profit permit to operate the ski area by the U.S. Forest Service. Five hundred and eighty acres were set aside for development of a year round recreation area, including the prime highlands with steep and heavily forested north and west facing slopes for skiing.

Vestiges of those early efforts still remain today. The first run carved from the forest, Number One, now comprises the lower left side of North Peak. An area then known as “The Bowl” is now the site of South Peak.

Before the 1942-43 season, a dozen more trails were cleared and several rope tows were installed. World War II intervened and the ski area was not operated during that time. The area remained closed until the winter of 1946-47.

The history of Caberfae Peaks continues in “Part Two: The Start of Something Big.”

The Caberfae Peaks History Series Has been compiled by Jim Neff.

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