Meet Your Neighbor
From the April 2013 Thomas Township Newsletter
As part of the “Meet Your Neighbor” series, I wanted to bring to you a couple residing in Thomas Township who is thought of as pioneers in the ski industry. I am of course referring to John and Joan Bintz. It was my pleasure to speak with Joan and to discuss the way it all began.
When you think of winter in mid-Michigan, a lot of us think of the winter fun ready for us to partake in. For many Michiganders growing up in the area in the 1960’s through today they think of skiing at what was once known as Bintz Apple Mountain and now respectfully Apple Mountain.
After John Bintz finished his service to his country in 1958, he began working along with wife, Joan on their apple farm located in Freeland. Even after adding an “old fashioned” cider mill, general store and gift shop, the family still needed a winter endeavor to keep employees working all year round. It was at this point that they set out to create a ski hill. A small feat would be an understatement considering this was to take place on flat land. As Joan told me, “A lot of ski areas were started and had maybe seventy-five feet or so (of slope) already. We had nothing.”
Starting with a used tractor and a total of 300 acres of land that he and Joan had purchased, John began his unique undertaking to create the original ski hill. This construction work began in the spring of 1960. What was to be the first part of this project was completed for the 1961-62 winter ski season. At this time the man-made hill had a thirty (30) foot drop. But again, this was just the beginning. Expanded in 1964 and completed for the 1964-65 season the hill increased to a 150 foot drop. The last major change to the ski hill took place in 1968 where the drop increased to 201 feet.
Along with the creation of the ski hill came the resort buildings at Bintz Apple Mountain which were also constructed and remodeled by the couple, this included the lodge and church where numerous weddings have taken place. In 1968, Bintz Steakhouse became a popular eatery and in the 1970’s a ski shop was opened at the Fashion Square Mall by the family.
During its infancy in 1961, Bintz Apple Mountain welcomed about one hundred (100) skiers, growing to 20,000-25,000 for the 1981-82 season. Thousands of children were taught to ski as part of the students “learn-to-ski” program….about 800,000 between 1961 and 1984. Bintz Apple Mountain was also the first ski area to offer skiing as a college course in conjunction with Delta College.
Bintz Apple Mountain was sold in 1994 and has undergone several major changes. The original portion of the ski lodge that was built by John Bintz has of course been added to. The cider mill, general store and apple farm long gone. The church that was remodeled by Joan Bintz has been moved to a new location at Apple Mountain and the “A” Frame building was given to the Thomas Township Fire Department for a “practice burn”. The steakhouse no longer exists. Major changes at Apple Mountain include the addition of an 18hole golf course, conference center and a fine dining restaurant.
John and Joan retired in 2008, closing their remaining ski shop in late March. The couple continues to reside in Thomas Township sharing fifty-eight (58) years of marriage. Mr. Bintz has served for over fifty (50) years on the Thomas Township Planning Commission . In the earliest days of the Planning Commission, Mrs. Bintz would take care of the meeting minutes by typing them. Today John serves as the Chairman of the Thomas Township Planning Commission. Joan told me she feels “he (John) has been significant in making Thomas Township as nice as it is.” I feel they both have had a significant impact in Thomas Township as I am sure many others do. Their decision to invest in our community and take the risk of building a ski hill out of nothing resulted in the creation of a local landmark and generations of countless memories. For six decades, their community spirit and entrepreneurship have made Thomas Township a better place to live.
On August 6, 2012, the Bintz were inducted into the Michigan Ski Hall of Fame. Such a fitting honor for a couple who gave us the only ski hill in the area that was totally man-made or should we say “man and woman –made”.
Community Development Department