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Smaller Ski Operations Rely on Community Support to Glide through Ski Season

Mt Holiday Doors
Mt Holiday Hill
Mt Holiday Rentals

Some Northern Michigan ski resorts have already opened their gates for skiers and snowboarders this season. But the smaller operations sometimes take a bit longer to get things going.

Mt. Holiday near Traverse City opened its tubing runs for the first day of the season on Wednesday.

Emily Johnson is here with her husband and kids from Beverly Hills, Michigan. The kids are about to hit the tubing hill for the first time.

“I think we have a couple who are excited and one who might be a little nervous. But we’re pumped right?” Johnson says. “We love winter sports. I’ve been skiing all over northern Michigan since they could almost walk. So we love skiing and sledding and building snowmen. It should be just a fun adventure. I think for most of us, except for this newbie over here,” she says, gesturing to her three year-old daughter who seems a little shy about the idea of tubing down the hill.

The family loves winter fun, and they’re finding it on a big scale at a smaller hill.

“This is our first visit to Mt Holiday. We come up here all the time during the summer, in the winter to Lime Lake area. But our friends told us about it and said we had to come in sled for the day and to have some fun,” Johnson says. They even recruited more family from New York City. Nicole Johnson says, “I somehow made it here. No travel delays to go tubing. I love the snow, so I’m excited. First time!” She adds, “I love winter, it’s in my heart.”

And it’s not just a first time at Mt. Holiday, but a first time seeing snow, for Remington Ertle. She’s here from Florida with her mom and stepdad. “I got really excited about it because it was my first time seeing it,” she says. “We came down here for the holidays. The snow is really cold and it feels nice.”

She even threw her first snowball, which was aimed at her stepdad.

At Mt. Holiday the season also starts with some good financial news. The ski hill is getting just over $604,000 in ARPA funds, federal COVID relief funding, distributed by Grand Traverse County. New Executive Director Jim Pearson says, “It’s going to be great. I mean, we, we will be able to do some things that help, help add to this to the ski hill, maybe hopefully get us open a little earlier, produce more snow or alleviate some of the issues that we’ve had.”

Mt. Holiday will make what they’re calling critical infrastructure improvements, including connecting to municipal water and fixing problems they’ve had with storm water runoff.

Pearson says, “That’s the great thing about getting those funds from the ARP funding is that I think it’s being recognized that we’re trying to continue to grow… put money back into it, get the lodge upgraded, chairlifts running, and just continue to provide a service to this community. Because we’re trying to, you know, make it year-round, more so than just the ski lodge.” He cites the summer Zipline course and bike events as examples.

Pearson is from Traverse City and grew up snowboarding here when he was in high school. “I’m just glad to see it still here and growing and continuing to grow. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of it,” Pearson says. “I think it’s a recognition that this community, this this institution is an important part of our community for the families and the kids especially, to come here, have a good time. It’s a safe place to come. Learn how to ski, learn how to snowboard. That’s what I did. I came here and learned how to snowboard.”

Across town, the city-owned Hickory Hills Ski Area is also welcoming the crowds to start their season. Lodge Operations Manager Emily Ladd says, “It’s the earliest that we have had in a few years now…. we’re happy to be open for the holiday when the kids are all off… so it’s really exciting.”

They also say support from the community is what helps keep smaller ski operations thriving.

“I think Hickory Hills is pretty great. It’s a hidden gem at the end of Randolph Street, and all of a sudden you’re here and you’re like, Wow, there’s a ski hill in downtown Traverse City,” Ladd says. The new lodge has been bringing in bigger crowds since it opened about four years ago. “The bunny hill is larger and more people are coming out to teach their kids. Once they master that bunny hill, you know our tow ropes are the next best thing.”

Both Hickory and Mt. Holiday have faced tough times in years past, but those “Black Diamond” most difficult years are hopefully behind them.

“We have been growing exponentially. Our rentals are going out left and right. We sold out this morning within 3 hours. There are so many people that have just been waiting for us to open,” Ladd says. “The community itself just loves coming here and they love having our small town ski hill, like I said, the hidden gem. And, you know, people just keep coming back year after year. We see the same faces, the same families. And it’s really cool to see kids grow up and just get better and better.”