By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald
At the Mt. Holly Ski & Snowboard Resort, the snow is both natural and man-made this year.
The resort has had to product its own snow as a result of December’s lack of snowfall.
“We continued to make snow and managed to keep the trails open,” said Mark Tibbitts, general manager at Mt. Holly. “People were still seeing green grass outside in the yard, so the ‘let’s go skiing’ type of mentality wasn’t there.”
Mt. Holly, located on 13536 Dixie Highway in Holly, has machines that crank out snow whenever the weather is below 28 degrees. The man-made snow is made of water and air, which is blasted out as fine crystals.
Tibbitts said the resort has remained open through most of December, much to the surprise of its customers.
“We had one stretch that went well into the 50s and a portion in the 60s,” Tibbitts said of the temperature. “There is nothing you can do to prepare for this except to have your snow-making machines ready to go.”
While it is more expensive to make the snow, Tibbitts said, it is a necessary evil in southeast Michigan.
One night of snowmaking can cost somewhere around $12,000 for Mt. Holly, Tibbittssaid. It’s a costly process, but, the money is re-cooped when the resort is full of people.
Because of the early snow in October, Tibbits said, they began getting customers earlier on and were able to push through the snowless holidays.
“Skiing is a very important winter activity for the young and old,” he said. “We feel we are a good avenue for this.”
Tibbitts has talked to officials at other resorts and has heard the month of December has been just as unkind to them.
The Pine Knob Ski and Snowboard Resort in Clarkston is no stranger to the indecisive weather.
Mary Dawson, office manager for the resort, said they opened Nov. 10 and were able to remain open for the majority of the time. Dawson said the resort closed for three days in December because of rain.
“The new snow outside helps us,” she said. “Once people see it in their backyards, it puts the idea of skiing into their heads.”
Pine Knob has experienced snowmakers who made snow early and often, Dawson said. Now they are looking to finish the season on a strong note with the recent influx of January snow.
While this year’s and last year’s winters are polar opposites, there is one thing they have in common.
“Last year was bitter cold and a lot of snow; this year it has been really warm and there wasn’t a lot of snow,” Dawson said. “In both cases it did not get people out. It was either too cold or too warm.”
Across the border in London, Ontario, Boler Mountain privacy officer Greg Strauss has been working with his management team to make up for the lack of snow in December.
Strauss said they opened later than usual this year because of the weather in London.
As a result, Boler Mountain Resort has had to invest in snowmaking.
“It’s definitely going to be an expensive year,” Strauss said. “The snow budget has been spent and it’s been a situation where we have had to make snow early.”
In December, Strauss said, there was little to no snow and he saw people still riding their bikes in the park.
“We are easily going to surpass $300,000 in snowmaking,” he said. “Last year we were well under budget. We’ve invested a couple million dollars in snowmaking to get us through winters like this.”
Strauss said he is confident the resort will have a good season event, although during Christmas break, revenue was only 20 percent of last year’s totals.
“We are happy to see winter has come full force,” Strauss said. “Things have turned around greatly this week.”
Farther north in Collingwood, Ontario, is the Blue Mountain Resort, which opened for ski season in early-December.
Ashley Amis, a Blue Mountain spokeswoman, said the type of skier to come through their doors in December was different from what has been seen in previous years.
“It’s interesting because with the mild temperature, we saw a bit of our shift in customer base,” she said. “We saw a high increase for our beginner programs. Some of our hardcore customers have not come out as much. Now as we are heading into January, we are seeing a return to our normal vistorship.”
To counter the warm weather, Blue Mountain has had to use its variety of snow guns and offered a 40-minute snow guarantee.
The guarantee allows the customer to get his or her money back if the snow was not up expectation within the first 40 minutes at the resort.
Amis said they’ve been lucky this year, as the resort gets a lot of its business around the holidays from families interested in trying skiing together.
“Skiing in Ontario is big,” she said. “We like to think it’s the only sport an entire family can participate in at the same time.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 21, 2015)